First of its kind civic orchestra holds its inaugural concert. GHPCO goes from quiet dream to audible reality.

Allison Lind / of the Gateway


What was once only a passing dream is now an audible reality. After 38 years of dreaming, David Wheeler’s vision of forming an orchestra of local community members began taking shape earlier this year when Matthew Underwood brought up the idea, and the two set out to make it happen. Now their dreams and hard work have paid off.
The inaugural concert of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Civic Orchestra will be this Saturday at the Gig Harbor Methodist Church on Pioneer Way. There will be no charge for tickets to this event.
“I’m thrilled – this has been so much fun,” Underwood said, discussing the newly formed orchestra for which he will conduct.
Wheeler and Underwood, who also conducts the Stadium High School orchestra, are members of a quartet that performs at the United Methodist Church. In July, the two men discussed the idea and decided to get to work. Excitement spread fairly quickly, and people began signing up.
Earlier this fall, a call went out to all interested musicians, whether experienced or not, and the first rehearsal was held Oct. 7.
Auditions were never held for the orchestra (and openings are ongoing) because the premise was about creating an opportunity for music lovers to do what they love, as well as a way for people to be involved in their community.
In setting such a foundation, the orchestra received a positive response.
“We have an incredible range of people,” Underwood said. The group ranges in ages from early 20s to one member who is 90.
Some have played instruments for a couple years, some played in high school and began pulling their instruments out of the dusty closet, and others who played professionally as adults.
“We’ve got the range,” Underwood said, reiterating the assorted group of individuals who have come together to form the city’s first civic orchestra. Thus far, the orchestra has more than 40 people on the roster – more than 30 of whom regularly show up for the rehearsals. This Saturday’s concert will feature close to 40 local individuals performing “a little bit of everything,” Underwood said.
The line-up of songs includes a medley from the Broadway show “Cats,” Leroy Anderson’s “The Waltzing Cat,” Mozart’s “La Finta Giardiniera,” the overture to “The Barber of Seville,” and Christmas Memories – a medley of favorite Christmas tunes in honor of the current holiday season.
“We are trying to appeal to a wide audience,” Underwood said, “so we’re throwing in lots of different styles and composers and time periods to appeal to that wide audience.”
There once was a time when local residents were forced to cross the bridge to hear the sounds of another city’s orchestra. That time is no longer, which is why the community should get out this Saturday for the concert, Underwood said.

Growing together together
Gig Harbor Peninsula Civic Orchestra matures as a group with more
than 50 members in attendance the first year
Michelle Rogers-Moore / of the Gateway

When Matthew Underwood handed out a packet of music during the first
rehearsal of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Civic Orchestra, there was
one piece that the group didn’t have the skills to play. That piece was
“The March and Procession of Bacchus” and it will be heard at the civic
orchestra’s next concert on March 25.
“We, as an orchestra, as an entity, had grown,” Underwood said about his
reaction when presenting the piece to the orchestra a second time.
When the orchestra began in the fall of 2004, many people were pulling out
their instruments they hadn’t played since high school, which for some
was a few decades. Underwood said people were just rusty, and a piece like
“The March and Procession of Bacchus” was too advanced for the ability and
instrumentation the orchestra had at that time.

But when Underwood presented that piece once again at a recent rehearsal, he
said he received a different reaction from the musicians.
He said he watched people’s eyes and many had a look of, “It sounds good,
but it’s a little easy,” Underwood said.

“We all kind of shared in a collective ‘aha’ moment – well, it was more of
a ‘whoa,’” Underwood said with a laugh.

That is what the past year-and-a-half has meant to the orchestra – growth
and laughter.

Underwood’s contagious personality seems to keep the group laughing during
During a recent Thursday night rehearsal, the group was practicing its most
difficult piece to date – Beethoven’s complete Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral.”
They were focusing on the second movement.

“With this piece, I know this movement particularly looks really scary,”
Underwood said to the group, noting there was a lot of ink on the score.
“I know it’s really intimidating, but don’t let it scare you.”

After Underwood provided instruction and guidance as to how to play
the piece, and answered a few questions, they played, with a few
interruptions, continuously for about 15 minutes.

“Isn’t this beautiful?” Underwood asked the members.

“Not yet, but it’s getting there,” was the response from one member,
who was laughing.

But Underwood’s faith in the group and confidence in what they can
accomplish is apparent, particularly to the orchestra’s members.

“He’s actually one of the best directors I’ve worked with,” said violist
and Port Orchard resident Barbara Ragile, one of the few members who lives
outside Gig Harbor.
Violinist Debi LaFleur, who’s been part of the orchestra since the second
rehearsal, said she agrees and attributes much of the orchestra’s success
to Underwood.

“He is so passionate about this,” LaFleur said. “I really attribute
(the success) to him.”

Having fun

Underwood’s passion and personality are key to the orchestra and has

made it more than a place to play music.

“It’s never a dull moment around here,” LaFleur said with a laugh.

“Fun” was the word used by most of the orchestra members when talking
about the orchestra, past and present.

“I prefer this group by far because it’s fun,” LeFleur said, noting that
she previously played in Tacoma Community College’s orchestra.

Underwood agreed that this group has something unique.

“In all of my time in being in music, I have not found such a
friendly group of people,” Underwood said.

Clarinetist Ed Smith said he likes coming to rehearsal each week and
appreciates Underwood’s enthusiasm.

“I enjoy it,” Smith said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”

And that’s been Underwood’s goal since the beginning.

“We’re just having a lot of fun,” Underwood said. “Playing great music
well is always more fun than just kind of goofing around.”


It is not, nor has it always been, just fun, however. Underwood said he
had the idea for an orchestra in mind for about five years before he
and Gig Harbor resident Dave Wheeler had a conversation that included
something like, “Gee, I’m really surprised there’s not a community orchestra
in Gig Harbor,” Underwood said.

Underwood said he hadn’t had the time to work on coordinating an orchestra,
but within the week, Wheeler presented him with a general structure of the
building of an orchestra.
Underwood said the duo agreed there was enough artistic diversity in
Gig Harbor to find people who would be interested in playing.

“We probably had a lot of folks sitting around with dusty instruments,”
Underwood said.

At the first meeting, with about seven people, Underwood said he went on an
emotional rollercoaster ride. His first feeling was excitement, but by the
middle of the meeting he was feeling doubtful that his and Wheeler’s idea
would come to life. Yet again his mind was changed by the end of the meeting
and he was confident the orchestra would get started.

What Underwood expected after that were nine people to kick off the
orchestra and then maybe a gain of about three people per year for
the next 10 years until they reached full capacity.

However, about 25 people showed up for the first rehearsal once word got
around, primarily through a Gateway article and word-of-mouth,
Underwood said, and it has grown rapidly from there.

“By our first concert, we already reached my 10-year goal,” Underwood said.
LaFleur said she was equally amazed by the number of people who attended
rehearsals prior to the inaugural concert.

“Within two to three months, we were almost at full capacity,”
LaFleursaid. “That’s probably the most exciting thing.”

The first concert was another exciting event, according to LaFleur and

For Underwood, he felt like he had made an accomplishment as a conductor
and teacher in bringing people who were “rusty” back to life with their

“I believe we sounded great,” Underwood said of the first concert.

LaFleur had additional observations during the first concert. She said
she knew orchestra members who were 50 years old and had never performed
at a concert.

“It is just so cool to see how excited and nervous they get,” she said.

Having a variety of ages was one of Underwood’s expectations, and an asset
to the progress of the orchestra, members said.

Since the initial rehearsal, people of all ages have joined, from high
schoolers to 93-year-old Tacoma resident Glenn Reeves, a professional
violist who’s played since age 7.

“It’s nice sitting next to people who have more experience than you,
” 24-year-old Ragile said.

From the first concert until the most recent in December 2005, the orchestra
has generated a full house at the United Methodist Church, with about 250 to
350 attendees per concert.

The present

The diverse group is now up to about 50 members, with about 90 percent
from Gig Harbor, Underwood said.

The orchestra has a board and is not far from obtaining non-profit status,
which board members and orchestra members are looking forward to.

LaFleur serves as treasurer on the board and she said once non-profit
status is secured, the orchestra will have more opportunities, such as being
eligible for grants and purchasing music.

"We can just do more," LaFleur said.

Underwood agreed he is looking forward to obtaining non-profit status,
as it has been a long process.

Underwood came to the civic orchestra with three degrees from the
University of Washington and more than 15 years of instrumental teaching at
Charles Wright Academy and Tacoma Public Schools. Underwood currently
teaches at Stadium High School in Tacoma and Meeker Middle School in
Browns Point.


A special treat for our 2006 winter concert audience was
"Twas the Night Before Christmas" narrated by Dave Ross,
radio talk show host on 710KIRO and, according to his listeners,
"the one calm, intelligent, and reasoned voice in Seattle daytime talk radio."

Dave has been a member of the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society since 1979
and you'll find him most summers playing the comic baritone in the Seattle
Gilbert & Sullivan Society's summer productions at Seattle Center, most
recently in the 2006 production of Pirates of Penzance.
Mr. Ross has his own website which will better acquaint you with his passion
for music, technology, politics and of course family.