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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    Group creates new community orchestra in southeastern Connecticut

    In late February, a group of instrumentalists began gathering weekly at the Waterford Commmunity Center to make music — sight-reading compositions that included pieces that individuals suggested. Now, months later, they are gearing up for their first public performance.

    They are members of a new organization, the Southeastern Connecticut Community Orchestra, whose inaugural concert season begins with a free show on Sunday at the Waterford Community Center.

    Susan Butler and Linda Suriyakham are co-presidents of the interim board, and the music director is Hilarie Clark Moore, who has more than 25 years of experience conducting community orchestras. She currently conducts the Cheshire Symphony Orchestra in addition to SECCO.

    Suriyakham, who is a violinist and SECCO’s concertmaster, says, “Sue and I, we played in other groups together, and we thought it would be nice to get a bunch of people together and read through some really exciting, nice music.”

    With Moore as their conductor, they began meeting with probably 30 or 35 people showing up to sight-read music.

    Butler, who plays the oboe with the SECCO, says, “It was a lovely opportunity to play a whole lot of different things.”

    Typically, she adds, an orchestra spends the autumn working on four or five pieces for a fall concert and then moves on to rehearsing works for their holiday program, and so on.

    When starting this new group, Butler says that, in addition to the pieces Moore chose for the sessions, “We took requests. Does anyone want to play Beethoven? Does anybody want to play Mozart? Everybody had a chance to contribute suggestions as long as it was publicly available and didn’t cost us money.”

    Before this, Suriyakham, Butler and Moore had been involved with the New London Community Orchestra when Moore was conducting there.

    Suriyakham started a petition on change.org in support of Moore after her contract as music director of the NLCO was ended by then-president and chair Tom Clark on Jan. 20, 2022. Suriyakham described the move as having been done “unilaterally and abruptly” in the petition.

    In a follow-up post on Feb. 12, Suriyakham wrote that some of the musicians who left NLCO after Moore was let go were aiming to start the SECCO.

    Clark passed away in July, after being diagnosed with cancer. The NLCO continues on.

    Butler says of the controversy with the NLCO, “We’ve tried to be gentle and kind and not dredge up the difficulties so much.”

    Suriyakham says that, speaking for herself, “I felt like that orchestra (the NLCO) was no longer in alignment with what I wanted as a musician and how it was going to fit into my life. But I love playing in the orchestra. I loved the music, I loved the sense of camaraderie. I didn’t want to give that up just because the New London Community Orchestra was maybe not such a good fit for me anymore.”

    The first concert

    Formally creating the SECCO as an organization involved getting its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, establishing bylaws, and so on. An interim board has been in place, with permanent board elections scheduled for after the Nov. 6 concert.

    That concert is titled “Creating Community Around the World,” and Moore says the program was built on the theme of community.

    The performance will feature Rossini’s William Tell Overture, Skoryk’s Melody for String Orchestra, Coleridge-Taylor’s Petite Suite de Concert Op. 77, Berlioz’s Hungarian March from “Faust,” and Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43.

    Moore says, “Programming is one of the most important decisions for the success of the orchestra. The programming I choose supports my mission of challenging each and every musician and therefore growing the orchestra musically. Some pieces are chosen because they will showcase the strength of the orchestra. Some pieces will be picked to work on certain issues that may be challenging to the orchestra. Programming is also educational, as I want to expose the orchestra musicians to different styles of music. Everyone has music they enjoy more than others. I try to have something on the program for everyone. Also, I need to choose music that fits in with the number of rehearsals we have and the like. And, finally, I ensure that the programming will attract an audience.”

    SECCO’s next concert will be a Dec. 18 holiday show. All told, there will be four concerts as part of its 2022-23 season.

    SECCO is drawing people from as far as 45 minutes away. About 55 people have become members, and 50 are participating in the Nov. 6 program.

    “This group has a lot of raw talent – they sight-read like nothing,” Moore says.

    There are no auditions, and rehearsals are held Wednesday nights at the Waterford Community Center. Members pay dues of $75 a year.

    “I think our biggest challenge was starting with a zero bank account. We’re really building from zero,” Butler says.

    Dues help with that, and some people involved with the orchestra are trying to get sponsorships and are doing grant-writing for the organization.

    SECCO is now a co-sponsored activity under Waterford Parks and Recreation.

    Encouraging involvement

    In terms of the guiding spirit for SECCO, Butler says, “We were looking for transparency. We wanted to encourage involvement.”

    Moore echoed that sentiment and mentioned trust and respect as well, while Suriyakham chimed in with inclusivity.

    Moore says that the musicians work very hard, but before and after a rehearsal, there’s a social aspect and a great sense of community.

    “Music is a great way of making friends,” she says.

    In addition, she says, “Since the beginning of time, we have used music as human beings to create community. When you started having one or two people sing together, they had to learn to work together. If you think about how isolated we have been in COVID, we’re all coming together in a member-driven organization … It’s people from all different walks of life coming together and working together for a common goal of performing some great music. I just think about what a wonderful thing if we could all create communities in every part of our lives.”


    What: The Southeastern Connecticut Community Orchestra

    When: 2 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Waterford Community Center, 24 Rope Ferry Road, Waterford

    Cost: Free, donations accepted

    For more info: https://seccorchestra.com

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