Playing beyond the page: The FSU Community Orchestra

OrchestraBy Johnathan Jena
As wonderful a thing as music is to play, the greater gift perhaps, comes when it is shared.
Lead by Fitchburg State Psychology Professor Hildy Schilling, the Community String Orchestra has grown into an ensemble that not only gives players a supportive environment to create music, but also reaches outwards in support of the greater Fitchburg community.
“When you’ve got an audience full of smiling people and a stage full of smiling musicians, that’s the greatest feeling,” Schilling said.
Deviating from the footsteps of traditional college orchestras in which auditions are required to play, the Fitchburg State Orchestra is a community orchestra, meaning that members from the community and of different ages can join.
“The greatest thing about the group being a community orchestra is that everybody matters and can get involved,” Schilling said.  “Since the musicians  are not getting paid, the primary focus is on the music itself.”
With the main focus being on the music rather than on skill level or a similar competitive scale, the Fitchburg State Orchestra creates a unique environment where a diverse spectrum of ages, backgrounds, and experience can be found.
“Seeing seasoned players passing along their insight is a wonderful thing,” Schilling said.  “It allows music to become more than merely an ability or routine, but a motivating and liberating thing that is meant to be shared.”
As well as redefining the idea of a typical college orchestra through their variety of members, they also expand the perception of traditional orchestral repertoire as well.  “As we got more and more players since I started conducting the group six years ago, it allowed us to expand what we were capable of playing,” Schilling said.
With the addition of percussion and drum set for instance, the group opened itself up to playing pop and rock songs such as Kashmir by Led Zeppelin or Boulevard Of Broken Dreams by Green Day, played at the the Undergraduate Research Conference, as well as more conventional orchestral fare.
“A unique thing about us is that we have not locked ourselves into one genre.  What we play is determined both by the composition of the group as well as the venue we play in,” Schilling said.
In continuation with sharing musical experience between the orchestra’s members, the ensemble also donates its time to sharing its abilities and variety of music in the surrounding community.
“The orchestra has collaborated with the Montachusett Chorale and Leominster Public Schools, and has been asked to play at art exhibits, town sponsored functions, and recently a patriotic event.  It is fun to work with others and see the different ideas and interpretations of music,” Schilling said.
One of the largest collaborations the orchestra takes part in is its annual series of performances with the Leominster public schools.
“It started when I played in a pit orchestra with Robert Landry, the director of band and chorus at Samoset Public Schools,” Schilling said.  “We talked about collaborating, and today, he arranges pieces for the orchestra to perform with the younger students for the concerts.”  Beyond the impact the event has on the town and community, is the positive influence it has on the younger performers.
“It reminds them that they are important; that we are taking the time as a college ensemble to support their endeavors is an incredible thing for them,” Schilling said.
Even with the outreach of the group to the community, the focus still remains in the human element.  “Some adults in the orchestra play as a means of putting everything else aside,” Schilling said.  “Not only does music make them happy, but there is a sense of support and belonging.”
Regardless of the troubles one is going through on their own, things that bring people together can often be the very remedy they need.  “After every rehearsal, they are thankful to have come to play,” Schilling said.  “I believe people come to rehearsals for the music, but they stay for the people.”
Whether among the members of the group or in the greater community, music, experience, and friendship are shared freely by the Fitchburg State Community Orchestra.  “I hope to continue what we are doing and perhaps grow a bit,” Schilling said about the future of the group.
“While I hope to continue the collaborations we have and remain open to new things, for now I am happy with where we are,” she said, “I think we have a great thing going.”
The orchestra’s next major performances are at the Graduate Commencement Ceremony, which will take place on May 15 at 6:15 p.m. in the Fitchburg State University Recreational Center.
The collaborative Samoset/Leominster Concert dates with Robert Landry are as follows:
Samoset Concert: May 21 at 7p.m. at Samoset School in Leominster
All-City Concert: May 28 at 7 p.m. at Leominster High School
Elementary All-City Chorus Concert: May 29 at 7 p.m. at Leominster High School