What do you get when you combine faith, a sense of community, love of music, an experienced music director and a generous church facility?
You get the St. James Community Orchestra, founded last year by members of St. James Episcopal Church.
You get a group of amateur musicians, some very young, some older, who gather together in fellowship to express themselves through music.
You get a chance to add a little glue to a fractured James Island community.
You get to provide local musicians (not only members of the church) with opportunities to play great works such as Brahms’ “Academic Overture” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol.”
You get to explore little-known contemporary music by such composers as Arvo Part, whose spirituality infuses everything he writes.
And if you’re so inclined, you get to grow closer to God through music: Music played under the live oaks and Spanish moss, near a house of faith, within nature’s sanctuary.
“Building community is the No. 1 priority,” said the Rev. Arthur Jenkins, rector of St. James Church. “So much seems to divide the people on James Island.”
They argue about extending Interstate 526. They argue about whether to incorporate as a town. They argue about development and what’s happening along Folly Road.
But a community orchestra, open to all, perhaps can redefine James Island’s identity, Jenkins said.
The enterprise got its start in March 2011 when church member and amateur violinist Samuel Burns sent an email to Jenkins and church music director Ward Moore suggesting the formation of a community orchestra.
“Maybe at first we would be just a duet, then a trio, then a quartet, but someday a full-blown orchestra,” he wrote, adding that the congregation included a number of musicians who could form a core.
Indeed, music has played a big part in church life.
The adult choir works hard during traditional services. A praise band is employed for contemporary services. In the congregation are several able musicians.
Burns said the community orchestra gives players who are more than beginners but less than pros a chance to play the good stuff. A year and a half ago, he reacquainted himself with his violin after a 40-year hiatus. Nowadays, he practices a lot.
The youngest player in the orchestra is 12-year-old bassoonist Ronny Hord, who keeps busy appearing in woodwinds competitions, his colleagues said. One parishioner was inspired by the initiative to take up the clarinet, Burns said.
Jenkins said Charleston has a lot of great music, but not a lot of opportunities for amateurs and nothing to speak of on James Island.
“I’m intrigued by how many musicians don’t have a platform, a place to offer their gift,” he said. The community orchestra fills the void.
Last May, the organizers started advertising for players, said Ward Moore. By late June, the ensemble was rehearsing. In August, orchestra manager Tomi Moore, Ward’s wife, applied for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. On Dec. 11, the orchestra offered its first concert; 150 came to listen.
Today, the group has about 20 regular members. Others, including a few professionals, join as needed. The orchestra badly needs an oboist and more string players, Burns said. Eventually, there could be spin-off ensembles: trios and quartets, that sort of thing, he said.
On May 6, the St. James Community Orchestra will offer its second concert at 5:30 p.m. in the Ministry Center of the church. On the program is a suite from the opera “Carmen” by Georges Bizet; the Orchestral Quartet in F Major by Karl Stamitz; “On the Nature of Daylight” by Max Richter (music used in the film “Shutter Island”); the Russian Easter Overture by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov; and “Vater Unser (Our Father)” by Estonian composer Part, a recent work he dedicated to Pope Benedict XVI.
Burns said he’s a big admirer of Part and looks forward to introducing audiences to his mesmerizing and sacred sounds.
Kevin Josiger, an 18-year-old trumpeter and senior at James Island Charter High School, said he heard about the orchestra from a friend who’s a member of St. James Church. A serious horn player who plans on majoring in political science and music at Coastal Carolina University, Kevin was looking for opportunities to play outside school. So he became a founding member of the orchestra.
“It’s less stressful than band class,” he said. “It’s a nice environment, and everyone’s pretty friendly.”
When the group runs into musical problems, the members work them out together, he said.
“It’s going pretty good,” Kevin said. “It’s a really fun thing to do.”
Samantha Parsons, a 17-year-old flutist and senior at James Island Charter High, said she started playing her instrument in the sixth grade. Last year, she picked up a piccolo. This is her first experience in an orchestra. She joined after hearing about the opportunity from her band teacher.
“The music that we play is really cool, and you get to meet a lot of cool people,” Samantha said.
She’s no stranger to live performance. She’s played flute in her own Church of the Nativity on Folly Road since her sophomore year. Next year she’ll attend the University of South Carolina, majoring in math. She might minor in music, she said. And she and Kevin might continue to perform with the orchestra despite the distance between James Island and their universities. Moore offered to send the music to them, she said.
Moore likened the orchestra to “a community within a community.”
Jenkins echoed the sentiment. “It’s a fine thing for St. James. We get a lot of good out of it,” he said. “And it’s a great thing for James Island.”
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aparkerwriter.