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A mix of classics and jazz on tap tonight

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe The Worthington Area Orchestra rehearses Tuesday night for its upcoming concert at the Memorial Auditorium and Performing Arts Center.

WORTHINGTON -- When the 34 string players of the Worthington Area Orchestra (WAO) settle in their seats on the stage of the historic Memorial Auditorium tonight at 7:30 p.m., audience members can anticipate a lively evening of diverse musical styles.

"I've tried to program something for everybody," said Christopher Stanichar, director of the WAO in its inaugural 2010-'11 season. "We progress from a couple classical standards to a jazz-based set.

"If people like the Nelson Riddle sound, they'll get it in a live musical experience."

"Hoe-Down" from Aaron Copland's "Rodeo" leads off the program, followed by Mozart's "Divertimento in D major for Strings."

A contemporary piece by Minnesota composer Carol Barnett -- the second movement from her "Russian Sketches for String Orchestra" -- follows before styles shift completely for the concert's second half.

Additional instrumentalists, including Ed Berger on flugelhorn, Karen Skog on piano, Kathy Fransen on harp and Augustana College students Matt Tims (trap set) and Christopher Borchardt (saxophone) help the orchestra mix things up on such pieces as "Embraceable You," "As Time Goes By," "Caravan" and "Mood Indigo."

"Our concertmistress, Tiffany Holmes of Dovray, gets in a good jazz violin lick," said Melanie Loy, one of the WAO's four leadership team members who coordinated the WAO's launch with the aid of an $11,000 Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Arts Legacy Grant.

The WAO will receive word in June about possible grant funding for a second season.

"The camaraderie of our group has grown over the year, as has our enjoyment in playing together," said Loy, who also heads the orchestra program for District 518. Twelve of her senior orchestra students are among the multi-generational, and geographically far-flung, WAO members.

Stanichar, whose "day job" is director of orchestral activities at Augustana College, is similarly pleased with how the group has come together in a relatively short time.

"It has been a great year, and I have really enjoyed the spirit of the WAO players," affirmed Stanichar. "Our first concert in December took place at the First United Methodist Church, but I love Memorial Auditorium -- it's visually stunning, with its art deco design, and it's a really great hall.

"Worthington is so blessed to have such a fine performing arts center."

Loy concurs.

"Everyone was a little in awe of the setting, the beautiful addition, when we came to practice here last week for the first time," commented Loy. "Playing at the auditorium is a beautiful opportunity."

After gathering an initial group of string musicians from the area for rehearsals last fall and performing a December concert, the WAO resumed practices in March to prepare for tonight's concert.

Jodi Hansen, a Worthington High School science teacher and alumna, is a cellist playing in her second WAO concert tonight.

"I hadn't regularly played for over 18 years -- since my college days -- until last fall," Hansen said. "I started playing the cello as a fourth-grader with Beth Habicht at Central Elementary."

Habicht, along with Loy, Sue Simonson and Karen Pfeifer, is on the WAO leadership team and now plays cello in the WAO alongside former student Hansen, who is one of several WAO string players Habicht taught during her 38 years as District 518's orchestra instructor.

"I was very nervous getting my cello out to play again, having had such a long break, but it has been really fun to get to play alongside some of my own students," continued Hansen. "I am very glad to have become a part of the Worthington Area Orchestra."

Such multi-generational contact -- Habicht playing with former students like Hansen, who in turn is playing alongside her own current science students -- is part of what Stanichar and others involved find so special about the WAO.

"We have everything from young teenagers to seasoned professionals," confirmed Stanichar. "This proves music can really bridge the gaps and bring us all together."

General admission tickets for the Worthington Area Orchestra concert, set for 7:30 p.m. tonight at Memorial Auditorium, are available from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today and also from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Memorial Auditorium box office.