West Virginia orchestra dispels preconceived notions
Dec. 17, 2017
CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Andrea Diggs, who plays flute with the Charles Washington Symphony Orchestra, said the local 5-year-old ensemble dispels preconceived ideas that symphony orchestras are serious, stuffy and elitist.
"Our group is anything but that," said Diggs, president of the orchestra's board of directors. "Our goal is to engage the community, to take our music to them and venture out from formal settings. That's why we play all over the place. We want to be a mainstay in the community."
The orchestra was founded by a group of musicians who wanted a place to play.
"We needed an orchestra," Diggs said.
The orchestra performs with around 40 musicians. The members, who range in age from 12 to the 90s, rehearse weekly at Charles Town Middle School.
Camilo Perez-Mejia of Charles Town, the orchestra's conductor and one of its cellists, said it has 10 violins, three violas, up to five cellos, three flutes or piccolos, two oboes, a bassoon, two clarinets, two trumpets, two trombones, four French horns, two percussionists and a tuba.
Diggs graduated from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia with bachelor's and master's degrees in flute performance and is listed on the roster of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Greater Washington.
Perez-Mejia teaches music at Saint James School in Fairplay, the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in Hagerstown and teaches cello as an adjunct professor at Shepherd University.
The orchestra breaks down into duets, trios and chamber groups to play at venues around the area. Several members play for the Friends of Music Two Rivers Orchestra in Shepherdstown.
"We fill the gap," Diggs said.
The members also fulfill their mission of encouraging and promoting local young musicians with a youth orchestra it founded two years ago. They hired a conductor to lead the orchestra.
No Jefferson County public school teaches violin, Perez-Mejia said.
"Only private lessons are available," he said. "We hope someone becomes inspired to begin to teach the instrument in the schools."
Brian Ellsworth, owner of Ellsworth Music Inc. in Ranson, West Virginia was among the early leaders trying to establish the symphony in 2012. He plays in the horn section.
"I wanted to start a group orchestra for us to play in and to expose youth in the community to music that's beyond the reach of what they normally listen to and add to their music education," he said.
The orchestra performs three to four concerts a year in rented space in public schools, and has played for special events such as the official opening this spring of Charles Washington Hall in Charles Town. They have played at Happy Retreat, the original home of Charles Washington; Claymont Society for Continuous Education, another former Washington family home; Harpers Ferry National Historical Park; and the Town Run Tap House and Community Club at 202 E. Washington St. in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
The symphony also performs jazz, bluegrass, country, Broadway, John Philip Sousa marches, movie music "and South American," said Perez-Mejia, in a nod to his native Columbia.
"We are focused on bringing our orchestral music to Charles Town in honor of the town's founder, Charles Washington," Diggs said.
Information from: The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., http://www.herald-mail.com