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Tune up the strings

Melaine Loy, Beth Habicht, Sue Simonson and Karen Pfeifer perform as the Great Plains String Quartet during a summer "Amazing" Worthington city band concert July 21.

WORTHINGTON -- An all-new Worthington Area Community Orchestra is in its fledgling state, and its organizers are scouting for string players to join in what promises to be a multi-generational musical endeavor.

The recent receipt of an $11,206 grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts & Humanities Council (SMAHC) is transforming what was once a pie-in-the-sky dream of a handful of local musicians into a concrete reality.

"When several of us got together a few years ago to play for a performance of Handel's "Messiah" at Westminster Presbyterian, we found it so enjoyable that we often talked about what we could do next," shared Melanie Loy, whose Great Plains String Quartet grew out of the "Messiah" experience.

Loy and her quartet mates are now the leadership team for the new community orchestra. Memorial Auditorium manager Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh aided their effort by preparing the grant request. The grant money will cover salaries, music purchases and necessary equipment (such as music stands, folders and a conductor's podium) for a beginning orchestra.

"Really, an inspiration for this came from the city band, seeing the multiple generations playing together, and we wanted to be able to offer that kind of musical experience for string players in the area," continued Loy, a violinist and the District 518 orchestra director since 2006.

For while Worthington has been blessed with a high school orchestra program for decades, it's been many years since local string-playing adults have had an ongoing group orchestral outlet.

Christopher Stanichar, director of orchestral activities at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D., for the past two years, has signed on as conductor of the new orchestra. He previously taught for nearly a decade at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

"I've had a lot of students at Augustana who are from the Worthington area -- all salt-of-the-earth types, all hard workers, all passionately in love with music -- and I look forward to meeting more of the same through the orchestra here," shared Stanichar, a native of Washington state who earned master's and doctorate degrees at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Rehearsals for the orchestra, slated for Thursdays at 6:30 p.m., will begin in September at Worthington's First United Methodist Church. The church will also host the orchestra's first concert, already set for Dec. 9.

Stanichar will make the one-hour trek to Worthington on most Thursdays.

"Our goal is to build a great orchestra," asserted Stanichar, who became acquainted with Loy and the other members of the Great Plains String Quartet -- Beth Habicht, Sue Simonson and Karen Pfeifer -- through their association with the Sioux Falls-based Augustana Community Orchestra, in which they have played for the past few years.

Stanichar, himself a pianist and violist, said his oboe-playing wife, Kristi, and four-year-old daughter, Veronika, are supportive of his involvement, although it will mean an extra evening away from home.

"We love music," Stanichar volunteered of his family. "We do it because we love it."

Although the orchestra may grow in the future beyond being simply a string ensemble, Loy said they are first seeking to develop a core of string musicians before including winds.

"We're looking for string players from ninth grade and up who have string experience on either violin, viola, cello or bass," listed Loy. "We don't quite know what to expect in terms of ability level, but we will take appropriate steps to develop the ensemble.

"We know the depth and background is out there," assured Loy. "We just have to cultivate it."

Habicht, who preceded Loy as the District 518 orchestra director for a record 38 years, shares Loy's enthusiasm and confidence.

"For many years, I had the privilege to work with the area's finest kids as a teacher in District 518, and now I'll get to work with wonderful adult musicians -- some of whom are those kids I previously taught," related Habicht, a violinist. "Having the chance to play with them in a group like this is an added bonus."

"I'm looking forward to sharing the joy of performing some of the world's greatest music with other adults in the area," continued Habicht.

Indeed, Stanichar has already selected a few of the numbers for the December concert: he plans to open with the overture from Handel's "Messiah" and continue with "St. Paul's Suite" by Gustav Holst and a Bach concerto for violin and oboe before proceeding, in the second half, to seasonal music.

The orchestra will resume rehearsals in February, working toward a spring concert that will likely take place in late May.

"Dr. Stanichar is totally on board with outreach to our community, and in the future we hope to feature some of our Worthington High School instrumental alumni in concerts," assured Loy.

And while the Great Plains String Quartet will continue with its own rehearsals and performances, its members are delighted they will no longer have to drive to Sioux Falls to share in a larger orchestral experience.

"I'm thrilled we have a chance to present this gift to the adult musicians of our community," offered Habicht. "It's one more musical opportunity for all of this area's lifelong learners."

For more information about the Worthington Area Community Orchestra, or to receive a player's application, contact either Melanie Loy at 727-0082 or Karen Pfeifer at 372-7418.