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Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra brings sounds of the season to the River City

By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press

Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra
Photo courtesy Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra.

WAYNESBORO — On Friday, the Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra will bring the sounds of the holiday season to Waynesboro High School with Holiday Pops Concert.

“This is our very first — the inaugural Holiday Pops Concert that we’ve given and we hope to make this an annual event,” said Peter Wilson, music director of the Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra.

Friday’s concert will also be the symphony’s first performance at Waynesboro High School.

The orchestra began rehearsing at the high school Tuesday for Friday’s performance, but holds regular rehearsals at Waynesboro First Presbyterian Church. “We have a home there,” Wilson said.

“We’re just really excited,” Wilson said of Friday’s concert.

The orchestra usually rehearses six to eight weeks for a master program concert, such as its annual October concert held at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. But Wilson said he decided the orchestra was prepared enough for Friday’s holiday concert with only two dress rehearsals this week.

“This orchestra has never played this music [together],” he said.

Wilson retired in 2020 after 30 years performing with the United States Marine Band and as senior enlisted musical advisor for the White House.

“Probably the busiest time of year for the White House band is December,” Wilson said. The band performs three hours of holiday music, and every year Wilson found a new arrangement for the band to play.

So he was prepared for the orchestra’s first holiday concert by having already identified his favorite holiday arrangements. Friday’s 90-minute program will include a variety of Christmas carols and songs, as well as themes from movies.

Holiday favorites will include “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which Wilson said he likes to have the orchestra open with, as well as “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas.”

Wilson said the orchestra will perform a few selections from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

He will perform a violin solo with other string instruments of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” an arrangement never before publicly performed.

The orchestra’s holiday performance will end with a medley of tunes called “A Christmas Festival,” arranged by the late Leroy Anderson, an American composer.

A segment in the middle of Friday night’s performance will highlight songs from movies, such as “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Nightmare Before Christmas,” and “Flight to Neverland” from the movie “Hook,” a Robin Williams favorite that was released to theaters during the holiday season. An arrangement of music from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the cartoon and the film starring Jim Carrey, will also be a treat for audience members.

Wilson’s confidence in the orchestra is bolstered by the fact that after 12 years of submissions, the orchestra finally received Best Orchestral Performance for a community orchestra by The American Prize, the only award given to a not-for-profit community orchestra in the U.S.

“I think that this award by The American Prize is really a testament to how far we’ve come,” Wilson said.

The orchestra was founded in 1996. According to Wilson, the orchestra began submitting live recordings of performances the second year after The American Prize founded the award 12 years ago.

“Over time, they’ve really become an extremely reputable organization,” he said. He added that the organization takes time to listen to each submission, and with the orchestra’s award recognition, it receives a critical analysis of its April 2019 performance of Mahler’s First Symphony.

An hour of music, Wilson said Mahler’s First Symphony is “a challenging piece for any orchestra.”

“I think [The American Prize] wanted to recognize the fact that we had steadily been doing very well,” Wilson said.

For nine years, the orchestra’s submissions were semi-finalists. In 2013 and 2015, they received third place, and last year: second place.

Wilson said it’s difficult to know what progress the orchestra has made because he hears them perform regularly, but an opinion from an outside source like The American Prize proves the orchestra’s progress over the years.

“I’ve been so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said.

The orchestra came out of the pandemic after almost two years of not performing for rehearsals in September. Just before one of its early October performances in the Valley, Wilson heard about the award and was able to inform orchestra members in person.

“This was such a thrill for me,” he said. “It was so gratifying to be able to tell the orchestra about it.”

The award is a “motivating and inspiring moment to go right into these concerts,” Wilson said.

He thinks a key factor for their receiving the award this year was that the symphony did not just play well during the April 2019 concert in Waynesboro, but “we actually dug deep, and we got all of those elements early in the process.”

Wilson said he later listened to the recording while driving in his car, and he forgot he was listening to the Waynesboro Symphony Orchestra.

“Wow. That’s us. I was just blown away,” he thought to himself.

The American Prize also “came at the right time,” according to Wilson, who is currently writing a memoir.

“Music is something that can heal us, that can connect us,” he said.

Wilson encouraged everyone to dress festively and enjoy Friday evening’s concert.

Tickets are $10 per adult, children and students are free. Concert begins at 7 p.m.

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