Last weekend I was invited by Marty Himmelfarb – Violin, who is also President of the Jewish Congregation of Venice Men’s Club to make a presentation on the Venice Community Orchestra. Here is the essence of my presentation.


Thank you Marty for your invitation to talk to the JCV Men’s Club, I am humbled but thrilled to be here to talk about the VCO.

When Marty’s asked me if I could talk about the VCO, my immediate reaction was “What am I going to share with an audience who I know has a very rich and interesting work & life experience?” Seriously…. What does someone who’s picked up the cello some 3 1/2 years ago and assembled 20 musicians to play together can share with you?

It didn’t take me long though to decide that it is something I must do if I am serious about this project; and I am very serious about it while I also have fun developing it. I will first describe our orchestra then gladly take your questions and conclude with a few lessons learned. Before we get into it, any amateur musician in the audience? Let’s chat at the end of my presentation…

The VCO’s goal is to provide a forum where musicians of all levels can play together while building bridges with the Venice Community, and that is precisely the reason I’m thrilled to share this story with you today.

We started the VCO in May 2011 with a harpist, a flutist and myself. By the end of October 2011 we had 25 musicians on board! Quite a few had joined us from The Venice Symphony orchestra & the Sarasota Pops just for the summer while their orchestras are inactive. We look forward to having them rejoin sometime in May since we are the only orchestra in the area practicing 12 months a year.

Today we have 22 members composed of young adults to senior amateurs, retired or active professional. We play and rehearse once a week at the Jacaranda library under the direction of a qualified coach/conductor. We play classical and traditional music; so far we’ve performed three times at the Good Shepherd Church who was hosting us during 2011. We are looking forward to our fourth public performance at the Jacaranda library on February 25 at 2 pm. Sometime this year we will start exploring the possibility of playing Mendelson 9th String Concerto in C Minor.

You’re probably wondering how did this come about?

I started to learn how to play the cello in 2008 and for a long time travelled back an forth once or twice a week from home in Venice to Sarasota for cello lessons or to play with a Sarasota based amateur orchestra. In September 2010 I attended a 4-day music camp in Atlanta and as I was wining about my travel issue with a fellow camper, she suddenly said to me: “Why don’t you start an orchestra in Venice near your home!” Yeah right… in Venice …

At the end of the camp my cello and I had a 9 hrs drive from Atlanta to Venice. I loaded my CD player with music and suddenly my wheels started to turn. How do I start this? Is it realistic? What do I need to launch this project?

Intuitively I postulated that one needs to be an accomplished musician with a recognizable name to build an orchestra. That was my first mistake….

I knew that there was no amateur string orchestra within a 25-mile radius and decided to investigate. I called about 8 music teachers in the area, some of them symphony orchestra musicians as well as a couple of Florida based orchestra conductors to discuss my project. The more I talked the more I became convinced that the project would be viable for Venice.

Now I needed a place to practice, a conductor and like any other small business start-up, I need to move fast in recruiting musicians to start create momentum and keep building from there.

Here again I approached a couple of schools and various churches until I met a younger priest from the Good Shepherd church on Center Rd in Venice who was interested to help in exchange for the occasional play at the church. GS also had a Choir Master/Organist who graciously volunteered to help us out. I had a home to practice and a coach/conductor who has now become a friend! All I needed to do was to cycle back with the contacts I had developed along the way and run a few ads in our local papers. The rest is history….

In January this year we moved to the Jacaranda library where you can join us or hear us rehearse every Saturday from 10 am to Noon.

In retrospect, the rewards are by far more than expected. I don’t know who gets more out this project, me or the musicians, but I strongly suspect it’s me.

Thank you for your time and attention; I’ll be happy to take any question you might have.