This season, Red Deer Symphony Orchestra is marking 30 years of bringing Central Albertans the finest in classical music.
As their web site points out, the RDSO is a community-oriented organization dedicated to, “Inspiring appreciation for arts and culture in Central Alberta through providing high-calibre performances and educational experiences.
“Looking back to that time in the 1980s, the Red Deer College Arts Centre had just opened its doors when a gentleman by the name of Howard Mar took his vision of a community symphonic orchestra in Red Deer, enlisted the financial support to the tune of $165,000 from Red Deer’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch #35, rallied his friends and fellow patrons of the arts, gathered a group of musicians both amateur and professional and created the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra.
“Under the creative and talented guidance of Maestro Claude Lapalme, the caring guardianship of many, many board members and volunteers throughout the years, the support of numerous patrons, sponsors and funding agencies, the RDSO has matured from a community based, semi-professional orchestra to a fully professional symphony orchestra, employing union musicians.”
Community programs run the gamut from the Dress Rehearsal program that is aimed at making the RDSO accessible to anyone, the Choir Kids program and the Music Plus program, which uses music as a lever to engage socio-economically challenged kids in creative and artistic activities.
This year, staff have also launched a new, distinct and modern identity that takes aim at making their music programs and value to the cultural landscape in Central Alberta more widely known and appreciated.
“Red Deer does have a pretty deep and robust cultural vein,” said Chandra Kastern, executive director of the RDSO.
Having said that, there are challenges in reaching the broader community, and, “To really have people approach us with an open mind that it’s not always what you think it is.
“The perspective of what a symphony is can be really stuffy, or people thinking, ‘Maybe one day I’ll do that but probably not now – it’s not for me’. But what I’ve noticed in coming in and working with the RDSO is that we don’t operate that way – it’s the least stuffy symphony!
“I think some people take it as the opportunity to dress up and go out, but it’s not a mandatory thing by any means,” she said. “We’ve also done a lot of other things in terms of our education programming, opening up our rehearsals and helping to make sure that everybody has a chance to come and see what we do and what we are about.
“But beyond that, I think that what makes us most unique is that Claude has such an interest in teaching people about the music. Very rarely will you go and see a symphony somewhere else and have the music director come out and talk to you about the pieces that they are performing. So that’s really neat. He’s also just an incredibly likable guy who is super passionate about what he does.
“We are so fortunate to have someone like him invested in our cultural community the way that he is.
“It’s quite mind-blowing – I think my ‘a-ha’ moment with Claude was a Christmas concert where we performed with the Red Deer Youth and Community Orchestra. He had put together this piece and at the beginning when we lay out our program, he said, ‘Oh, I’ll just put something in there’.
“When we got to the rehearsal for that concert, this piece had sleighbells ringing – it just felt like Christmas. You could close your eyes and see snow falling. All I could think of, this man walks around with these things floating through his head until it all comes together. I think people may or may not know that about Claude – he’s not just a conductor, he’s a music arranger and a composer. That’s a pretty rare combination, and we are pretty lucky as an organization to have him.
“For us to have that expertise in-house, it’s really unique.”
Meanwhile, it’s all about building awareness, and to that end, the RDSO has worked hard to extend its reach into the community. Much of that comes through the aforementioned educational and outreach programs.
“We also did an open concert at Bower Ponds that anybody could come to this past summer. We had about 500 people, and about half of those who attended had just heard what was going on and came over.”
Feedback was nothing but positive. “So part of the challenge is visibility and people being aware that we are here.”
They’ve also recently launched some sharp new branding, plus they are planning a Black & White Ball at the Sheraton for New Year’s Eve.
“The brand is really intentional. We took a look at what perception of the RDSO was on the outside and then on the inside, and then pulled it together to create an image that goes after breaking down the barriers of why someone wouldn’t want to come check out the symphony. Visually, it looks more open, more inviting and more modern and reflective of that idea that when you close your eyes, you can actually ‘see’ the music.”