It started on a whim.
One day, three years ago, Jason and Rachel Landers were at home, when Rachel had an idea: what if they started a community orchestra group?
So Rachel, a private music teacher, designed a logo and made a website that day in July of 2015. Together with Jason, a choir teacher at North Forsyth Middle School, they dug into their vast contacts in the music community to get the word out – the Forsyth Philharmonic was having its first reading session.
But they weren’t sure how many musicians would show up.
“I thought it would start as a chamber group, like maybe 12 people, and at least we would be having a great time,” Rachel said.
Instead, 30 came, and the county’s only orchestral group has been growing ever since, with more than 50 members now in its third performance season.
“It turned into a thing,” Rachel said.
Indeed, at a recent rehearsal on Wednesday, members filed in to the band room at North Forsyth Middle School. A new cellist and percussionist joined that night. A new cellist had joined the previous week too. The growth started first through word of mouth, but most new members now find the group through its website.
From August to May, the group rehearses every Wednesday night at North for three performances, and there are no strict requirements for member musicians. The Philharmonic welcomes a wide range of ages and skill levels. The oldest are in their 60s and 70s. The youngest is Rachel and Jason’s son, Seth, who plays violin.
From the outset, Rachel and Jason found the orchestra attracted people with varied musical backgrounds. Some were music teachers eager for a place to play and network. Some were adults picking up the instrument they played 20 years ago in high school. They started accepting talented high school students looking for the orchestral environment local schools lack. College students from nearby started to join. Even some seasoned musicians who played in reputable ensembles like the Atlanta Wind Symphony.
To all, Rachel and Jason give the same edict.
“Play what you can,” Jason said, “and don’t stress out over what you can’t.”
That spirit has created a unique community within the Philharmonic. Kim Stocksdale is co-director of the Forsyth Central High School orchestra and teaches violin at the Ponce De Leon Music Center. Two-and-a-half years ago, Stocksdale was searching for a community orchestra group to play with; she found the Forsyth Philharmonic’s Facebook page and joined.
Soon after, Stocksdale ascended to concertmaster, the title of the leader of an orchestra’s first violin section, but she noticed a synergy among all the musicians.
“Look at all these adults who get to come and hang out together,” Stocksdale said. “We’re automatically connected because we all play an instrument.”
It even became a family affair for Stocksdale. Eventually, three of her kids began playing with the Philharmonic. Her son plays trumpet and French horn. One daughter plays the flute, another plays clarinet.
“We all hang out on Wednesday nights,” Stocksdale said.
They were there again this past Wednesday, when at 7:30 p.m. sharp, Rachel stepped on to the conductor’s podium. Jason sat at a piano. Members warmed up, filling the space with a cacophony of sound until Rachel lifted her baton.
On her mark, the group began rehearsing pieces in its upcoming fall concert, “Music from the Movies,” in September. They played music from Forrest Gump and Harry Potter, Titanic and Jurassic Park, Sleeping Beauty and Star Trek.
At one point during a piece, Rachel stopped the orchestra. The trumpet section was off. She offered some brief instruction, then had the trumpets play it again by themselves.
“We want quality in our performances,” Jason said. “But we also have a good time. … We want it to be an enjoyable outlet for musicians in our community.”