Sinfonia brings a winter song

The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown was packed to the walls recently for an orchestral concert that is part of a winter tradition.

“It’s kind of our gift to the community,” said David Dougherty, head of the church’s choir and music programs, of the Jan. 23 Philadelphia Sinfonia performance. “Because where else can you get, essentially for free, exposure to a concert like this?”

The Sinfonia is an orchestra made up of the top young musicians of the region, most of them still in high school. Each year the troupe plays a winter concert at the church, which it did in December in conjunction with the church choir, and this year it started off its 2011 concert season with the full orchestral performance last Sunday.

Audience members came to Germantown from all over the region to catch the show.

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“It’s just wonderful,” said Patricia Barron, who travelled from Chadds Ford for the experience. “The fact that this is young students is unbelievable.”

For concert goers in the know, one key to the Sinfonia’s impact has been it’s conductor for the last 12 years, Gary White. White taught music for Germantown Friends school prior to his post at the Sinfonia, and he serves on the board at the First Presbyterian Church.

After the concert, audience members crowded around him in the church lobby to express their appreciation.

“Phenomenal, Gary is one of the best,” one audience member said as he shook White’s hand enthusiastically.

For White, the most important factor to the Sinfonia’s success lies in letting the students take creative ownership of the music they play. Many of the musicians in the orchestra have been working with him for years, and he gets to know them well. He’s learned to conduct in a way that lets them take some leadership in the sound of the performance.

“They learn how to make the music their own, and not have me tell them everything to do,” he said. “You get a much higher level of music.”

That kind of leadership was apparent in Cameron Clarke of Mt. Airy, who performed a cello solo in the performance. (Portions can be heard in the slide show above.)

Clarke, 16, has been playing cello for seven years and he plans to stay with music for the rest of his life, even if it’s not professionally – the payoff is so great he can’t see ever letting it go.

“It teaches you how to be with other people,” he said. “To be in an orchestra of this caliber you really have to build yourself… it really teaches you how to be a team player.”

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