WILLAMETTE FALLS SYMPHONY
As remembered by Margie Arhigi 2005
WFS was started as the Clackamas Community College Orchestra in 1981. It was a college community education course open to students and the community. The conductor was Tom Gingerich from Canby. When I joined towards the end of 1981, there were 8 string players and nothing else! Since the most suitable music for such a small ensemble was Baroque where the most common wind part was oboe, I learned to transpose oboe parts so I could play them on clarinet.
As years went by we gradually added players and started to give small concerts at CCC. The earliest program that I have kept dates from May 1985. It is for a joint concert with the CCC Choir. Our program was Bach- Suite No. 2, Bizet- Carmen Suite No. 1, Faure- Pavanne, Massanet- Meditation from Thais, and Nelhybel- Passacaglia. There were still only 8 string players but there were also 6 wind players: 2 flutes, an oboe, a clarinet, a trumpet and a horn. The concert master during this period was Jeanette Gingerich.
The next program that I find is three years later in the spring of 1988. By this time we had a new conductor and a new location. CCC was having financial difficulties during this period, and had cut all courses that lost money, including the orchestra. So we were officially dead, but I couldn’t let it go that easily. The horn player at that time was Neil Wilson from Canby who had some conducting experience. I persuaded him to act as a volunteer conductor. In the meantime, Bob Purscelley, director of Oregon City Community Schools, and husband of our principal cellist, Cecelia, volunteered to let us use Barclay School at no charge. He also obtained rejected O.C. school stands for us.
By this time we were up to 21 players- still only 8 strings, but 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 trumpets, horn, tuba and tympani. Two more of our current players were now on the roster: Doug Forncrook, violin, and Clem Hunter, clarinet. During this period, we played simple school arrangements that were within the reach of our very small budget and our players. A program from the Fall of 1989 finds us still at Barclay with Neil Wilson conducting. The player list is still at 21, and now includes Susan High, oboe, and Ginny Weber, cello. The concert master was Doug Forncrook.
By the Fall of 1990, Neil Wilson wished to return to playing horn and we found a new volunteer conductor- Ervin Lesser. This made a major change in orchestra personnel, as Erv was a retired conductor from the O.C. school system with many connections with local musicians. We jumped from 8 to 21 string players (including Marguerite Mesa)! and the total number of players rose to 42 including 4 horns and 4 trombones. We still played mostly arrangements, but did attempt a little “real” music during this time, although Erv had a habit of arranging it himself. (This sometimes had unfortunate consequences as his rehearsal style was to play little bits and never do the whole piece until dress rehearsal - I remember one dress rehearsal where I simply couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong until discovered that he had omitted a 55 measure rest in the arrangement he gave me! Erv also brought a huge increase in audience size because of his many friends and influence in the community. We started having outside soloists- his singer friends. The Barclay auditorium was full for our free concerts! We did accept donations so actually started to accumulate a little money during this year.
The Fall of 1991 brought our first paid conductor since CCC days- Anthony Armore. He was a professional conductor, and had also conducted the Yaquina Orchestra, Portland Chamber Orchestra and MJCC as well as several Eastern European orchestras. He remained as our conductor for eight years through the spring of 2000. By this time we had a reasonable orchestra, both in terms of numbers (39, including 19 strings) and player skill. Both Tony and the orchestra were eager to make the leap to full original scores. Our first concert in 1991 included a Mozart Piano Concerto with Christopher Schindler, pianist, and our first symphony- Schubert’s #8. The players were delighted to be playing the real thing at last! The Tony years were marked by excellent paid soloists (many from the Oregon Symphony), wonderful music and increasing player skills.
Unfortunately these years were also marked by a sharp decline in audience numbers, who perhaps did not share our enthusiasm for the music or did not like paying admission. In 1991- 92 we did not charge admission, but received $400-$450 a concert in donations. In the Fall of 1993 the Board voted to charge $4 for admission (this was increased to $5 in 1994). It felt that we now needed to charge admission to help pay the conductor and soloists. Our revenue per concert ranged from about $300 - $500 during this period and our audience size decreased to about 100 individuals.
The earliest Board minutes that I have date from Fall of 1991. Members were Neil Wilson, chairman, Margie Arighi, Doug Forncrook, Susan High, Clem Hunter, Bev Nikkari, Bob Purscelley, Darell Rasmussen, and Gary Vocana. Margie, Doug and Susan have been on the Board ever since then. Susan Sommers took over as chair in the Spring of 1992 and she was replaced by Margie Arighi in the Fall of 1993.
In the Fall of 1994, Doug Forncrook took over as chair to be replaced by Susan High in the Fall of 1995. Bob Purscelley, director of the Oregon City Community Schools continued to work closely with the orchestra and gave us used timpani and a bass drum. He also purchased 10 stands specifically for us. The Board approved a Rights and Responsibilities document for orchestra members during this period to help to avoid/solve personnel problems.
In 1994 the orchestra’s name was changed to the Willamette Falls Symphony and we printed glossy brochures (22 cents each) to hand out to local businesses. Margie Arighi organized small groups of players to play at local service club meetings and give a short presentation about the orchestra. This was eventually discontinued as it did not seem to increase audience or donations. By then the player roster included Collin Heade and Debbie Partridge- cello, Sue McAbery- bassoon, and Yvonne Clemenhagen- horn. This was also the year that we held a Young Soloist Competition - the winner, Nicholas Cross, went on to become a well known violinist. The contest was held again the next year (with a bassoonist winner), but was discontinued after that because of lack of funding and the sudden death of our wonderful orchestra and board member, Bev Nikkari, who had spearheaded the competition.
During this period we started having an annual summer event- at first to encourage the players to perform in ensembles and later to raise funds. The event was called the Chamber Music Potluck (or Chamber Pot) and was usually held at the Aright Vineyards where all enjoyed a wonderful view, a potluck dinner and music performed by small ensembles from the orchestra. By 1995 it netted $233 with 65 guests. In 1998 the event was moved to the North Clackamas Park to accommodate more guests, but it was eventually discontinued as attendance declined. The player enthusiasm for small ensembles did prompt Margie Arighi to start the Willamette Falls Chamber Players in 1998. These small groups of players have since performed at a wide range of community functions and donated part or all of their proceeds to the orchestra.
Need for funds also led us to apply for grants during this period and we received our first grant from RACC (then, the Metropolitan Arts Commission) in 1993 for $2500. In 1994-95 they awarded us a grant for $1000. In the next two years we received operating support grants from RACC ($2520 and $2000). In July of 1997 we were granted nonprofit 501c3 status which made us eligible for more grants. In 1997-98 we received a $1800 grant from RACC for our Winter concert (Janet Packer guest soloist). In 1997 and 1998 we also received grants ($750) from the Templeton Foundation to help support our elementary school concert. After 1998, obtaining grants became highly competitive and our next successful attempt was not until 2003.
We started presenting elementary school concerts in 1994 when the PTA at Mt. Pleasant School gave us $500 to perform there for their students. These concerts involved a group of 20-25 musicians from the orchestra (whoever could get off work for a few hours on a Friday) putting on a 30 minute concert. Involving the children proved very popular (marching in and out to our music, conducting a piece, etc.). The entire school would gather in the gym to hear us. One of our most popular pieces was Peter and the Wolf.
In the Fall of 1999 Roger Nickerson, a retired O.C. schools music teacher took Tony’s place for that term while he was in Eastern Europe. By 2000, Tony’s last season with us, he was also conducting MJCC. Both orchestras needed a few more string players, so he decided to play the same program for both groups and have string players play in both concerts starting in 1996. This also allowed us to perform big works such as Beethoven’s 9th. The orchestra roster for his last concert shows 64 players (including MJCC strings). By June of 2000 we had added the following players to our roster: Larry Morse, Cathy Ross, Ken Altman, Kim Grindeland, Scott Copeland, and Michael Landers. The concertmaster during Tony’s period and through the spring of 2001 was Irene Hall.
Our next conductor was Nikolas Caoile for the 2000-2001 season. Our search led us to an arrangement with PSU in which a graduate student in conducting would lead us.
Fortunately Nile possessed good conducting and people skills as his PSU mentors never did materialize. He left Portland to attend graduate school in Seattle.
Fall of 2001 was the start of Mark Perlman’s tenure as conductor. During this period of relative stability, the orchestra has grown from about 40 players to the 51 we had at our Fall 2005 concert. The concert masters included Hunter Petty (Winter and Spring of 2003), Carl Bolon (Fall 2001 - Spring 2002, Fall 2003 - Spring 2004), Scott Esty (Fall 2004 - Spring 2005) and Lucia Conrad starting in Fall 2005.
During this period we changed our main rehearsal and concert space to the Oregon City United Methodist Church at the suggestion of Doug Forncrook, a church and orchestra member. This was a popular move with both players and audience, as the church is more comfortable and accessible than Barclay. And there was no longer the conflict for rehearsal space with the Krayon Kids that had plagued us at Barclay! In the Fall of 2003 we did a program at the church called Scary Music for Halloween that proved very popular with the audience. This encouraged Mark and the board to try more theme programs with strong audience appeal. The result has been a gradually increasing audience over the last two years.
In October of 2003 we received an Oregon City Civic Improvement Trust grant ($3440) to help us to present a major work- “From the Journals of Lewis and Clark” by Bukovich in February of 2004. This was presented at a concert in the Dalles (sponsored by the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center) as well as in Oregon City at Clackamas Community College. The Oregon City concert involved the Oregon City High School choir, and the students were thrilled to have the opportunity to sing with an orchestra. It also involved a 14 year old fiddle soloist- Ellie Hakanson. One of our goals is to increase such musical opportunities for local young people as few schools have an orchestra of their own.
In June of 2004 we held our Erst Chamber Music Tea at the historic Babcock House belonging to Jack and Mary Greco. That summer the orchestra also performed for the first time as part of the Oregon City Art’s Fair.
The problem of lack of qualified strings has continued to plague the orchestra and led to us paying the concert Master starting in the 2002-03 season. We received an unsolicited grant for $5000 from the Dorothea M. Lensch Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation for our 2004-05 season that allowed us to pay principal strings players. This made a marked improvement in the string sections.
In 2002, the Board adopted a complete set of Bylaws (to replace our former very basic ones). Roger Nickerson replaced Susan High as Board Chairman in the summer of 2002, and Margie Arighi took on the Chairmanship in the summer of 2003. She was replaced by Bill Garbett in 2005. The need for increased funding to maintain the paid string principals led to the establishment of The Silver Baton Society by the Board in the 2005-06 season. Although membership involved $250 fee, we had 10 members in our first season to the delight of the Board.
In the Fall of 2005 we sold our first season tickets. We also held our First WFS Concerto Competition for our players, winners were Margie Arighi- clarinet, Collin Heade-cello, and Susy Wolfson- horn.