When the leaders of the Raleigh Festival Orchestra say the group is student-run, they mean it.
Students are the organizers and the fundraisers, the musicians and the conductors, and even, sometimes, the composers.
Since its inaugural concert last summer, the orchestra has doubled in size to about 40 members who range in age from middle-schoolers to recent college graduates, most of them from Wake County. They join together in the summer for rehearsals and a final concert.
The mission of the orchestra is to give student musicians an opportunity to play in a collaborative setting. And, unlike other summer programs that can run into the thousands of dollars, the musicians pay nothing to participate.
The group’s board – a quartet of music-minded college students – has found ways to make sure students get to try new things as members of the orchestra. They feature a soloist each year and include one work by a student composer in the concert.
Joseph House, a member of the board and this year’s student composer, said that working in a setting where students bounce ideas off each other and learn side-by-side is invaluable.
“It really helps you develop as a musician if you have that chance,” said House, a graduate of Millbrook High School and a rising junior at Appalachian State, where he plays the horn and majors in music composition.
The orchestra practices wherever it can find free space. Last week, the brass section even set up rehearsal under a tree on the front lawn of Apex High School, while the woodwinds and strings practiced inside. Then they came together to work through parts of House’s first-ever symphony.
Ben Mygatt, a 15-year-old violinist who attends Raleigh Charter High School, said that what he enjoys about the orchestra is the sense of camaraderie.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to play with people who are close to my age.”
The orchestra was founded by a trio of Apex High School graduates last year. Mitchell Franklin, a pianist and now a rising junior at Appalachian State, was learning a concerto by Edvard Grieg, and he wanted the chance to play it with a full symphony.
He turned to Robert Garbarz, a violin performance major at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Michael Grimes, a horn player and music education major at Appalachian State, for help, and the three hatched a plan. While it might be hard to walk into an established orchestra and ask to play a solo, there was nothing to stop them from forming their own orchestra. And the Raleigh Festival Orchestra was born.
Since then, they’ve recruited members by word of mouth and paid for everything out of their own pockets. Last month, they raised more than $1,000 through Kickstarter, an online fundraising organization, which will defray the costs of renting a performance space.
They’re glad for that, because it means they can keep the concert free to the public. The concert features works by Strauss, Beethoven, Dvorak, Mozart and House’s symphony, Fable.
House, who counts American composer Aaron Copland among his top influences, says his goal for the piece is to bring old and new techniques together in a way that all listeners can enjoy.