Orchestra readies first holiday concert

By Patricia Ann Speelman - pspeelman@aimmedianetwork.com

SIDNEY — Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without music.

The somewhat new Upper Valley Community Orchestra (UVCO) will add to holiday festivities by performing its first Christmas concert, Dec. 18, at 3 p.m., in the St. John’s Lutheran Church, 120 W. Water St. Admission will be free, but donations will be accepted.

Appearing with the orchestra will be the Sidney High School Chamber Choir.

The orchestra was formed earlier this year and performed its inaugural concert in June. John Streb, of Fletcher, wields the baton. Performers are all volunteer musicians. They include high schoolers from Sidney and Troy, college students from Edison State Community College, Bowling Green State University, and Ohio State University Lima and Columbus campuses and adults from Sidney Piqua, Troy and Columbus.

“String players asked (us to create) an orchestra,” Streb said recently. Bands usually don’t include stringed instruments. Orchestras do.

“There was no need. There was a want. They just wanted to do more. And it’s important to get students involved. As musicians stop playing because they’re more mature, we need to make sure there’s someone there to step up. Like Urban Meyer (the Ohio State football coach) would say, ‘Step up.’ You want the music to continue and Sidney is very, very rich. This is a very musical community,” he said.

Second violinist Debbie Mertz, of Sidney, agrees.

“You don’t have to go all the way down to the Schuster Center (in Dayton) to enjoy good music,” she said.

Half of the UVCO players are students; half are adults.

“An orchestra adds the full flavor of all the instruments, combined,” Mertz said. “It keeps tradition alive. It’s refreshing. It keeps you in practice. It gives you a chance to share your music with others.”

Mertz has played for some 50 years, since she began learning as a Sidney City Schools fifth-grader in the 1950s. Now, she teaches beginning students, privately. She has played under Streb’s baton for Sock and Buskin Players and high school musicals.

“My most memorable one in the early ’90s — they performed an outside theater at the old children’s home south of town with the orchestra playing inside the second story. John opened several windows and directed us, inside, as he watched for cues from the stage. As they did the railroad scene from ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ an actual train went by on the Big Four Bridge. What timing!” Mertz said.

Streb has selected music for the new orchestra’s concerts.

“I go to Stanton’s or Music Plus (stores in Columbus). I spend hours listening to music. I want to challenge the musicians. Since this is our first year, I’m guessing what’s appropriate (for the players’ skill levels),” he said.

Among the songs on the program for Dec. 18 are “Sleigh Ride,” “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song.” Streb hopes to involve a committee in music choices in the future.

He also would like to qualify for grant money to help pay for the printed scores. That’s why UVCO has begun the process of establishing tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service.

Streb majored in tuba performance in college and studied conducting.

“I always wanted to do it and now I have the chance,” he said. He loves being on the podium.

“It sure is fun to stand in front of (the players). When you’re up there and that certain song, that certain chord comes, you play that and it gives you goose bumps. Every show has that certain moment for the conductor, that big moment, and you just know. As you rehearse over and over, you start to realize there’s a big moment coming. Then you have to get the musicians to see it. You’re at the top of the mountain and raising the flag,” Streb said.

The biggest challenge the ensemble faces, he feels, is finding an audience.

“You’re starting with an empty stage and an empty auditorium,” he noted. “Not only do you have to find musicians, you have to find an audience, too, and appreciate what the musicians are doing onstage. At the first concert (in June), we had about 150 in the audience. That was OK. Now, it’s our second concert. I hope they go and say to others, ‘Hey, you need to do this. It’s great.’ We have to start our own tradition.”

By Patricia Ann Speelman


Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.