FENTON – The sounds of the Fenton Community Orchestra erupt from the parking lot behind the school on a clear spring evening.
It’s a standard orchestral warm-up, but it’s the first time the musicians have performed together since March 2020.
“Most of the state’s community bands and orchestras are in the same situation as we are, and they haven’t played together for a long time, â FCO Says director Andrew Perkins. That evening, they got together to socialize and possibly play their favorite music together. There are no audiences except for a few family members watching from lawn chairs.
The pandemic had ended their weekly rehearsals and regular public performances, which drew hundreds of people.
Perkins says his orchestra tried to come together in small groups or by video call, which didn’t work for them. But as businesses reopened and mask mandates were lifted, performance groups were also able to return to the stage and practice spaces.
He says some Michigan community ensembles have closed or reorganized, but his group has been lucky. the FCO had 149 members before the pandemic; 119 are registered now.
“Looking around tonight there are a lot of new faces, âPerkins says. âSo any limbs that we may have lost, it looks like we’re about to take on new faces. And it’s exciting too.
According to the League of American Orchestras, there were 1,600 groups across the country before the pandemic and most have survived or formed a new entity.
Perkins says his band is set to make a solid comeback. However, this gathering is not a rehearsal or a public performance. The first priority was just to socialize and catch up.
Casually dressed musicians kiss and greet each other, finally heading to the chairs arranged in concert in the parking lot to prepare their instruments.
Brian Moe from Deerfield Township checks the valves on his old brass tuba. He says many of these musicians missed their social life without rehearsals or concerts. âIt’s a reunion of musicians, so to speak,â he said.
The Fenton Community Orchestra is a multigenerational group, with tweens and octogenarians playing together.
George Hameline is one of the oldest members of the orchestra at 86 years old. He plays the baritone horn.
“The baritone horn is not an orchestral instrument, âsays Hameline. “But Andy [Perkins] let me play anyway. I receive trumpet parts and bass clarinet parts.
Hameline says that despite seeing bands again, he’s not nervous about COVID-19. He is vaccinated and looks forward to a full orchestral program in the fall.
“Failed orchestra. I missed going to church, I missed the church choir, âsays Hameline. “But it’s all starting to pick up a bit now.”
Cameron Carleson, 16, plays the transverse flute and will keep his mask handy if needed.
“And especially at school, we always have to wear it because young children are still vaccinated, âCarleson explains. âSo it’s just a little weird not to wear it almost. “
Eventually, the din changes from excited chatter to instrument tuning, and Perkins steps onto the podium, stick in hand.
“It’s for us, âhe says. âWe’ve all failed to make real music with real people without screens, with headphones and all kinds of annoying stuffâ¦ so let’s make music. “
He takes them through scales and possibly several selections of familiar songs.
While many were for fun, one was chosen as a lamentation or memorial for members of the orchestra who may have lost someone to the pandemic. âLondonderry Air,â also known as âDanny Boy,â gently drifts across the high school grounds as the few selected family members watch and film on their phones.
The music rises to a crescendo with “The Butcher of Seville”, after which the group applauds and laughs together. Clarinetists Cheryl Kopplin of Davisburg and Janelle Chopp of Tyrone Township hug each other.
“I’m so happy to be back, âsaid Kopplin. âI missed it so much. The camaraderie, the playâ¦ it’s like heaven, again. She says the lack of a musical outlet was bad for her sleep.
Chopp says she has missed the creativity of music in her life for 15 months, especially “… the expression part of it … there was one piece that was missing, and now it is. return.”
The Fenton Community Orchestra hopes to return with an in-person season with regular rehearsals and performances this fall.
Like the cases of the delta variant of COVID-19 nationwide increase, Perkins says they will follow all official federal, state and local guidelines. He says they are planning several scenarios in the event of further restrictions. âWe try to be as proactive as possible while remaining open to the possibility that we have to withdraw it again if things go downhill,â he says.
Listen: The musicians of the Fenton Community Orchestra dusted off familiar tunes together.