Students Gain Creative Outlet in Triangle Philharmonic Association


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Some music finds its way to the public quite easily, through digital downloads, radio and live performances.

But that’s not the case for the Triangle Philharmonic Association, also known as the “P.A.” Members are young, highly skilled — and sometimes wishing for a bigger audience.

“I think if we could get people through the door to hear them, they would come back,” says Executive Director Margaret Partridge. “They give excellent concerts. They’re really outstanding players.”

An Ensemble of Ensembles

The “P.A.” is made up of Triangle-area classical and jazz musicians, ranging from middle schoolers to high school seniors. With more than 500 musicians participating each year, they fill out two string orchestras, three full orchestras and three jazz ensembles.

Since its inception in 1988 with 35 performers, the P.A. has continued to provide young musicians the opportunity to learn and grow their skills. The players must audition each year and are placed in orchestras and ensembles combs-flute.pngaccordingly. Each group has its own conductor, and the musicians receive artistic support from the North Carolina Symphony. For musicians interested in a more intensive experience than high school orchestras can provide, the Philharmonic Association is the answer.

“I can’t imagine where I’d be without it. It’s been a part of me for so long,” says Katherine Gora Combs, (pictured at right) a senior at Cardinal Gibbons High School who plays the flute in the Triangle Youth Philharmonic. “I’m working with the guest conductors and composers and getting to play true orchestra music. It’s not something you can find in the school setting.”

Maintaining eight performance groups requires both hard work and creativity. Local corporations and individuals help with financial contributions, and the musicians pay a participation fee. Partridge points out, however, that financial aid is available for those who need it.

Mobilizing Efforts

Finding a place for the musicians to play takes creativity. The groups practice in various high school band rooms and other suitable spaces. But even then, there are challenges. Taking over a band room requires reconfiguring the rehearsal space for a 100-piece orchestra, then putting the room back together for the high school band that will use it the next day. Parent volunteers usually pitch in to move all the furniture.

“We have dreamed of having our own space, a rehearsal facility,” Partridge says. “But we just keep plugging along the way we do.”

And that’s worthwhile when you consider the performers. Combs has been playing with the Philharmonic Association for seven years. While she plans to study public health and epidemiology in college, she intends to maintain a musical career as well.

“It has been an amazing experience for me,” Combs says. “The opportunities they have given me are things I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. I’ve gotten to work with conductors from the North Carolina Opera and work with composers locally who have written pieces specifically for us. It’s just been an invaluable experience for me.”

The various orchestras and ensembles play a limited number of performances, but the most advanced groups play a holiday concert at Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh in November. The Cary Arts Center Theater hosts additional performances. Partridge believes that anyone who attends one of the performances will leave with an appreciation for the musicians’ advanced skills.

“People are surprised how difficult it is,” she says. “Our top orchestra — these are kids who have spent hours and hours in the practice room on their own.”

Classical and jazz might fall outside the mainstream of accessible music, but the Philharmonic Association can claim something meaningful: Its musicians are among the most accomplished young people performing in the area.

“It would surprise you, the number of people who have made the journey from the youth orchestra all the way to the Philharmonic,” Combs says. “You really get the students who are very dedicated to their craft. They have that desire and passion.”

For more information on the Philharmonic Association, visit philharmonic-association.org.

Kurt Dusterberg of Apex is the Carolina Hurricanes Correspondent for nhl.com and the author of Journeymen: 24 Bittersweet Tales of Short Major League Sports Careers.

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