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Orchestra revamps string section
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From left are, Cameron Stanley, one of the teen performers who joined the Pinellas Park Civic Orchestra over the past six months; Helen Lane, June Van Dommelen, concert mistress, and Madge Ladd, principal first violin, who led the strings section’s weekly summer rehearsals.
PINELLAS PARK – Like many volunteer orchestras, over the summer Pinellas Park Civic Orchestra packs up its instruments and ceases performing until September.

This year, rather than take the summer off, a plucky group of musicians who play string instruments saw an opportunity to improve their skills.

Led by principal first violinist, Madge Ladd, as many as 25 string players met weekly on Monday evenings, reviewing basics and tediously poring over method books.

“We really wanted to build up their skills,” Ladd said, “to help with their [hand] positioning, with reading music, with playing scales.”

Music director and conductor Art Hansuld said, “They focused on just the challenges of their section. Strings are some of the most difficult instruments, more difficult than woodwinds and brass.”

Most performers in the orchestra are middle-range players, he said, some only having played their instrument for just a few years. These weekly get-togethers helped take their music to a whole new level, boosting the musicians’ confidence, allowing them to play more boldly and to produce a better sound.

For Carin Wiseman, an adult beginner violin player who took up the instrument just four years ago, these sessions have been a godsend.

“They’re great, really wonderful,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot already.”

The effect on the sound of the entire orchestra has been tremendous, Hansuld said, improving the overall dynamic of the group and allowing it to tackle more difficult music. Brass and woodwind performers are excited to see the progress the string section has made in just a few months, because it opens up more possibilities for the orchestra as a whole. Having more performers at a higher skill level gives Hansuld more liberties when selecting songs for concert programs.

At its upcoming performance on Nov. 4 at the Performing Arts Center, the most difficult piece the orchestra will tackle is “Beautiful Galathea,” a fast-paced, advanced piece.

“Just the fact that we’re even going to attempt ‘The Beautiful Galathea’ attests to the vast improvements made by the string section over the summer,” Hansuld said.

These special string sessions helped bolster the section in other ways. About 10 new performers joined the section on a regular basis, bringing the number up to 30 and counting – and the snowbirds aren’t even back in town yet.

“Three years ago we didn’t have a dozen strings,” Hansuld said. “These sessions attracted new players because of the focus put on improving skills.”

Players from other local volunteer orchestras – the Tampa Bay Symphony and Suncoast Symphony Orchestra – joined these weekly tutorials to keep themselves limber. Some stayed on with PPCO for the 2012-2013 season.

The section found itself attracting precocious teen players.

“We have 15-year-olds to 92-year-olds,” Hansuld said. “We have the whole broad spectrum.” This presents an opportunity for mentoring, and he often seats a student performer next to a more seasoned adult performer on stage.

A larger string section is imperative to the success of the orchestra, Hansuld said. The string section should make up the backbone of the orchestra. But since it’s been so small in years past, the louder brass and woodwinds instruments often overpowered it.

“It became a battle of the sections,” he said. “Woodwinds and brass should be used like salt and pepper on food – a little here and there and at big, dramatic moments.

The Pinellas Park Civic Orchestra’s next performance Sunday, Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m., at the Performing Arts Center, 4951 78th Ave. Performances are free and open to the public. For more information, visit
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