Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra maestro and founder Norman Nelson. (Gazette file photo)

Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates 20th anniversary

Norman Nelson founded the orchestra in 1997

The Sooke Philharmonic is celebrating 20 years of making music this year, and founder Norman Nelson hopes this is only the beginning for the orchestra.

After working as a professor of violin and chamber music at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Nelson came to Sooke to live a simpler life. After a while, he was approached by a group of people to put together an orchestra.

Nelson founded the orchestra in 1997 and led a group of 14 musicians through their first symphony concert in June 1998.

“I remember our first performance well. We played the first Beethoven symphony and we were lucky to get through it,” laughed Nelson. “Now 20 years later and we’re still having fun.”

Nelson said over the years the orchestra has gotten bigger and better, and he can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Now, the orchestra has more than 60 members, and 12 of the original 14 musicians still perform with it today.

Nelson has played with professional musicians in orchestras in London many times, but said he prefers to work with amateur musicians like he does in Sooke because of their music, enthusiasm and lack of politics.

“Amateur musicians are what keep us all going. They love playing music, that’s all there is to it,” he said.

Nelson added he enjoys working with the Sooke Philharmonic because all of the members are very nice and comfortable people.

“We’re like a huge family. We get along well, and the music binds us all together.”

No one has ever had to audition for the orchestra, Nelson said people just come and join in and play what they can.

“That’s why we call it the Sooke Philharmonic instead of a symphony – for the love of music. You can buy a symphony like you can a football team, but a philharmonic society is just a bunch of people who love to play music and hear music played,” said Nelson.

And even if you don’t play an instrument, there is room in the society for everyone.

RELATED: Sooke Philharmonic celebrates 15 years

The society is also made up of a multitude of volunteers that work tirelessly for the music they love to hear, which Nelson attributes a lot of the philharmonic’s success.

“Speaking honestly, we would not exists without our volunteers,” he said. “They help out in so many ways, you couldn’t possibly numerate.”

A great example of a volunteer is Bob Whittet, who has been on the board and helping out with the society for 11 years.

“I have an interest in music. I sing and play myself, so to see something this rich happening in Sooke, it was a no-brainer that I should help support it and put effort in to making sure it survives,” said Whittet.

He added that the orchestra provides a wonderful opportunity for people to hear music that is classical literature, and for musicians to perform in front of an audience.

“They perform at a high level and are going to be doing a beautiful job at this upcoming concert,” he said.

The Philharmonic Chorus will be presenting its annual Christmas concert on Dec. 3 in Royal Roads University’s quarterdeck ballroom, 2005 Sooke Rd., beginning at 2:30 pm.

This year’s performance is called A Continental Christmas and will include renditions of Vivaldi’s Gloria, Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit pour Nöel as well as traditional French carols.

The concert will also feature guest soloist singers Jennifer Turner, soprano, and Kathryn Whitney, mezzo-soprano, John Doughty, tenor, and Louis Dillon, bass, who will sing during the Vivaldi and the Charpentier.

Tickets can be bought at the door and cost $25 for general admission and $20 for students and seniors. For more information on the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra, please go online to sookephil.ca.


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