Ten years in, Blaine Waldbauer’s 100-year plan for the Strathcona Symphony Orchestra is right on schedule.
When the violinist formed the SSO, which celebrates its 10th anniversary with special concerts May 23 and 24, he did so with an unorthodox funding model.
“We’ve got young people … playing music that’s 300 years old,” he says in an interview. “How many governments have been around for 300 years?”
Noting that governments change, along with funding philosophies, Waldbauer says he wanted to make the SSO self-sufficient by not being dependent on government grants.
“We have to have a hundred-year plan.”
Waldbauer, who now lives in Campbell River and is the SSO concertmaster, is familiar with self-sufficiency, having busked on downtown Courtenay streets to support himself in the early days.
When the Winnipeg native moved to the Comox Valley, he fell in with Fiddlejam. That group of about 50 fiddlers was spearheaded by a young Trent Freeman, who has since graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and is making a living as a jazz violinist.
Waldbauer began to build an orchestra from Fiddlejam, helped enormously with non-musical duties by current SSO president Michele Morton.
Although he had no training as a conductor, Waldbauer led the orchestra for three years. Then, as now, the challenge was to keep veteran players interested while not overwhelming less-experienced ones with difficult material.
“It was an interesting dynamic,” recalls Pippa Williams about accepting an invitation from the SSO board of directors to come up from Nanaimo for a rehearsal with the regional orchestra.
“There were really advanced players in the orchestra, and there were some beginner players,” Williams reminisced, “and they’re all there for the right reason; they just want to play music; they just want to be part of a large ensemble.”
Initially content with being the principal oboist with the Vancouver Island Symphony Orchestra in Nanaimo, she succumbed to an overture from the SSO, becoming its music director/conductor seven years ago.
“This community ensemble is a unique gem,” Williams comments. “I feel incredibly privileged to be part of it.”
The 10th anniversary program includes two big overtures – from the Academic Festival by Johannes Brahms and the show-stopping 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky.
Other selections will include a piece by Gilbert and Sullivan and a waltz.
Three former SSO players will return for the special 10th anniversary concerts.
French horn player Colin Lloyd is studying at the University of Victoria and violinist Gemma Donn (whose father plays tympani in the SSO and whose two younger siblings are also SSO members) is currently in Toronto.
Helen Austin, who played flute and percussion with the SSO as well as being on the board of directors, is a well-known and popular Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter who’s still living here.
Williams says six SSO musicians are professionals. Most players are from the Comox Valley, which Williams describes as “an amazing market for us to be able to stretch our arms into the community and find people to collaborate with.”
Other musicians come from Campbell River and Nanaimo.
Tenth anniversary music happens May 23 and 24 at the Native Sons Hall in Courtenay, which Williams says has “beautiful” acoustics.
Tickets can be purchased from Blue Heron Books in Comox and Laughing Oyster Books in Courtenay. For more information, visit strathconasymphony.com or phone 250-331-0158.
To help the City of Courtenay celebrate its 100th anniversary, the SSO will perform July 4 outdoors at the Courtenay Airpark.
That’s a 100-year plan Waldbauer can get behind.
Mark Allan is a freelance writer and a former editor of the Comox Valley Record.