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North Bay Symphony Orchestra hopes to play together again in June

'It is important to make music, even when times are tough. The arts are not always easy, but in good times and bad times it is there for you'

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It has been over a year since the North Bay Symphony Orchestra (NBSO) has performed together in public.

“Like any art form or organization, it has been devastating,” says Music Director Thomas Jones.

“At the start of the pandemic, we were unsure about our next steps. Our concerts were cancelled, rehearsals were put on hold, and even things like student recitals we couldn’t do. I just remember thinking, ‘ok what do we do now? It might be difficult to present music but that doesn’t mean we stop,’ and it was very important that we find a way to make music, even through difficult circumstances.”

At one point, to celebrate the first day of summer, the NBSO invited local musicians to grab their instruments and play at their homes.

Jones says he and his wife Stephanie also decided to put together a virtual concert with many of their students and the youth orchestra combined with some North Bay Symphony players.

“We didn’t have any experience in doing this and it was a huge learning curve to do all the editing and coordinating it all, but it turned out to be very successful. We had children as young as six helping us perform in those videos and we were quite happy with the result,” says Jones.  

It was the first time in 15 years in which Jones wasn’t able to lead an ensemble by standing directly in front of them. As the Music Director, Jones is responsible for collecting music and rehearsing and preparing the orchestra for concerts.  

He says, “I came to North Bay originally to start a string program and that evolved into a few other things and from there I started conducting some ensembles and then I was offered the Music Director job, and everything has grown from there, it has been a wonderful journey.”

Building on the success of the virtual concerts, Jones says, “What we did next was we made a North Bay Symphony Christmas concert that involved about 85 local musicians. It had a choir, youth orchestra, and symphony players. It was a big project to get everyone recorded and edited, but when it was completed it was quite an emotional experience to see all these musicians playing together again, but it’s not comparable to playing live with your colleagues.”

And that is the goal for June. Jones says they are working on putting together a live online performance thanks to some new technical equipment called JamKazam.

Jones says this kit “Allows for real-time collaboration for music-making online, and it's really kind of magical to see. You can play music together online with high-quality sound and ultra-low latency so that it feels very much like you’re playing together in the same room. With most equipment you’re looking at almost a full second of latency and the audio quality itself is not great and so it makes it almost impossible to stay in sync if you’re using something like Zoom or Skype.”

He adds with JamKazam the latency is down to about 20 milliseconds and that would get them as close as possible to making music together again. The issue is, while you need specialized hardware and a good Internet connection, each kit costs about $500.

“We’re always looking for funds and donations because we would like to get everyone in on this,” says Jones.  

“We’ve purchased these kits that we loan to our musicians and we’re happy to have 18 people on board now but we simply won’t have the funds to cover everybody that would like to be a part of it and we’re hoping to present a virtual concert in June. The difference this time will be the fact that we will be playing together live. While we may have these obstacles in place everyone is super excited about the possibility of making this happen.”  

The North Bay Symphony Orchestra is looking to raise $10,000 to make this happen and you can find out more information here. 

Jones says this would be a tremendous moment not just for their orchestra but for the community as a whole.  

“In my opinion, a community orchestra is very important to any city. It’s a place you can hear great concerts. It’s a place for professional and amateur musicians to play together. It’s a place for young orchestral musicians to gain experience if they are looking to study music at a post-secondary institution. Yes, we are in a tough spot but we are still committed to being all of those things. I think it’s very important that we teach our younger students and our youth in general that it is important to make music, even when times are tough. The arts are not always easy, but in good times and bad times it is there for you and it can sure make the bad times feel better.”  

Jones says since joining NBSO 15 years ago it has enjoyed a sustained period of growth.

“We have been able to perform some really wonderful pieces and it’s been a joy to watch the orchestra grow and become more musically mature. We built a solid audience base and we had a fine sounding ensemble.”

Jones says they are lucky to be able to perform for a community that cares deeply about the orchestra.

“It has certainly allowed me to work and be creative at something that I love. We have always done our best and worked really hard to create the highest quality products that we can. It’s been amazing to watch people enjoy it. We’ve done musical works that, without a mature community orchestra, a city our size would not get to experience that in a live setting. To have those concerts so well received by the community is such a wonderful feeling.”

 If you have a story idea for the Rooted series, send Matt an email at m.sookram@outlook.com