Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.
November 28 will be a be a history-making day for the Ontario Pops Orchestra: their first performance.
What began as a glimmer to bring together experienced musicians from across the Toronto-area to play for the joy of it has since developed into a living, breathing orchestra, whose debut is just a day away. No doubt, founder and musical director Carlos Bastidas, who conceived and nurtures this “baby” must feel like a proud yet anxious parent.
We caught up with Bastidas and the Ontario Pops Orchestra (OPO) at one of their Monday-night rehearsals. They rehearse in a quaint church in northwest Toronto, and the busy-ness was palpable before we entered the building. The clock was approaching rehearsal time, and the usually quiet residential street became bordered as musicians pulled up in their cars. One-by-one, they streamed in to the rehearsal hall, instrument in one hand, and music stand in the other.
The orderly bustle continued inside, with musicians setting up, warming up and tuning their instruments. As they placed themselves into their sections, Conductor Bastidas circulated among them, consulting, answering questions, and conferring with sections. At 7 pm, with one stroke of his baton, a hush fell and music swelled.
Whether it was the stunning acoustics or the gripping pieces, I can’t say . . . but the atmosphere became almost hypnotic. What I intended to be an hour-long visit to gather information for this article turned into a much longer stay. It seemed unnatural to leave that space, filled with the unified sound of this volunteer orchestra…only to venture out into the cold November night for the long drive home.
“There is a lovely atmosphere when all the members are together,” acknowledges Dea Saldanha, one of two youth violinists in the OPO. Having played in an orchestra in the UK, she wanted to join one here in Toronto, in order to put her musical skills to use beyond her lessons. For her, the most rewarding aspect of being an orchestra member is finally “understanding” the music: “You are not worrying about hitting that note. You are enjoying the music as you play it.” Prior to reaching this point, she avers, the complexity of the music itself can be daunting.”I have never played anything to this level before,” admitted Dea. “But once I practiced, and I got used to the way things worked in the orchestra, it was fine.”
The OPO welcomes artists of all ages. Though membership requires an audition process, Bastidas’ mandate–and the inherent good will of the OPO– unite to welcome as many dedicated musicians as possible. This camaraderie — and the genial atmosphere it promotes — appeal to Dea: “We all get along well and will have our share of jokes with our conductor. When people first look at us, they’re not likely to spot two kids in the rows. But when you look closely, you’ll see many different ages and personalities that make up our orchestra. At first, the experience of playing with all these various ages can be daunting, but when you spend time and play with them, it’s wonderful!”
What also distinguishes the OPO is the sheer variety of music it performs, ranging from Star Wars to “William Tell”…from Carmen to Adele. Nothing stodgy or staid here! Dea’s fellow violinist Jeannie Chung is a teacher by day, musician by night and a Sesaya faculty member. A classically-trained violinist since childhood, she had been looking for an outlet for her skills when a chance conversation with a friend revealed information about the OPO. Though she admits to grappling with John Williams’ intricate film scores, her efforts to master them are well worth it. What’s more, the blend of classical and contemporary music in Saturday’s performance offers opportunities for youth to experience orchestral music and its instruments in a fun, interactive way: “Concerts such as ours, that offer familiar tunes and popular film music, are a great way to connect youth in the community.” She predicts that Saturday’s audience will connect to the music that the OPO will play, and will “leave the concert feeling energized. When else would you get the chance to see 70-100 musicians and all the different instruments at once?”
Dea echoes Jeannie’s sentiments: “Our orchestra produces a brilliant sound, and it will bring shivers down your spine to hear the music, so this is the place to be. . . Our members have worked hard, and it will be exhilarating for others to hear what we have prepared for. This will be a good, no…an amazing performance as well as an experience!”
Both Dea and Jeannie hope for a large turnout on Saturday. However, for Bastidas, it’s more than just a debut. The fact that “I Dreamed a Dream” is on the program is prophetic . . . as his dream of this orchestra is about to become real. Beyond this concert, he believes that over the next few years, the OPO will grow from a volunteer orchestra into a professional offering, all with the help of musicians, businesses, and communities around Ontario. His ultimate dream for his “baby”? “The orchestra will perform in these communities throughout the summer months, bringing your favourites to local venues and the joy of music for everyone to learn and share culture.”
Judging by my experience at their rehearsal, it will be hard for artists and audience alike to leave after the last concert note has been played.
What: “Welcome to the Pops” Concert Highlights
When: Saturday November 28, 2015, 8:00 pm
Where: Humber Valley United Church, 76 Anglesey Blvd, Toronto, ON
FYI: ontariopopsorchestra.com or 416-231-2263
© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya