A full-size symphony orchestra typically has about 100 players, but on Sunday, Oct. 27, the Richmond Symphony and hundreds of musicians from the community will come together to form the biggest orchestra in Virginia.
The Richmond Symphony’s seventh annual Come and Play event will take place at the Siegel Center. As the symphony’s largest community event, musicians of all ages and skill levels are invited to play alongside the musicians of the Richmond Symphony orchestra. Audience members can attend for free, but those who want to play must pay a $10 registration fee. Rehearsal will be held from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., and the performance starts at 6 p.m.
Associate conductor and chorus director Erin Freeman helped create the event in 2006 after David Fisk, executive director of the Richmond Symphony, spoke of a similar event he held in England. Last year, 649 musicians showed up to perform. The Richmond Symphony orchestra has about 75 musicians, meaning almost 600 people from the community participated.
“It’s one of my favorite events, when I come in to the Siegel Center and see all the empty seats and I think, ‘This won’t work,’ but then it does,” Freeman said. “Everyone comes and works really hard.”
Freeman has been the conductor of Come and Play since the event’s inception seven years ago. She began conducting as a voice major in college and holds degrees from Northwestern University, Boston University and Peabody Conservatory.
During her career, Freeman has given lessons to Miss America Caressa Cameron and Richmond mayor Dwight Jones through a program called Celebrity Maestro. Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly named Freeman one of Virginia’s 50 most influential women in 2010.
Musicians show up from not just Richmond, Freeman said, but the entire the region, including some from as far away as Delaware.
People of all ages come to play and musical parts can be tailored to accommodate beginner players, said Megan Osborn, assistant director of education and community engagement for the Richmond Symphony.
“We have elementary school children to adults in their 80s,” she said. “All walks of life.”
Osborn said the Come and Play event creates the biggest orchestra in Virginia. Her favorite part is the first note the giant orchestra plays, she added.
“I really love once everyone is actually there and the first note is played, it’s such an overwhelming sound,” she said. “We have musicians on so many different levels, so you’re never sure what it’s going to sound like until you’re actually there.”
Freeman said what she looks forward to most every year is the look on everyone’s face when they first hear a 600-person orchestra play.
“I love the whole thing, but I think it’s once we’ve read through the first piece,” Freeman said. “So all the people who are new to Come and Play have this look on their face like, ‘Wow this is a miracle, it is possible to get 600 people together to play.’”
The concert will consist of eight musical numbers. Every year the orchestra kicks off with Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” This year the orchestra will also perform other famous works, such as Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance,” and Hector Berlioz’s “Hungarian March.”
Because the event will take place a few days before Halloween, Osborn said some of the pieces selected this year will reflect that, such as “Poltergeist Polka” by Robert Wendel, the “Star Wars Main Theme” by John Williams and a selection of works from “Phantom of the Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Proceeds go toward the symphony’s intensive, in-school residency program, called “Symphony @ School,” and student instrument purchase and repair. The program grants residences for a month each, in an effort to bring music education to local middle and high school orchestra programs in the area, said Aimee Halbruner, director of education and community engagement for the Richmond Symphony. During the residency, the Richmond Symphony musicians visit the schools to perform and conduct sectional coaching and side-by-side rehearsals. The program is free for schools that apply.
“We hear stories from folks who look forward to this event every year,” Halbruner said. “It’s their chance to play with a lot of people and it’s a chance for them to meet new people.”
The event is also a way to bring the community together for a common cause, Freeman said.
“I think if you want to see what’s good about humanity, you should go to this. We’re so divided, if you look at the current climate … it’s causing great strife,” she said. “We have people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, coming together to play.”