Making Classical Music Accessible to All Audiences
By Audrey Harman
With a focus on making classical music accessible to all audiences in Prince William, Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra (OBCO), based in Woodbridge, demonstrates that culture and entertainment don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
“It’s crazy important to us that our concerts are accessible for everyone,” said OBCO Board President Sheyna Burt, also first violinist and concert master for the nonprofit group, which is a full-chamber orchestra with ensembles of less than 40 musicians typically.
Burt said that OBCO’s performances are meant to reach everyone from young professionals to retired individuals and children. She explained that while the orchestra introduces audiences to new pieces, members also like to play compositions that the average person is familiar with and loves.
“We play a nice variety of music everyone knows, such as Brandenburg concertos, as well as lesser known music,” said second violinist Laura Prchal.
Sometimes the audience is even encouraged to become part of the performance. Burt said that the group’s most successful annual concert is Handel’s Messiah sing-along in December, featuring a chorus group to lead the singing and boost the audience’s confidence to join in. Last year, the Celebration Singers, a service-based choral group in Woodbridge, joined OBCO in leading the sing-along.
“One of our musicians said it was the most powerful musical experience of his life,” said Burt.
As a chamber orchestra, OBCO is “smaller than a symphonic orchestra. A chamber orchestra has fewer musicians per part, which allows for a more intimate performance experience, but also requires significant preparation [by] each performer,” Burt said.
OBCO can be hired for private events and offers pro bono performances for nonprofit organizations. This past May, an OBCO string trio performed at the annual volunteer recognition event hosted by Volunteer Prince William, a local nonprofit organization that partners with community agencies to mobilize volunteers and resources where needed.
Ann Levy, OBCO’s personnel coordinator, determines the proper ensemble size and type for an event, simplifying the booking process for clients, Burt said.
Performs Five Times per Season
OBCO’s regular concert season runs from September to May. The orchestra performs five times each season. Venues include Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Woodbridge, Woodbridge Middle School and Epiphany Lutheran Church in Dale City. OBCO also performs in the Prince William County Arts Council’s annual “Arts Alive!” festival at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas. OBCO is a member of the arts council, which Burt chairs.
Additionally, small ensembles of OBCO musicians play at community events, such as the 25th anniversary celebration dinner last May of the Prince William Committee of 100, a local organization that provides forums to study interests, problems and goals of Prince William residents.
And the orchestra has performed with other local art groups. “Our other concerts also featured dancers from Dance, Etc., the percussion ensemble from the Youth Orchestras of Prince William and a xylophone ensemble from Mary F. Williams Elementary School,” said Christopher Dixon, the orchestra’s principal second violinist and its board secretary.
Keeps Concerts Affordable
To help make its music accessible to all, OBCO keeps its concert prices low. Tickets cost only $5 per adult and are free to those age 17 and younger. Season subscriptions can be purchased for $20, with a second season subscription for free, Burt said.
“The concerts are affordable and local,” said Prchal, adding that the orchestra also allows “people such as myself to continue with their ‘hobby’ while maintaining a full-time career elsewhere.”
OBCO is an all-volunteer operation of local musicians who encompass a variety of professions, such as attorneys, teachers, urban planners, accountants, military, economists, homemakers, private studio owners and students.
“We’re a really open group,” said Burt, a Woodbridge resident with a private law practice in Manassas. Burt said that performing in OBCO is “an amazing outlet that keeps you sharp and focused, but is a nice break from being tied to a desk for eight to nine hours a day.”
“OBCO enriches the community because we offer authentic classical music concerts … [and] also provide a creative outlet for our musicians, who live locally,” said Dixon. “Even after a long day, I feel refreshed after our orchestra rehearsals, because I am so excited to be a part of the music-making process.” Dixon is also the strings teacher at Mary F. Williams and River Oaks elementary schools in Prince William.
“[OBCO] is great fulfillment for me personally, but it’s also great because my two young children and my husband have been exposed to classical music that they would not otherwise have been able to attend due to cost, travel time, etc.,” said Prchal.
“Some of the older members of our community do not like to travel and navigate through larger venues, but find OBCO easily manageable,” she added.
A Self-Run Community Orchestra
OBCO, which formed in 1998 and was incorporated in 2000 as a 501(c)3 organization, is the child of flutist Pat Edmonstin, Burt said. Edmonstin started the group to bring to Prince William a community orchestra run by its members, who train and perform in a noncompetitive and relaxed atmosphere.
Burt said that prospective members go through a low-stress audition, sitting in on a rehearsal. Musicians are given the concert music and asked to return if they’re a good fit for the orchestra.
OBCO’s performances are crowd pleasers, according to board member Ron Dunn, who is the orchestra’s admissions collector. “People will donate extra when leaving [after a performance], which says they felt the presentation was worth more than the admission price,” Dunn said.
“Every program should end with the audience wanting more. These exit donations make that very obvious [that they do]. As for me, I am proud to be a part of the orchestra,” he added.
A Future of Collaboration, Growth
Goals for OBCO include adding more performances outside of Prince William and bringing on new members, Burt said.
Also expect more collaborations with other musical groups. The orchestra’s new music director, David Kirven, elected in May, “is very proactive with involving other community groups in our performances,” said Dixon.
Kirven, who is a U.S. Army Band member, plans to expand the orchestra’s educational outreach as well, Dixon said.
For information on upcoming OBCO concerts, visit www.obco.org , where you can also donate, hire musicians and learn how to join the orchestra.
Audrey Harman, a 25-year resident of Woodbridge, has a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish from Hollins University and a master’s degree in Publications Design from the University of Baltimore. She has played bass for OBCO in the past and hopes to rejoin this upcoming season. She can be reached [email protected] View her portfolio at audreyharman.com.