The Carlisle Chamber Orchestra prepares for inaugural concert

 by Karina Coombs

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Conductor Alan Yost rehearses the newly formed Carlisle Chamber Orchestra. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

On a recent Wednesday evening, nearly 30 musicians took to the stage in the sanctuary of the Carlisle Congregational Church to rehearse Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 for their December 5 performance. As the music filled the room—the sound rising and falling—Senior Pastor Steven James Weibley stood listening by the doors, the large room otherwise empty. “[Your] Beethoven sounds like Beethoven!” announced an excited Alan Yost, conductor of the newly formed Carlisle Chamber Orchestra.

A lifetime of music

The compliment is more significant than it might sound. The Carlisle Chamber Orchestra formed in September and has only been rehearsing for five weeks, meeting each Wednesday night for two hours. And while Yost might be surprised by their collective skill, 25-year Carlisle residents Kathy and Richard Chick are not. They personally selected each talented member. “We have actually sat down with our coffee and said, ‘I don’t believe this has happened,’” said Kathy, explaining that the couple had dreamed of creating a local orchestra for nearly a decade. 

The Chicks have been involved with music since they were children, Kathy on the cello and Richard on the clarinet and saxophone. Over the years, the couple has also been involved with a number of community orchestras, particularly Kathy who not only played, but also was heavily involved in the business side of a large orchestra for 30 years. With larger orchestras come larger operating budgets and workloads, however, and Kathy found herself spending more time on the business side than music side. She eventually left the orchestra and began playing with another in Andover with Richard sitting in from time to time.

Finding sanctuary

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Founders Richard Chick (bassoon) and Kathy Chick (cello) .
(Photo by Karina Coombs)

Between the long drive to Andover, and the lack of a full time spot for Richard, the couple decided to turn their attention back to Carlisle and try to form a chamber orchestra. With their years of experience playing in both large and small groups, they recognized the difference in a chamber orchestra. “There are pluses and minuses of playing in an orchestra of 65 or 70 people,” explained Richard. “[You] can’t hear yourself, but it is sort of a high to have all this sound . . .”

The first challenge was to find a local space for rehearsals and performances, with the couple looking at a number of locations that were either too busy to accommodate them or without the facilities the musicians required. Kathy then approached the Carlisle Congregational Church. Not only was the church able to offer the couple Wednesday night rehearsals and Friday night performances, they also offered an ideal space with seating for 300.

“The facility is fantastic for us,” explained Richard, who will be playing bassoon in the new orchestra. “The sanctuary is big enough for us to rehearse a whole orchestra and actually feel like we’re in a hall . . . It’s got a stage to support us and nice acoustics.” The Chicks explained that another unique feature of the sanctuary was the presence of two pianos one of which Richard explained, is a Falcone and the last piano the company ever made. “We can’t believe what we fell into,” added Kathy.

Carlisle Chamber Orchestra

With a performance space confirmed the couple turned their attention to the orchestra itself. And in late summer, Kathy began sending out letters to a core group of musicians she and Richard had worked with in the past, explaining what the couple hoped to create. “We know a lot of people,” said Kathy. “It’s a music community. Everybody knows who everybody is [and] everybody has their list [of musicians they want to play with].” 

Emails began trickling in toward the end of September as musicians began committing to the Chick’s vision. Of the current 35 members of the Carlisle Chamber Orchestra, seven are from Carlisle including the Chicks: Julie Durell, John Glenn, Poliana Yee, Loretta Tramontozi and Ira Moskowitz. The remaining musicians represent 14 surrounding communities. Additional musicians will sit in from time to time depending on the piece.

To complete their ensemble the Chicks also needed to find a committed conductor. Kathy, who had previously been on the Board of the Friends of the Performing Arts in Concord, turned to Yost—the Musical Director for a number of fully staged operas put on by the organization during her tenure. A test pilot and air traffic controller, Yost has conducted a number of orchestras both in Massachusetts and in Northern Colorado and was excited at the possibilities within the Carlisle group. 

“He loves chamber music,” said Kathy. “The first rehearsal [he] was just bowled over,” added Richard. “He couldn’t believe how good the group sounded just reading through a Beethoven symphony . . . He comes up to me after and said, ‘I can’t believe what you’ve done here.’”

The repertoire

The Chicks explained that one of the biggest challenges to face the orchestra is narrowing down the works to perform, with all the musicians offering suggestions. The biggest challenge? With their level of experience, the musicians and conductor look forward to new and challenging pieces, but they are also aware the music needs to appeal to a broad audience that may not be familiar with it. “Is this piece of music you’ve never heard before going to be one you want to hear again?” asked Richard. 

In addition to offering music that might not be played by larger groups, the Chicks explained the chamber orchestra would also incorporate a range of genres. “We’re going to play stuff all the way from Bach and before, up to today. 

Things that have a jazz component to them, some influences of popular music, ethnic music . . . We’re not tightly wrapped around one particular kind of music,” said Richard. “We’re trying to look for things that people will go away saying, ‘I really enjoyed that and want to come back.’”

Future plans

While Yost has suggested the repertoire for their three upcoming performances, in the future the Chicks plan on setting up a music committee of four or five musicians to talk about dates and the repertoire for next year. They are also working on setting up a traditional Board for the organization.

The Chicks are also working at ensuring each musician has a voice in the orchestra. “We’re trying to make the membership feel like it’s their orchestra, not some dictatorial group,” explained Richard, adding that Yost also understands the importance of being egalitarian with a group of volunteers who all want to be there. “Everybody in there is really excited and they’re having a good time,” said Kathy.

Kathy is also working on publicity and setting up the orchestra as an official 501c(3) non-profit organization. She recently applied for a local cultural council grant and Richard is working on the group’s website. “The two of us have been working together like a business team,” she said. “Neither one of us could have done this on our own. It’s a passion for both of us that we make this happen and do it the right way. Right now I can’t imagine this won’t blossom.” 

Performance schedule 

The Carlisle Chamber Orchestra is holding its inaugural performance at the Carlisle Congregational Church on Friday, December 5 at 8 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted and appreciated at the door. 

Yost will conduct the Beethoven Symphony No. 2, Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances Suite 1 and the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 with pianist Kathleen Forgac. Joining the orchestra will be Katya Anoshkin and members of the Carlisle Community Chorus who will lead an audience sing-along of carols.

The orchestra will also have performances on March 6 and May 2 featuring a variety of works. The later concerts will have an admission fee. For more information on the organization and its performance schedule, please visit the Carlisle Chamber Orchestra’s website at: www.ccorch.org  ∆