MORGAN — As music often does, the Morgan Valley Chamber Orchestra came from a desire to create a community voice.
The beauty of this orchestra is that it is intended for anyone of any age who has ever wanted to learn to play a stringed instrument — a violin, viola or cello — to have that opportunity, said Amy Ward, who plays the viola and serves as the MVCO chairman of the board and executive committee president.
The 20-member orchestra meets Tuesday nights at Morgan High School. Beginning and intermediate classes start at 6 p.m., followed by the orchestra itself at 7 p.m.
MVCO’s next performance will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 11 at the high school.
“One of our goals is to make strings music accessible and affordable,” Ward said. “If someone doesn’t have the money, they can come in. If someone has never played an instrument, they can come, too.”
Music lessons cost $120 for the year. Anyone who can’t afford the classes but still wants to play, can get a waiver, she said. If someone doesn’t have an instrument, they pay $20 per month to rent a violin and $50 per month to rent a cello.
Local attorney Ryan Pace helped set up MVCO’s nonprofit status, which means it will be easier for the strings orchestra to raise funds. None of the musicians are professionals at running organizations, so there has been what Ward calls a “big learning curve.”
This strings orchestra is intended as a community activity, so people of all ages can play with people of all skill levels.
The conductor, Samuel Runolsson, of Ogden, is there to provide a sense of cohesion and purpose as the musicians learn together.
“We’re not to a point where we sound professional, but everything is about progress,” he said. “I feel like we improve every week.”
Besides the Morgan Valley Chamber Orchestra, Runolsson is the conductor for the Lincoln Youth Symphony in Brigham City and the Bonneville Youth Orchestra at Weber State University. He is earning his master’s degree in musical performance at the University of Utah.
“An orchestra is a group of people who want to come together to create something that wasn’t there before and give it back to the community,” Runolsson said. “That’s especially what this Morgan group is. It is about the community creating something out of nothing. My job is to help guide that vision.”
The Morgan strings orchestra has a complex genealogy. Crystal Hardman, a Morgan High School senior, started an after-school community strings program in 2007. Then Weber State University began offering beginning classes and orchestra in Morgan in 2008 as part of the National String Project Consortium. When the program ended there in 2010, a handful of Morgan students followed the strings lessons down to Ogden, Ward said.
But people like to maintain the sense of Morgan as a self-sufficient, cohesive community, she said. So when seven Morgan women formed a double quartet called “All Strung Out,” they decided there was enough local talent to bring the music back home.
“Our original idea was simply to create an orchestra,” Ward said. “The more we talked about it, we knew we needed to build a strings program. That was the most overwhelming decision we made: Not just an orchestra, but classes as well.”
The beginning classes are meant to feed the intermediate classes, which then develop musicians for the orchestra, she said. That way, the program is self-sustaining. This means a visitor might hear 12 beginners play Jingle Bells in the music room and the nine intermediate students play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in the auditorium across the hall.
Ward spent part of a recent evening practice in the hall helping beginner violinist Kelly Christiansen with her music. Christiansen’s job schedule meant she could only be there sometimes, Ward said, but it was important to help people who want to make music.
“We work with anyone who is falling behind,” she said.
Jean Dickson and Alisa Gunn are volunteer music instructors who switch between teaching the beginning and intermediate classes. Dickson, 72, is also the oldest member of the orchestra. After a lifetime of playing the violin, she is now learning the viola, which her daughter, Mindy Wheelwright, says is a sign no one is ever too old to learn a new musical instrument.
“Music brings us culture and beauty,” said Wheelwright, violinist and MVCO board member. “It soothes the voices we hear from the outside and the savage beast within. This (orchestra) has given me the chance to serve in my community.”