Borderland orchestra celebrating 10 years of growth

Bryce Forbes

It’s a concert a decade in the making.
Since starting out as a simple newspaper ad 10 years ago, the Borderland Community Orchestra has wowed audience on both sides of the border as they’ve progressed from 33 members up to the current 54.
And now they are about put all the effort into one show when the orchestra hosts its 10th anniversary concert, entitled “From Russia With Love,” tonight at 7 p.m. at the Townshend Theatre here in Fort Frances.
“I used to play in the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra so when I moved here, I was looking for something to make me feel not so bad about moving here,” said orchestra founder and director Katherine Williams.
“This is the first year I’m doing a lot of playing because we are at that spot where it’s an exciting time to be in,” she noted.
“We are playing more original music, moreso than arrangements of it,” Williams added.
“At the beginning, we were playing music you would find at a high school band program and now we are playing the actual music as a composer such as Mozart actually wrote the music without any changes in it.
“We try to pick our music selection so that everyone will leave with a love of something,” Williams enthused.
The orchestra is unique in that it encompasses people in a 40-km radius on both sides of the border, and Williams believes they are the only international orchestra.
With a wide range of members from teenagers all the way up to a 90-year-old, Williams said the audience can see a cross-section of the community.
“They can expect to see a whole bunch of different people, from the head librarian at the Fort Frances Public Library to a doctor to community leaders,” she noted.
But for Williams, her favourite part of the 10-year journey has been seeing the orchestra grow from its early days.
“We continually make new strides in the musicianship and musicality.
“We have grown together as a group and we have become a family,” she added. “And seeing the smiles on the person’s face when they do something that they thought they could never do.
“It’s very funny when you see people’s reactions from the first time they see the music on the stands to the day we play it in public,” Williams continued.
Mark Barron, a member since he was eight years old, said the orchestra helped him evolve as a musician.
“It helps me take a leadership role in the group, and helps me find my place among other violins and other sections,” noted Barron, who will take part in his last show with the orchestra tonight before moving on to Providence College in Otterburne, Man.
He added one of his favourite parts in his past decade with the orchestra was when he wrote and performed a piece called “Audrey’s Lament.”
Meanwhile, Williams is now looking forward to the future of the orchestra with John Dutton, former head of the Fort High music program, on board as a conductor.
“For me, I’m a string player and my strengths have always been in the string department,” she noted.
“By having him [Dutton] on board, he is able to bring a whole new dimension to the orchestra so I feel the orchestra is only going to grow leaps and bounds having the dual conductors.
“We are able to play off each other and we are just so grateful for that,” she enthused.
Although the orchestra started out with mostly amateurs, Williams noted more and more professional musicians are joining the ranks.
“When we first started the orchestra, it was a combination of some amateurs and professionals and the amateurs were very much beginners,” recalled Margaret Sedgwick.
“But the orchestra has progressed to the point that someone with limited playing knowledge would have a difficult time starting with us.
“When we look back at it and pieces that we struggled with 10 years ago, they look very easy now,” Sedgwick added.
She also spoke highly of the person who started it all 10 years ago.
“It’s really amazing that she [Williams] came into a community and brought together people from all across the Rainy River District as well as Minnesota,” said Sedgwick.
In the past, the orchestra has raised funds for different community organizations, such as local libraries, local schools, and the “Community Chest.”
It typically stages four shows a year, with the next performance slated for June 21 in conjunction with the grand opening for the new Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre.
As for tonight’s concert, Williams said it will be a showcase at how far the orchestra has progressed.
“We have picked out music we really like to play over the last 10 years, as well as some new pieces,” she noted.
“Some that are challenging, and we have put together an amazing program that we think everyone in the district will enjoy.”
“It includes a lot of Russian music that I love because it’s really fast and furious, and gets the crowd moving,” echoed Sedgwick.
“I’m really excited because it has some great potential to be really amazing,” said Barron.
“I’ll try to get my parts perfectly by then and have it all run smoothly, and a great finale to my career with them,” he added.