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New London - During eight years of private violin lessons, Tom Clayton practised diligently behind the scenes.
It wasn't until earlier this year that the Waterford man decided to try his hand at performing with others. So he joined the newly formed New London Community Orchestra and started attending rehearsals every other week at Mitchell College.
Sunday, after admittedly shaking off some nerves, Clayton experienced another first - performing in public.
After starting practices in late February, the New London Community Orchestra debuted Sunday at the ballroom at Harbour Towers, playing Bach, Puccini and Mozart for about 50 people.
"The experience for me has been wonderful," Clayton said. "There are a lot of talented musicians here."
That was the intent of Tom Clark and Joan Winters, who worked together to get the community orchestra started.
Clark, who owns the New London-based instrument repair shop Clark Instruments, said he realized the need for a community orchestra after speaking with many of the musicians he works with in his business.
He "decided to make the leap," he said, and spoke to Winters, who agreed to become the group's director and conductor. Winters also works as the orchestra director at Waterford High and Middle schools, directs the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Youth Orchestra and is an accomplished second-violinist in the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra.
The new orchestra, which is sponsored by several local businesses and organizations, blends talented musicians of all ages. Among the more than 20 string musicians Sunday, 14-year-old Grace Mayeda played harp while her brother, Kevin, 18, played a stand-up bass.
"Honestly, I didn't think everyone was going to be good, but they blew my mind the first day," Kevin Mayeda, a recent St. Thomas More graduate, said of the group's first practice. "Everyone knew what to do and we had a fun time."
The newly formed orchestra also has offered a new challenge for Winters, who says she has tweaked her approach along the way, scheduling time for more discussion and give-and-take during rehearsals.
Winters also offered several of her personal favorites to the group. On Sunday, the orchestra opened with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and then closed a 40-minute performance of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K.575 (which translates to "a little serenade").
The orchestra will not play again until the fall, Winters said, because many of the members have commitments throughout the summer. But when the group reconvenes, there's been talk of expansion.
"Many people came out when we met initially wanting to have a full orchestra with winds and brass and percussion," Winters said. "That's something in the back of our minds."
Ultimately, any profits will go to local music programs, perhaps group lessons for children, Clark said.
"It's phenomenal to watch something like this at the beginning and to see how it develops," he said.