The Westside Community & Youth Orchestra takes pride in its irreverent side.
So when the curtains closed toward the end of the the orchestra's spring concert Friday night, veteran orchestra observers suspected something was up. They were right.
When the curtains reopened at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, the 65 orchestra members were a sight to behold.
They were decked out in orange life vests, setting the mood to perform "The Titanic Medley," which was the finale to a program – "Epic Oscar Legends" -- featuring motion picture soundtracks. For good measure, artistic director and conductor Collin Heade sported a captain's hat.
The life vests served not only as props. At the concert's conclusion, the musicians, who'd personally purchased each vest, donated them to Hillsboro Fire & Rescue and the Washington County Sheriff's Office, where the vests are expected to be made available at Hagg Lake.
The donation is the latest example of the Westside Community & Youth Orchestra's neighborhood roots.
Intel engineer Rob Archibald founded the orchestra in October 2007, initially for the purpose of accompanying the Intel Singers. Archibald was its first conductor. Initially restricted to Intel employees (and named The Intel Orchestra), the orchestra opened to the entire community by 2009.
"I'd learned that Hillsboro schools hadn't had an orchestra program for something like 30 years," Archibald says in a history of the group, written by cello player Michael Tinnesand.
"Youth who wanted an orchestra opportunity had to go to Portland to participate in the larger youth orchestras, at significant time and financial sacrifice," Archibald told Tinnesand. "Adults already had lots of community orchestra opportunities. So, we felt the best way to expand would be through youth, and the Westside Community & Youth Orchestra was born."
Heade was hired for the volunteer group five years ago. The orchestra had fewer than 20 members when he joined, but is up to 75 now.
A cellist who trained at Portland State University, Heade has conducted for other orchestras in the region. But this one is special, he said.
"We have very young people and adults sitting side by side," Heade said. The orchestra rehearses weekly and holds concerts twice a year typically attended by about 300 people, in the spring and winter.
The rehearsals, held like the performances at Liberty High School, are intense affairs, but fun, Heade said.
"There's always some laughing going on," he said. "But we get right to the point. They're only 90 minutes. There're no breaks and I go from one topic to the next. Almost every rehearsal, I'll announce, 'The rehearsal will be fast-paced, everybody. Please take notes.'"
As for its irreverence, orchestra members follow the conductor's lead.
In preparing for the movie-themed concert, Heade suggested the life vest idea. He'd already planned an array of his own costumes which unfolded Friday night: a snappy jacket and hat for the Indiana Jones medley, sunglasses for James Bond, a cowboy hat for The Magnificent Seven. (Usually, Heade, like most every other conductor, is dressed in the typical black tie and tails.)
Not long after Heade suggested the Titanic-themed vests, French horn player Ann Simmons, motivated by the need at Hagg Lake, suggested the vests be donated to a public safety organization.
Simmons, a manufacturing engineer at Boeing in Gresham and a former Intel employee, has played in several orchestras.
"I like playing with the kids and seeing them improve year after year," she said in an email. "We also have many families that are members, some where one or both parents and kids play, some just the siblings. I myself have a 9-year-old daughter just starting on viola now who I hope will join the WCYO with me in a couple of years."
The age difference between members makes this orchestra especially fun, said member Pat Morrow.
"Our youngest was 8 when he started and a person sitting near him is over 80," Morrow said. "There is a mixture of beginning/intermediate players with more advanced players."
Heade, responsible for keeping track of the wide range of talents and ages, echoed Morrow's observation.
"It's very easy for me," he said. "I just treat everybody exactly the same. The old learn from the young and the young learn form the old."
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