The Borderland Community Orchestra is back with three performances this month, including one at Townshend Theatre here on May 22.
The orchestra has been entertaining the district for almost 20 years.
This year, the group's spring performance—entitled “Fairy Tales and Magical Stories”—will showcase eclectic music, guest performances, and the newly-established Borderland Choir.
“We put out a call for singers and we formed the Borderland Choir," said Margaret Sedgwick, a bass player with the orchestra and the conductor's "right hand.”
About 25 people responded to the call and will be performing “When You Believe" from the animated movie, "The Prince of Egypt.”
“We've been wanting to do something with a district-wide choir for a long time,” said orchestra conductor Katherine Williams.
“We have some incredible music in our collection for choir with orchestra, and just decided that there was no time like the present,” she enthused.
During the search for music for the season, the group came across a recent release of “The Prince of Egypt” piece and instantly fell in love with it.
The group also received some help from vocal and music teacher Renee Martin-Brown of Emo.
“It's incredible that we have such great talent here in the district,” said Williams.
“Opportunities to work together on projects like this make the journey worthwhile!”
The concert will feature music from Scheherazade (“Arabian Nights") to "Pirates of the Caribbean.”
About 40 musicians make up the orchestra this year, which includes people of all ages, as well as from around the district and into northern Minnesota. The members meet every week for rehearsal at Donald Young School in Emo.
“We have high school students, educators, we have a doctor, a retired optometrist, business owners,” explained Sedgwick.
“Quite a wide gamut of people that play.”
Aron Bohnert has been playing the trombone for 20 years. It is his fourth year with the orchestra, and travels up from Minnesota for rehearsals and concerts.
“I have been the music teacher in Littlefork for the last eight years," he noted. ”A few of my friends told me about the group and so here I am.
“It's a lot of fun.”
Similarly, cellist Eric Koperda makes the trip over from International Falls after joining the orchestra almost two years ago.
“It's unusual to find a symphony orchestra of this calibre in such a remote place as Emo,” he remarked.
“It's really quite a blessing to have such a thing in our community," Koperda added. "A lot of fun to meet with these musicians on a weekly basis and play music that we all enjoy.”
He noted the orchestra always is looking for musicians. And because the orchestra is volunteer-based, its makeup changes often.
Another member is Katelyn Bruyere, a Grade 11 student at Fort Frances High School. She has been playing first violin with the orchestra for three years and has played the instrument from a young age.
Since starting her journey with the orchestra, Bruyere has noticed an improvement in how she plays and reads music.
“When I have to think about the orchestra arrangements as a whole, I have to consider what my part is doing, what other parts are doing,” she explained.
“I have to think about my dynamics and how loud I play, everything like that.”
There's also a lot of teamwork, not only within each section but the orchestra as a whole, to make sure the sound is well-rounded and everyone begins at the same time.
Even though some members change frequently, Bruyere said it's a pretty close group.
“In practices, we're always cracking jokes with one another,” she remarked.
“It's a really nice environment and I enjoy going to practice every week.”
Bruyere also sings with the new Borderland Choir, calling it “a completely new experience” for her. She added after a shaky start, the choir and orchestra have come together nicely.
Flautist Kitty Gale, from Rainy River, has been a member of the orchestra since its beginning 19 years ago.
“We've come a long way from when we first started," she admitted. "Some of the pieces we play now, we never could've played at that time.”
The Borderland Community Orchestra and newly-formed Borderland Choir have been practising for the spring concerts since January.
The volunteer dynamic can make it tough to practice as a full group.
“Some of the members of the orchestra will be away for a month or two,” noted Gale, adding some of them are retired.
“We come and go and then finally all try to get together for the last month so that we can get everything put together.”
She agrees the orchestra is very tight-knit, noting one of the members drives to Emo from Williams, Mn. but not before making some stops along the way.
“He picks up three people in Baudette, and then he comes here [Rainy River] and picks me up,” Gale explained.
“Then we go to practice.”
Next year, the Borderland Community Orchestra will be celebrating its 20th anniversary. Williams said the group has begun the planning process and is gathering ideas.
“I can definitely see some guest performers, some past members returning to play with the group, and all sorts of new opportunities for us to celebrate,” she hinted.
The orchestra and choir opened its spring concert series yesterday (May 15) at Rainy River High School.
Then they will perform at the Townshend Theatre next Tuesday, with their last concert slated for May 29 at the Barwick Hall.
Admission to the concert here is $12 at the door, with children under 12 being free.
Admission to the performance in Barwick is a free-will offering.