Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

In the Key of C-ommunity: Music, friendship play well together at the West Shore Symphony.

Screenshot 2015-10-30 12.36.29Martha Palmquist is a very busy person.

New to the West Shore, she has three young children and teaches preschool music. However, in her limited free time, she still wanted to pursue her passion for music on a more adult level.

That’s when the French horn player discovered the West Shore Symphony Orchestra.

Palmquist started out as a substitute and has been a regular member for less than a year, now playing a part in such works as Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony.

Nonetheless, she also cherished the memory of taking her horn into the audience during a WSSO Family Concert so the kids could see the instrument up close before playing “Twinkle, Twinkle” for them.

“It was something so simple, but it made the kids and their parents light up,” Palmquist said.

Indeed, professional ensembles don’t have a monopoly on quality classical music. Throughout the country, community orchestras play a vital role in exposing people to classical music, while giving local musicians an outlet for their talents.

The West Shore Symphony presents three masterworks concerts a year, each preceded by a family concert, at Carlisle Theatre (40 W. High St.). In addition, its summer pops concerts, held at various venues around central Pennsylvania, provide programs of light classical music, patriotic and Broadway tunes.

Welcoming, Rewarding
WSSO’s members, all volunteers, are diverse in experience and background.

Barb Lambdin began playing viola with the orchestra in 1987.

“A friend said, ‘There’s a community orchestra [out there]. You should come and play,’” recalled Lambdin, a Suzuki method teacher.

Lambdin found the ensemble “very welcoming” and musically rewarding. One highlight occurred when WSSO played the Beethoven Triple Concerto with the prestigious Eaken Trio.

About 16 years ago, Lee Sarka came on board as a trumpeter and today is chair of the orchestra’s board, though by day he provides X-rays and MRI studies to orthopedic surgeons.

“Before, I had been pretty exclusively involved in bands and wind ensembles,” Sarka said. “Many times the music performed emphasized fast and ‘loud’ playing. I look to orchestral compositions as a way to round out my playing abilities.”

They also allow him to become more familiar with, and appreciate, the vast repertoire of classical music.

But the orchestra is also special because it’s a “community of players, who have become outside-of-symphony friends,” said Sarka. “The longevity of many of our players is truly indicative of how much being a member means to them.”

WSSO has always incorporated social activities, such as picnics and potluck dinners—so players get to know each other.

“I look forward to Monday night rehearsals for many reasons,” said Lambdin. “But I’ve especially enjoyed making friends within the group. People with different backgrounds all come together to make good music.”

Special Honor
The musicians’ enthusiasm is matched by that of Matthew Hooper, who was invited to take on the role of the orchestra’s music director and conductor, replacing Dr. Timothy Dixon, in the spring of 2012.

A Camp Hill native, he received his undergraduate training at Lebanon Valley College and later studied at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

“I had been applying to groups all over the United States, but it was an honor to have the opportunity to work with musicians so close to my hometown,” said Hooper, who is also a conducting fellow at the professional Allentown Symphony.

A special honor came recently when Hooper announced that the orchestra had been selected as one of the semi-finalists in the community orchestra ensemble division of The American Prize, a set of annual national competitions celebrating excellence in the arts.

Hooper, too, was chosen as a semi-finalist in the community orchestra conducting division.

“Right now, we’re waiting for the next announcement, which will tell us whether we’re finalists or not,” he said. “The winners and runners-up are chosen from among the finalists.”

The American Prize is more than monetary. Semi-finalists, finalists and winners are announced to national arts media and are profiled on the website. They also may use The American Prize logo and official seal on printed programs, documents and the web.

All Ages
Like every arts organization, WSSO is concerned with building future audiences.

The family concerts are free and open to the public, with WSSO Education Director Carrie Seefeldt and Hooper serving as hosts.

“The concerts are kid-friendly, 45 minutes long, featuring excerpts from the pieces that will be performed at the next day’s masterworks concert,” said Hooper. “We encourage children to get hands-on with the music. We bring them and their parents to the front of the theater, where they do different activities—such as dancing, or arts and crafts. They don’t have to sit still.”

Children seem particularly enthused when Hooper demonstrates conducting.

“With the ‘New World Symphony,’ for example, we really got them to feel the music,” he said. “We want to inspire children to be interested in classical music at as young an age as possible.”

One audience member told Hooper that his three grandchildren asked him to put on classical music, because they “wanted to conduct like Matthew.”

The next family concert takes place Saturday, Nov. 14.

The next day’s masterworks concert, subtitled “The Titan,” will include an overture to be announced—in a side-by-side performance with the Northern York High School Orchestra—and Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major.

“The concerts we present with student musicians are very fulfilling for our musicians and the students alike,” said Hooper. “They’re a great way to have students see they can continue making music following graduation from high school and college, even if they don’t have a [professional] career in music. They also contribute to their musical development.”

With the Mahler work as a case in point, Hooper noted that WSSO’s musicians “love to be challenged.”

“When I came in as music director, I was specifically asked not to program arrangements of pieces,” he said. “The orchestra wants to play the true orchestral pieces by the great composers.”

Hooper also champions new music. This year, WSSO will present Timothy Robertson’s “Concerto for Electric Guitar and Orchestra” at its May concert. The piece was commissioned by WSSO, which is “another first” for the orchestra.

“It will be very exciting and combine traditional acoustic sounds with electric (guitar) sounds,” he said.

How do audiences respond to new music?

That depends on how it’s approached, Hooper said. One way is through the talks he presents before each masterworks concert, focusing on stories about the music, biographies of the composers, and “sometimes even interesting gossip about them.”

If nothing else, audience members get to experience a piece of music they may have never heard before or one rarely played.

One example is Charles Ives’s “Variations on America,” which the orchestra played in 2013. It has some combinations of sounds the audience definitely wasn’t used to.

“Many thought the music was very interesting and wanted to hear it again,” Hooper said. “Some, I think, were startled, and could have been turned off by the strange sounds. But that’s the interesting thing about art. It evokes a reaction and wakes something in us that we did not experience before.”

Playing a Part
The West Shore Symphony Orchestra rehearses in the Camp Hill area on Monday evenings, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Currently, the symphony is looking for string players; there are a few anticipated openings for woodwinds and brass players.

For membership and other information, visit

Continue Reading