225-Person Q-C Orchestra Makes Big, Joyful Music

225-Person Q-C Orchestra Makes Big, Joyful Music

By Jonathan Turner, Dispatch Argus

Quad City Symphony musicians help younger musicians participate in the largest orchestra the Quad Cities has ever seen Sunday, April 10, 2016, at the Side-by-Side Concert hosted by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra at the RiverCenter in Davenport. Musicians ranging in age from 80 to 8 came together to play.
DAVENPORT -- A different kind of a fireworks exploded in downtown Davenport on Sunday, during a special version of Tchaikovsky's famous 1812 Overture.

Arguably the largest orchestra in Quad-Cities history gathered for the first time to exult in the powerful, triumphant work that traditionally closes the Quad City Symphony Orchestra Riverfront Pops concerts at LeClaire Park, with fireworks. Sunday was a new Community-Wide Side-by-Side Concert, as 55 professional musicians played with 170 community members of all ages and skill levels.

"It was awesome -- what a rush!" Lisa Crews, of Davenport, who plays piccolo, said shortly after they performed at the RiverCenter's Mississippi River Hall. Chief financial officer at the Putnam Museum and Science Center, she performs regularly in the Quad City Wind Ensemble and Quad City Flutes Unlimited and got to sit next to Janet Stodd, the QCSO principal flute and piccolo.

"I love music; I just love to play," Ms. Crews, a frequent symphony-goer, said. What was it like to be in the big orchestra and not merely listen? "The sound was really amazing in here. Wow, the brass section, what awesome brass. Being part of the QCSO is really a thrill for me. I would love to play at that level, in that kind of organization."

Jeff Engel, who plays violin, drove from Macomb to participate. A biology professor at Western Illinois University, he's not a regular symphony-goer but studies with QCSO violinist Karen Martin.

"I could play more of it than I expected to. It was very difficult," Mr. Engel said of the Tchaikovsky, noting he practiced for about a month.

"It was great; it was a little adulterated by us here," he said of the combined group. "I was disappointed there was no cannon."

"What an intriguing, unique experience to bring the community together with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra," said Archana Wagle, of Bettendorf, who plays violin. "Especially to be under the tutelage of (orchestra music director and conductor) Mark Russell Smith."

"Music is my passion," said the Unity Point Health anesthesiologist, who's a QCSO season-ticket holder and plays with the Muscatine Symphony and a string ensemble based at St. Ambrose. On Sunday, Dr. Wagle performed with her teenage sons, Rishi (violin) and Keshav (oboe), who both are in the Q-C Youth Symphony Orchestra.

"I enjoy the process of making music together as a team and meeting other people outside of my area," she said. "I'm around people in health care all the time. I love meeting people who are passionate about something I'm passionate about."

Of the 1812 Overture, Dr. Wagle said: "It's such a spectacular, momentous piece."

"I chose this piece because it's a piece everybody knows. It's not an easy piece," Mr. Smith, who rehearsed with the players a half hour before a full run-through, said. "The professionals are excited because we have to be ambassadors, evangelists basically, for the music. The amateurs are excited because they get to play with the professionals.

"It's a rare thing today. So much culture comes to us; we don't have to create," he said. "To make sounds and harmony together is a unique thing. That's why people like doing it. That's why people continue to play.

"They played in high school, and now they play in community band or an orchestra, or sing in choir, because it's such a unique thing to create in today's society," he said.

Similar "side by side" programs have been done in Richmond, Va. (where Mr. Smith has conducted), which has attracted 600 people from the community to play each year.

Marc Zyla, QCSO principal horn, coordinator of education and community outreach and general manager of its youth ensembles, was pleased by the large turnout Sunday, more than was expected. Some people registered within just hours of the event.

"I'm hoping the young kids hear what it sounds like, with the Quad City Symphony musicians, something to model after," he said of the wide range of performers. "There's a wealth of talent in this community. This is a way to tap into that."

Mariah Spence, of Sherrard, a high school junior (and flutist), came with her sister, Josie, an eighth-grader and trumpeter, and other friends. They play in school band but not the Q-C Youth Symphony -- which earlier in the afternoon gave a formal side-by-side concert with the QCSO and other youth groups.

"We thought it'd be cool to get together with just the community and form a big band altogether," Mariah said. "They're definitely a lot better than I am."

Mr. Smith said he'd never seen so many bassoonists in one place before, and Mr. Zyla was part of a horn (also known as French horn) section with 16 players Sunday, compared to four or five in the 85-member QCSO.

The new event -- which Mr. Smith plans to make an annual tradition, likely with different pieces each year -- was held the day after a new family concert Saturday of Disney film music. Other QCSO staff also played Sunday -- including Ben Loeb (viola), Mary Tallitsch (flute) and Ben Klemme (trombone).

The informal community concert is part of QCSO's effort to engage the community more, such as Saturday's concert and daylong carnival and a prior networking event for young professionals, said marketing director Brad Lewis. Nearly 2,000 tickets were sold for the family concert, he said.