It’s been 50 years since the Valley Symphony Association first picked up its instruments. The VSA began as a small group of classical musicians and by 1982, 30 musicians were practicing once a week in Delta and performing four annual concerts for the community.

Now, the VSA is home to over 100 instrumentalists and vocalists combined, all from throughout the Uncompahgre and North Folk Valleys.

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The combined Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorus during its 49th performance season. (Courtesy photo/VSA)

The orchestra is now planning a symphonic return after experiencing challenges and devastating losses in their previous season due to the pandemic. Having lost a couple of members from COVID, the musicians’ reunion at their first rehearsal last Thursday after 18 months apart was a mixed bag of emotions.

It was “wild” returning after such a long hiatus and not seeing the people who had played with them for years, said Stacey Ryan.

Ryan wears many hats in the VSA. She began playing the clarinet in third grade all through high school. The musician picked her instrument back up in 2009 with the community band and joined the VSA orchestra in 2010.

Now Ryan plays as a volunteer musician and incorporates her background in nonprofit organizations through different freelance positions for the VSA. Her duties include PR publicity, marketing efforts, board development work and helping the nonprofit where she’s needed.

Ryan’s role as a musician leverages her a deeper understanding of the organization and its mission, she said of the work.

While the orchestra looks different after losing members, it still offers familiarity around the changes.

“We’re looking to show the love and we’d love to get that back from the community to help us keep the music alive,” said Ryan.

With a new season fast approaching, the VSA is looking for volunteers and community support. Between the nature of being a nonprofit and coming back from COVID, Ryan noted that the orchestra survives off people showing up and enjoying the live music the community was “deprived of” for so long.

The orchestra is kicking off the first of their annual shows, Pops in the Park, next Saturday and Sunday at 5 p.m. in Cedaredge Town Park and Montrose Riverbottom Park respectively. The show is the only free, outdoor concert of the season, where the musicians will perform a range of popular and contemporary music styles.

The VSA is also preparing for their October shows where they’ll showcase “Fantastic Fantasia一a Spooktacular.” Music hails from the original Disney 1940 Fantasia film that merged symphonic music and animation.

The orchestra’s 50th anniversary marks a big splash for the nonprofit, with focused efforts on encouraging the community to purchase season and concert tickets.

A symphony, Ryan noted, is an economic driver for a community, particularly one such as Montrose. Whether patrons attend a symphony orchestra concert during matinee hours or in the evening, they often make an event of the outing. Restaurants see more customers during lunch and dinner hours for date nights and family nights. Shops make a convenient stop for patrons on their way in or out of the show.

If people are traveling into the community for the show, they may have to pay for parking or get a room somewhere.

On the flip side, many people who join symphonies are typically more volunteer-oriented and civically engaged, said the musician. Overall, the event brings people together.

The VSA comprises a wide range of ages, from teens as young as 14 to older adults in their 80s. Valley Youth Orchestra director Deb TenNapel works closely with the VSA to bridge the gap between the two entities, sending advanced youth players to the adult orchestra once she determines they’re ready to move up. This plays another vital step in the young musicians’ development, said Ryan.

While the VYO is strictly a stringed orchestra, the VSA is host to strings, winds and percussion instruments. Strings remain the star player of the orchestra so they aren’t overpowered by the accompanying instruments.

There’s a significant misconception around what an orchestra is, the musician lamented. Young people often consider the orchestra a “stuffy” affair, but it’s an opportunity that allows the patron to decide what kind of event it will be.

“You can show up in jeans and no one will care,” said Ryan. “Or you can wear black formal for a more formal affair.”

Many people are exposed to the symphony in ways they probably have never considered, such as through movie scores, cartoons, shows and commercials.

“There’s so many ways that people don’t realize how entrenched It is, in our culture, our psyche,” Ryan said of symphonic music. “There’s a reason why this stuff is so popular after two or 300 years. It’s because it’s great stuff and it touches humans, it touches the human soul, the human spirit and doesn’t matter when it was written.”

Ryan encourages patrons to leave preconceived notions at the door before experiencing a timeless and classic tradition of community music. Some people enjoy the symphonic orchestra for a “meditative aspect,” but overall, live shows offer an entirely different experience from recordings. The VSA hopes to share the live experience with the community, who have the unique opportunity to watch neighbors, coworkers, their doctors, attorneys and teachers play for an evening.

The VSA is grateful for community sponsorships that allow them to play in different locations around the city. With venue locations already sponsored, the nonprofit can focus on diversifying their audience.

Students receive a discounted ticket rate of $5, which affords high schoolers the chance to listen to a concert with some friends where they can enjoy shows ranging from classical pieces to pop concerts showcasing more contemporary melodies found on Broadway, in movies and television, in music, marches or pop culture.

The VSA continues its “call for talent,” said Ryan. The orchestra is looking for a percussionist, double reed players for bassoon and oboe and as always, recruiting string players.

Community bands and orchestras pre-date the Civil War. People of all ages would join together to practice each week, with audiences flocking to the parks on Sundays for a show that entertained entire communities.

“It’s very American,” said Ryan.

The VSA can be contacted at info@valleysymphony.org, 970-275-8676 and can be found at Valleysymphony.org

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

Cassie Knust is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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