Liam Carson cherishes the memory of a symphonic band conductor holding his young daughter up in front of the symphony and letting her pretend to conduct. This moment describes well the heart and mission of the Columbia River Symphony (CRS), which since the beginning has welcomed young musicians to grow and share their talents in the community.
Carson, a bassoonist, joined the symphony almost ten years ago. He has been part of the group since it was founded in 2007 by conductor Cory Pederson and his wife Angela. The band first consisted of only middle school and high school music students, along with few adults who helped and supported the students. Carson entered as a woodwind player and helped the students with a bass section.
“This newly formed group gave the young enthusiastic students an opportunity to take their passion into the community. They played at nursing homes, assisted living centers, and other venues sharing their excitement of playing instruments,” Carson recalls of the early years of the symphony. When the doors were opened to older musicians to play with the group, the name “North Oregon Coast Youth Symphony” was eventually changed to Columbia River Symphony.
Carson, who works as a school counselor at Astoria Middle School, brought in his skills as a bassoonist. He remembers being first introduced to the instrument by his cousin and falling in love by the “low and comedic sound of the bassoon.” He grew up listening to a wide variety of music at home and as a child participated in some of the beginning musician programs that were offered by the Seattle Symphony. As a student he also played with various community symphonies.
“I learned music in the public school system and by the kindness of talented players in the community,” Carson says. He now enjoys sharing his experience with the younger musicians’ part of the Columbia River Symphony. He is also very involved as a church musician and plays with the North Oregon Chamber Orchestra (NCCO), Concert of All Sorts baroque ensemble, and a bassoon quartet.
Seeing the Growth
Cory Pederson, the conductor of CRS, remembers the very first concert at the Astoria Performing Arts Center, where nine students were playing a challenging piece, “Turkey in the Straw,” to only five people in audience. The beginning may have been a little discouraging, but years of consistent hard work has earned the symphony a respected place in the community.
“After all these years, the vision is still the same, to take the music out from classrooms and homes, and bring it to everyone in the community,” says Pederson, who is also a music teacher at the Jewell School. He is very pleased to see the growth of the symphony in the past ten years. The group has about 60 members including students and adults. Many of them are music educators or professional musicians. The symphony performs usually two concerts in the spring and winter seasons, as well as a large pops concert in the summer. All the concerts are well attended.
“As of today, the Columbia River Symphony has become a very successful non-profit, all-volunteer arts organization,” Pederson says. “The symphony has collaborated with multiple school districts and ensembles from many different towns and two different states as well as collaborations with artists outside of our country. The symphony has been very involved with Regatta celebrations and much more. CRS is seeking to continue to be a community leader in the future.”
Pederson has always been very creative with the concert themes, adding content such as a story book or pictures of art to intertwine with the musical selection. The audience is offered an experience where they can become part of the performance, feeling the simple joy of music.
The players are not only encouraged to learn and give their personal best, but also have fun in a noncompetitive atmosphere. The symphony is always welcoming new musicians to join. Carson encourages everyone who is interested in sharing their talent, learning an instrument, or return to their instrument to try the group.
“Even though the performance expectations are high, the group works together supporting each other’s progress. Section leaders work as needed to simplify parts for less experienced players or give advice to reach the challenge of more difficult parts. This is a very warm place accepting people of all levels to fit in,” he says.
Many community members are looking toward the Columbia River Symphony concerts which are entertaining and family friendly. The most popular is the annual holiday concert, when the symphony performs with the Warrenton Middle School and Warrenton High School choirs. The musical selection includes many traditional and newer Christmas songs, along with solo performances and sing-along songs. The first concert was organized last year at the Liberty Theatre, which was an incredible experience for the musicians as well as the listeners.
The spring season 2018 concerts will be dedicated to the 10th anniversary celebrations and will be held in Astoria and Seaside in April. The symphony will perform Summer Pops Extravaganza with familiar tunes from movies and television shows in August. More information about these events will be posted on the Columbia River Symphony website.
The Columbia River Symphony is a great example of how music brings people together, regardless of their age or position. The group’s members, from all walks of life, are all working toward a common goal – to bring enjoyment of contemporary and classical music to everyone’s reach. The concerts are offered free to the public, but donations are accepted to cover the inevitable expenses.
To continue learning more about the Columbia River Symphony, follow the group on Facebook.