Simpson Leads Effort to Form Community Orchestra

The community orchestra was featured in a recent article in the Record Herold newspaper.

Since he first arrived at Simpson College five years ago,  Mike Eckerty has hoped to provide more orchestral opportunities for students who play wind instruments.

He will achieve that goal this fall.

Eckerty, an assistant professor of music and the director of Instrumental Music, is leading the effort to create a community orchestra that will include Simpson students as well as area residents.

Auditions will be held Aug. 26 in the Amy Robertson Music Center on campus.

Let’s learn more:

Q. How did this come about?

A. We’ve been having meetings about this for two years. I felt it was something the college needed, because it will give wind students an extra opportunity and it will allow string students to come to Simpson and play in an orchestra. Simpson has not had a strings orchestra for 40 years.

Q. How many players have you lined up?

A. Right now it looks like we’re going to have 40 to 50 members this first year. Eventually, I’d love to have between 60 and 80.

Q. It sounds as if people are excited by this.

A. We’ve received a very good community reaction, and I believe that because it provides great opportunities for all ages. It’s a civic outlet for musicians who want to be involved, and gives them a way to be involved with Simpson.

Q. Do other colleges do this?

A. Actually, it’s how the smaller colleges traditionally do orchestra. If they have an orchestra, it’s typically going to be made up of community and student players.

Q. How about Simpson alums?

A. There are alumni, college employees, local teachers, a son of a former dean as well as several high school students who have indicated an interest.

Q. So if I played in concert band in high school 30 years ago, is the orchestra for me?

A. Not necessarily. The parts that are most open to the public are the strings parts. For a violinist who has not played for a number of years, you would probably need to practice or take lessons before it was something you could do. It’s not a group for someone who’s just a beginner starting out or somebody who hasn’t played much for 30 years. That being said, maybe they’re such a natural talent that they can do it. I expect there will be some surprises at the auditions, but it’s not the kind of group where somebody can just show up and play.

Q. Explain why this will be a great opportunity for Simpson musicians.

A. I’ve felt very strongly about the need for an orchestra since I’ve been here because I feel it’s a very important aspect of the curriculum for wind students. We do have wind students who play in community orchestras elsewhere, and there has been the occasional opportunity to play with professionals for opera and choir performances on campus. I just wanted it to be more solidified and more geared to the learning process. It’s different to have a group that will practice all semester long. Our students are excited about it.

Q. What do you expect to happen when musicians representing different generations get together?

A. Life is a learning process, and you learn from everybody. It may be that a 40-year-old community member who happens to be playing a violin will have a skill level that can help a young student. It will provide the high school students the opportunity to play with more mature players and it might enrich their experience.

Q. Who else has been working on this project?

A. Linda Benoit, affiliate instructor of strings at Simpson, and Ann Gribbins, who teaches orchestra at Indianola High School.

Q. This sounds like a group Indianola can take pride in.

A. I certainly hope so. I can also envision this growing. Dordt College in northwest Iowa did something like this 20 years ago, and it’s grown into its own little community orchestra with a college orchestra embedded in it. They’ve built up enough players to do both, but our plan right now is just to form the community orchestra.

Q. When can we expect to hear you?

A. Our first concert is scheduled for Nov. 18.

Q. So how can someone join?

A. They can contact me at or call me at 515-961-1326.

Q. Will they have fun?

A. Yes, because it’s always fun to get together and have the chance to play good music.

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1 Comment

  1. Ben on August 25, 2012