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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Evanston Symphony Orchestra gives back through age-inclusive performances, education

Illustration by Lily Ogburn
Evanston Symphony Orchestra brings free classical music education to Head Start and preschool students to build their skills in language, memory and rhythm.

Evanston Symphony Orchestra has engaged the Evanston community as a not-for-profit community ensemble committed to sharing accessible classical music and education for nearly eight decades.

The orchestra, led by Music Director Lawrence Eckerling, allows Evanston residents a low-stakes opportunity to voluntarily play classical music with a group.

According to Margaret Gergen, a board member for the orchestra, members are all proficient with their instruments, allowing them to provide affordable classical music concerts for Evanston residents. 

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for live classical music to be available close to home, and then accessible at an affordable price,” Gergen said. “It’s a win for the people on the stage who are performing and for those of us in the audience who are listening.”

The orchestra is made up of 80 to 100 members, Gergen said. A variety of instruments from bass to wind instruments, including the violin, clarinet, cello and trumpet, are included. Some members also perform as soloists. 

The orchestra was formed in 1945 as an offshoot of the Northwestern University Orchestra. According to the organization’s website, the group started when soldiers returning from World War II and other community members “looked for an outlet for their musical talents.”

Members commit to playing in a concert and prepare for the big performance by rehearsing with the orchestra and practicing at home. 

Adrian Munive, a clarinetist who joined in 2019, said his favorite piece he has performed with the orchestra is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

He said he was not a fan of Beethoven before joining, despite studying the composer’s music in college. 

But when he performed the symphony with the Evanston Symphony Orchestra, its beauty made him so emotional that he broke down and cried.  

“I really enjoy being able to play high quality music at a high level, and I also love the high expectations that are set in place by the conductor and the other players,” Munive said. “High expectations inspire me to be better.”

The orchestra performs multiple concerts throughout the year, including a holiday concert. The last three years, the orchestra has also performed a Summer Pops outdoor concert in Wilmette. 

The orchestra holds auditions for open positions once a year, Gergen said. There are no age restrictions, and members range from college-aged to people in their 80s, she said. 

The group is also making an effort to reach younger Evanston residents.

Every other year, the organization holds a Young Person’s Concert geared toward children, specifically middle school, where the orchestra plays familiar, light classical numbers, such as A Colorful Symphony and Star Wars’ “The Imperial March.” The concert’s finale is a joint performance with Evanston/Skokie School District 65 middle school orchestra students.

“One of our purposes for this is to encourage particularly BIPOC students to continue their involvement with orchestra through high school and into college,” Gergen said. 

The upcoming young people’s concert is scheduled for March 2024 — the first since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The orchestra also provides free music programming, including education classes for Head Start students and preschoolers who attend District 65 schools. The program sends teachers to schools once a week to teach music skills that help with language development, rhythm and memory, which help the children prepare for kindergarten, Gergen said. 

“We really would like to see music as part of the Evanston community’s life,” Gergen said. “From Early Head Start, preschool to adulthood and either playing in the orchestra or enjoying listening to the orchestra.”

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Twitter: @Astry_tpwk

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