Homeschool orchestra celebrates 20 years in music
Posted April 16
CARLISLE, Pa. — The strings produce the vibrations that travel into the wood.
"That is when the magic begins," Jonah Graybill said. "You get unlimited mobility."
The 14-year-old boy from Gardners was describing the viola — his instrument of choice on the Central Pennsylvania Homeschool Orchestra.
He joined the ensemble four years ago on a six-week trial basis and has since proved himself capable of taking on and perfecting difficult pieces of music.
"It makes you go out of your comfort zone and do things not thought possible," Graybill said of the orchestra and its repertoire. "It produces a very good atmosphere."
Celebrating 20 years of service, CPHO probably got its start in 1997 when homeschool families joined together to organize an opportunity for students eager to play in an ensemble, administrator Muriel Hergenroeder said.
The orchestra consists mostly of middle school- and high school-aged students who are mature enough to take correction without hurt feelings and responsibility for their part in the group, she said.
CPHO offers two levels of student membership: "Principal" for youths who have the skill to handle difficult works, and "Associate" for developing musicians skilled enough to master easier pieces.
"That way they can participate," Hergenroeder said. "It gives them the opportunity for growth. The idea is not to have to turn them away or discourage them."
While most members are homeschooled students, the orchestra is open to teenagers enrolled in public, private and cyber charter schools. Though its venue is a church and its rehearsals and performances open with Christian prayer, students of any faith are welcome to participate.
CPHO has a regular season that runs from September to early May and consists of rehearsals from 2:30 to 4:45 p.m. Mondays at the Carlisle Alliance Church, 237 E. North St., in Carlisle.
The rehearsal schedule is every other Monday from September through March before switching to weekly practices in early April to prepare students for a free public concert held at the church and a private concert held at the Chapel Pointe retirement community in Carlisle.
There are four concerts scheduled this year, starting with a joint performance with the Centre County Homeschool Orchestra at 7 p.m. April 22 at the Lost Creek Mennonite Church, 2682 Long Road, Mifflintown, Juniata County.
This will be followed by private concerts at Chapel Pointe on May 2 and Messiah Village in Mechanicsburg on May 3. The 2017 season will conclude with the 20th Anniversary Gala Concert and Reception at the Alliance Church May 5 at 7 p.m.
The repertoire is mostly a combination of traditional symphonic music and contemporary tunes arranged for orchestra, Hergenroeder said. She said each concert includes segments called Student Spotlights where one or more musicians can showcase their talents. Jonah Graybill once did a bluegrass duet with his father playing guitar and him playing fiddle.
The current orchestra numbers about 21 players. Half of them are from Cumberland County while the rest travel from Dauphin, Perry and York counties. The composition of instruments varies from year-to-year depending on who graduates and who is recruited. The 2017 ensemble is light on strings (five violins and one viola) but heavy on percussion (five musicians).
"We need players. . The more players, the more variety," Hergenroeder said. "Woodwinds are always a challenge. We would love to have a cellist."
This yearly flux in players and instruments can be a challenge for conductor Barry Clay, a volunteer who has written over 30 works for CPHO. Every season, Clay has to balance the expertise of veteran players with the skill level of new musicians as he selects and adjusts the repertoire.
The work may require Clay to rewrite parts of a composition either to make the music easier to play or to account for an instrument that is missing from the lineup. But he doesn't want to make it too easy for CPHO members.
"I want them to get that feeling that they have tackled difficult music and can play it well," Clay said. "I want them to have that confidence."
One other goal is to instill youths with a lifelong love of music.
"Unlike sports, music is something you can do into old age," Clay said. "I am hoping that they have an enjoyment of their instrument even if they only get it out once a year."
Some CPHO members have advanced to other opportunities. Carlisle resident Joseph DeAngelo participated in the ensemble before becoming the concertmaster for the Harrisburg Symphony Youth Orchestra. The concertmaster is the leader of the string section who sits in the first chair to the conductor's left.
Violinist Ben Graham, 16, of Dillsburg is the current concertmaster of the CPHO. He first took up the instrument almost seven years ago and enjoys the musical range of the violin.
"I can play high or low over three different octaves," Graham said. "I like the variety and love the challenge of playing it." The teaching style of Clay surpasses what Graham could take in through just private lessons.
"It is a good method of learning," Graham said. "It just throws it at you and you have to learn it in so many months. It has helped me to become a better violinist."
Pianist Alyssa McLeod, 12, of Carlisle joined the CPHO last fall because she wanted to get experience playing in a large group. "At first, it was kind of tricky staying together with the conductor," McLeod said. "But it's a lot easier now.
"It's a lot of fun to be together like a family," she said. "It makes a bigger sound. It makes me feel that I am a part of it."