Arts and Entertainment

Whidbey Island orchestras have found the ensemble groove

Katyrose Jordan and Gretchen Schlomann play with the Whidbey Island Youth Orchestra. - David Medley photo
Katyrose Jordan and Gretchen Schlomann play with the Whidbey Island Youth Orchestra.
— image credit: David Medley photo

A bevy of talented musicians will roll out the barrel for everybody’s enjoyment Friday.

Shostakovich’s Barrel Waltz, that is, as played by both the Whidbey Island Community Orchestra and the Whidbey Island Youth Orchestra together at their winter concert.

The performances begin at 7 p.m. Friday, March 5 at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church.

Additionally, the youth orchestra, under the direction of Roxallanne Medley, will perform works by Bach, Day, Vivaldi and Donze. The community orchestra, under the direction of Kat Fritz, will perform works by Grieg and Beethoven, with the younger orchestra sharing the spotlight on the Shostakovich.

Both orchestras were started three years ago and have been diligently meeting once per week in Greenbank to rehearse. The orchestras perform four concerts each year, including one in November, a holiday show in December, a winter concert in March and a spring performance in May.

The orchestras were formed as a nonprofit and have been thriving ever since, maintaining an enthusiastic board of directors and a team of eager volunteers for the approximately 40 or so musicians from every part of the island who participate in the orchestras.

The youth orchestra is solely a string ensemble for young musicians who must audition to make the cut. It is meant to be an educational experience for young performers.

Medley, a former career violinist with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and concertmaster of the Saratoga Chamber Orchestra, said the experience is one of the best of her life.

“The highlight of my week is Thursday-night rehearsal,” Medley said.

“My greatest reward is watching and hearing the progress of the orchestra members as they learn to listen to each other, develop ensemble and recognize that there is much more to making music than playing the notes.”

Many of the students in the orchestra are technically proficient and can play difficult pieces beautifully in solo. But both Medley and Fritz agree that the real challenge is learning how to perform with others, and allowing your fellow musicians and the conductor to help you soar with the music as an ensemble.

“The proof of their ability is when they sit next to their stand partner in the orchestra, bow together, play the printed dynamics, match pitch with the players in their section and those in the rest of the orchestra, and follow the conductor’s beat precisely,” Medley said.

“Once all that is achieved, it is time to really play the music, to add the heart and soul and interpret the notes the way the composer wanted the audience to hear the composition. I am willing to overlook a few technical mistakes in a performance if my young musicians play with heart and musically ‘move’ our audience,” she added.

Fritz strives for a similar goal with the all-ages Whidbey Island Community Orchestra, which includes strings, winds and percussion for musicians of all abilities and backgrounds, and for which no audition is required.

Fritz, whose background is as a professional violist and music educator, said she sort of just fell into the conducting role, but is glad she did.

“These past three years of building the orchestras have been a learning experience for all of us, and it’s been fun for me because I had never conducted before. We’re all patient with each other and allow each other to do the learning together,” Fritz said.

“It’s been a real community effort.”

Fritz said that each year she has challenged orchestra members to push themselves and try new things.

“Each season I try to include one challenging piece, one piece that is fun to play and one piece that will work well for the orchestras to play together,” Fritz said.

She said that the community orchestra has risen to the challenge time and again, and she has seen it develop into the ensemble that it is today.

“We’ve come together as a group to go beyond learning just notes, to think about balance and dynamics,” Fritz noted.

“We can do that because in the three years we’ve been together, there is a cohesiveness as a group. The orchestra can think beyond notes and tempo now, and more about the musical expression of a piece. It’s exciting.”

A reception will follow the concert. The church is at 1253 NW Second Ave. in Oak Harbor, across the street from the high school stadium.

For more information, call Kat Fritz at 321-4311 or e-mail

To find out more about joining the orchestras, visit the orchestra Web site, click here.

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