Age makes no difference in Whidbey Island Community Orchestra

Sean Miles

Sean Miles and Avrey Scharwat share a passion for playing classical music just like everyone else in the Whidbey Island Community Orchestra. The only difference between them and their colleagues is a number.

Miles, 15, and Scharwat, 16, are among 14 youth players in the orchestra which consists of strings, winds, brass and percussion.

The youth musicians, who count for nearly a third of the orchestra, include both South Whidbey High School and Langley Middle School students.

The age gap is considerable. Most members are between the ages of 30 and 60, but Miles and Scharwat don’t see it as a negative.

“Well, I wanted to play in an orchestra,” said Miles, who plays the double bass. “There’s really not a whole lot of other opportunities for it so I thought it’d be fun to join the community one.”

For adults, the orchestra is pay-to-play. In order to foster enthusiasm and participation in youths for a fading classical music scene, the orchestra does not charge fees to musicians who are 18 years old or younger.

James Lux, president of the orchestra’s board of directors, said he is most impressed by the youth players’ determination and insistence that they’re no different from the adults, despite having perhaps less experience.

“It’s their focus and their self-confidence. That’s really interesting,” Lux said. “We have a gulf between old and young that has been increasing for a long time. If you have a young person and an old person struggling with music, they’re both dealing with the same thing. The fact that one is older than the other, it doesn’t matter a bit.”

Evan Thompson  / The Record | Avrey Scharwat, 16, plays violin in the Whidbey Island Community Orchestra.

Scharwat, who is home schooled, has played violin in the orchestra for three years. He first picked up the instrument around eight years ago when his parents suggested he pursue music because they hadn’t.

“I pretty much chose the violin at a young age and decided to go with that,” Scharwat said.

After Scharwat had a grasp on the instrument, he decided to join the orchestra. It was the first group of musicians he’s ever performed with.

“Here, I could apply all the techniques I learned,” Scharwat said. “I like the violin because it’s usually the melody for almost anything and I like to play the melody. Sometimes if you play the violin well, you can make a really beautiful sound. And when I’m good at something, I think I can do that and I enjoy doing that.”

Miles, a sophomore at South Whidbey High School, has been with the orchestra for a year. As a member of the high school jazz band, his time is split between the band and orchestra. He said while he does not listen to classical musical in his leisure time, playing it is a different story.

“I won’t listen to it when I’m sitting at home, but playing it is really fun,” Miles said. “You can practice and do all these exercises but I think just playing in a group is a great way to improve. It’s really cool. It’s just an opportunity and they allow anybody to join, no matter how good you are.”

Kathy Pryde, who heads public relations for the orchestra and also plays the cello, noticed how focused and dedicated the youth players are. Pryde said if she had been their age and placed in the same position, she would have been shy and scared.

“They don’t seem that way at all,” Pryde said. “It’s really fun for us, as adults, to have them. It adds a dimension that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

She also noted that there isn’t a noticeable difference in playing ability between the adults and youth players.

Scharwat said the “Phantom of the Opera” has been his favorite of the musicals the orchestra has performed recently. Miles enjoys the famous waltz, “The Blue Danube,” by Austrian composer Johann Strauss.

Both teenagers said they hope to continue playing their instruments in the years to come.

The orchestra rehearses every Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at South Whidbey High School’s band room.

It will open its spring season with a concert at 7 p.m. on March 11 at Trinity Lutheran Church. Admission is free.