Everyone likes a success story, especially when it’s local. In a time when even large cities have trouble supporting a symphony orchestra, the Northern Neck Orchestra has created and filled that niche in its own community. It attracts a diverse group of talented musicians spanning a wide age range. Residents take pride in watching the orchestra gain recognition for its music.
The man who leads the orchestra, who develops the group’s abilities and builds its reputation, is Maestro Guy Hayden. His background includes 15 years in theater; a college reentry focused on conducting; and teaching violin, viola, piano, and voice. Music has been his profession for the past 30 years, 9 with the Northern Neck Orchestra.
“I enjoy conducting quite a lot,” say Hayden. “I’m very lucky to be able to attract good players who want to play for the orchestra. Most of the musicians are volunteers. We encourage young people to be part of the orchestra; we want to give them a place to play. There may be up to six young musicians in a concert.”
As the orchestra’s music director, Hayden chooses the music for each concert. “I do have personal preferences, but I also have a pretty good idea what the audience likes. I consider what I want, what the orchestra wants, what the audience wants, and I ask ‘can we do this?’
At each concert, the selections are described in program notes. Then Hayden adds personal notes. “I introduce each piece of music with details that I think will appeal to people, telling them something of interest regarding the music.”
This year’s October concert is “A Night at the Movies,” perhaps a reminder that filmmakers have been influenced by classical composers for years. A future concert may include singers from the Chesapeake Chorale (see sidebar).
Musicians join the orchestra for what seems almost too simple a reason—music is important in their lives. They enjoy the camaraderie, working together, performing, the music itself. It doesn’t get old with repetition; if anything, it becomes more challenging. It’s never “just a job,” and they are never immune to the excitement of a live performance.
Michelle Lybarger volunteers as both musician and member of the board of directors, now serving her third term as president. “I’ve played horn since the fifth grade,” she says, “and I played continuously, joining the Northern Neck Orchestra when I moved here 16 years ago.
“I still have a passion about music. It’s a wonderful avocation—it keeps me focused. The horn is a very difficult instrument, and I need the orchestra to keep me motivated and involved.
“Guy Hayden has brought the orchestra to a level that is amazing. It used to be difficult to recruit musicians because of the distance they’d have to travel. Now, we sometimes have more players than we need for some of the wind sections. Guy also encourages his students to play, and that creates a win/win/win situation.”
Concertmaster Elizabeth Peterson’s mother was a piano teacher, but Elizabeth opted for the violin while in the first grade. College and family interrupted that musical start for about 20 years, but Elizabeth eventually returned to it. “I found I had really missed the music. It became a big thing in my life: practicing, playing with groups, attending music camp. Then people started asking if I would teach, so I now have 10 students. I like teaching on an individual basis—each person is so different.”
In the orchestra, Elizabeth leads the violin section. “It’s wonderful to make music with other people,” she says. “We all try really hard—we want to do the best we can within our limits. And we try to put the spotlight on the young people.”
Bruce Burgess played trumpet continuously for 60 years, but his experience was mostly with bands. In 2008, a few coincidences brought him to the Northern Neck. He soon joined the orchestra, and made the transition from band to classical sound.
“Playing classical music in general is inspiring,” he says, “and Guy Hayden has been a total inspiration for me. I didn’t have the music education—that was taken by architecture—but music fills the gaps in my life.
“I now enjoy watching the development of the amateur musicians, reminding me of myself 7 or 8 years ago. They’re getting the same kind of thrill.
“Audiences may experience a similar thrill as they see and hear live music on stage. Sometimes the music is calm and sedate, but it can also be exciting. It will be interesting on many levels.”
A past president of the board, Nancy Rowland plays piano and organ, but since the orchestra has neither, she learned some percussion. “What motivates me to play is that I enjoy being part of the group that’s making the music. It’s fun to go to rehearsals, to see how the expertise of the players improves. The musicians interact during the 10 weeks of rehearsals; they’re part of a team, all doing their best for a good performance. A live performance is something you just have to experience; you feel it as much as you see and hear it.
“The conductor is enthusiastic, and he sets high standards. I think that’s the success of the orchestra. The professionals appreciate it, and the amateurs are helped to reach the higher standard.” Nancy adds her enthusiasm to the Program Notes that she researches and writes for each concert.
Walter Mallorie, another past president, teaches band to grades 6 through 12 in Northumberland County. “I was away from music for 20 years between college and my move to the Northern Neck 10 years ago,” says Walter. “A friend introduced me to the orchestra, where I now play percussion.
“The school program here may be limited because it doesn’t include strings, but the band program provides good opportunities with State competitions.
“Guy has developed the orchestra to a high level; he brings out the best in us. We attract a lot of people, professionals who like the level of expertise. We encourage those students who are capable of playing with the orchestra; for them, it’s an awesome experience.”
The orchestra holds the interest of another impressive group of individuals who demonstrate the community’s support—the small army of volunteers who manage the business side of the organization. It’s impossible to list all the people and the jobs they do, but they do everything that a business needs, the orchestra also needs, and then some: financial expertise; advertising, promotion, and clerical assistance; website skills (a graphic artist would be most welcome); and the specialty needs of staging, lights, sound, ushers, and so much more.
Dennis and Rose Saunders must hold the record for volunteer time, having been with the orchestra since its 1991 start. The founding conductor was Dennis’s cousin, Cres Saunders. The couple continues to volunteer because “it’s beautiful music…and we like to see the support for the students,” repeating what seems a universal reason for supporting the orchestra.
If students are the orchestra’s primary beneficiaries, the community itself is a very close second. To attend three symphony concerts a year without a long commute is a definite plus. But to have those concerts create the joy, the drama, the excitement that only a live performance can bring—that’s always a special thrill. The orchestra is truly a gift to this community.
October 25, 2014: “
A Night at the Movies.”
Lancaster Middle School, Kilmarnock
March 8, 2015: “
Strings and Things.”
St. Clare Walker Middle School, Locust Hill
May 9, 2015: “
America the Beautiful.”
Lancaster Middle School, Kilmarnock
See website for ticket and other information: