An Oasis of Sound: Partnership Between Olympia Symphony Orchestra and Emerald City Music Aims to Bring Peace to Local Homes

By Aigner Loren Wilson

Music fans in the area are familiar with two of the bigger names in the music scene: Olympia Symphony Orchestra (OSO) and Emerald City Music (ECM). Both groups have a long history of bringing music to the community and supporting each other’s missions to do so. This year, the two organizations are teaming up to bring classical music to the most isolated and affected communities in Olympia.

With their ears keenly tuned to the current climate, OSO and ECM are proud to join up with Drexel House, InterFaith Works and Family Support Services to offer a one of a kind experience for music lovers of all ages. “When the pandemic hit Washington … all of us at ECM immediately moved into action,” says Kristin Lee, ECM’s artistic director. It’s that type of pivoting action that has allowed ECM and OSO to continue delivering performances and bridging the gap between performers and fans that has grown so wide during this time. 

With the world the way it is, OSO and ECM want to provide those in the community without access to live musical performances a place away from all the noise of the world. Executive director of the Olympia Symphony Orchestra, Jennifer Hermann, best explains the intention behind the string of concerts and performances. “We are at a time when our physical, mental, and emotional health are threatened. Music has the power to carry us through these challenges,” she says.

Lee has the same feelings about music’s ability to cut through all the drama, stress and anxiety of the world: “It is so important for us to be mindful of the current events. Emerald City Music feels a sense of responsibility in a time like this to function as an oasis — a place where people can find a moment of joy and peace.” 

For some, it may be hard to step away from the constant updates and notifications that are scrolling by, but now is one of the best times to do just that. Take a moment away to enjoy the offerings that the Olympia Symphony Orchestra and Emerald City Music have planned for this fall. In the past, each of these organizations were known for the performances, plays and musical events that they would host for the community, but in the age of COVID-19, that is not the healthy or smart option.

“After countless meetings of planning around COVID in efforts to keep everyone safe, we made an executive decision to bring everything into a virtual platform. This means that both the audience and musicians can still have close connections with each other, while upholding the highest safety measures that we can,” states Lee. 

In regard to the OSO performers and performances that are happening during the fall, Hermann says, “They are excited to interact virtually by sharing personal stories, answering questions, and sharing music that is meaningful in their lives and others. They desire to connect at a personal level even while we are physically separated, through music.”

The partnership between OSO and ECM brings events to the people that the two organizations believe to be the most affected by isolation, like those in care facilities and shelters. With a virtual component, performers like cellist Nathan Chan, and flautist Demarre McGill — both members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra — will work as artist-in-residence to deliver a more intimate string of events that will allow them to engage more with the audience than previous visiting artists have been able to.

“We are especially excited to see the resident artists collaborating with the Olympia Symphony musicians this Fall,” Lee says. “We also recognized the need for students to continue to develop their love of classical music, and with the Olympia Symphony co-launched our fifth-grade collaborative composition workshop for over fifty students in the area.”

These lucky students have been spending the past fall composing a piece that will be performed by OSO. Hermann adds, for all those people waiting desperately to see just what the kids have been whipping up, “The public will be able to hear the world premiere of the piece on December 13, on the Emerald City Music live stream, and again on December 22, on an Olympia Symphony rebroadcast.” Fourth grade students have also been a part of the collaboration happening in the composition workshop. Together, the students are having fun while learning how to create something wholly of themselves, which is something many of us can get behind. 

By bringing these classical music celebrations to folks in hospitals, shelters and other places where residents are at an even greater disadvantage to access these types of events, Olympia Symphony Orchestra and Emerald City Music are reaching out to the community and daring us to be inspired.

“As we stream concerts directly to those served by Drexel House, InterFaith Works, and Family Support Services, we are creating space for beauty, sharing, and connection,” Hermann says. There’s been a lot of distancing happening on many layers beyond just social. Through the past few months, we as a community have become distant from the artists that we love and the feelings they create inside of us by doing what they do best, showing us there are other worlds and things of importance besides what is trending. 

“By creating opportunities to experience something together, we hope to preserve the crucial intersections of humanity that make our lives meaningful,” Hermann says. These fall events are really a chance for the community to collectively step back through the months together when there was time and space to go enjoy something simply because it is beautiful, and someone took the time and practice to create it. 

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