Halloween With Whidbey Island Orchestra

Whidbey Island Orchestra has been around for approximately eighteen or so years, and I’ve been privileged to conduct it for the past five years. Our mission statement says that we exist to provide an opportunity for island musicians to perform orchestral music and to bring that music to our community in free concerts. This means that we are a non-profit that exists, first and foremost, as a learning and playing experience for our members, and we are a pay-to-play orchestra, even though our dues are extremely modest. It’s kind of like a cooking class. First you learn to make some tasty dishes, and then you invite friends and relatives to eat them.

One of the great things upon which we pride ourselves is our Youth Program. There is no school orchestra program in the So. Whidbey Island School District, so any young person who plays an orchestral instrument is invited to join us at our once a week rehearsals on a full scholarship while sitting next to an adult member of the orchestra who acts as a student mentor. In the past, meaning before Covid, we had as many as ten students per season enjoying this wonderful opportunity. Now we are down to three, all string players. In fact, although we tried to open up our roster to a full orchestra this September we were only able to add a French horn, a trombone, and an oboe from the brass and woodwind sections. We couldn’t garner enough instrumentalists to cover all the parts it would take to play arrangements that previously we had mastered and performed, let alone learning new pieces.

This is a very resilient group. Even though we had been faced with extreme Covid restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic, we managed to play in small string groups outside under the trees every weekend. We decided to concentrate on learning Mozart String Quartets, which we did and then some. When the time came to allow us to perform with masks and distanced seating, one person per stand, we were ready, and our strings gave a beautiful concert in March of 2021 at Whidbey Island Center For The Arts. It sold out and garnered rave reviews. it was so successful that WICA asked us to perform again, this time in August, as their last concert of the summer season. We put together “Fiddles to Fiesta: Music of the Americas.” This included some of the most fun repertoire for strings we’ve ever played, everything from plaintive Civil War melodies and foot-stompin’ bluegrass and hoedown music to Latin tangos and mariachi numbers. We added piano, percussion, and a flute. Again, quite a hit with the community.

Sadly, the start of a new season in September didn’t, as previously mentioned, go as planned. After four rehearsals with two few brass and woodwinds to fill out the selections we’d chosen, we pivoted back to strings/percussion/piano, and flutes. Flutes, we learned from reading the research, are far safer than other wind instruments because of how they are made and played. Very few aerosols escape in the course of playing a flute, and so we’ve added some for a lovely effect. and to get more members performing again. Although we’d planned a live concert, we were dissuaded by the Delta variant of the virus, and the concert material. You see, this is a Halloween program, “The Witching Hour,” and we knew from past experience that it would be heavily attended by children who are so far unvaccinated. Our answer was to hire a videographer and tape our dress rehearsal in the foyer of Island Church, then put it up on our website: www.whidbeyislandorchestra.org, where the community can enjoy it all Halloween weekend long for free.

And the music is great! Not only is the orchestra performing things like “Psycho” and “This Is Halloween” from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “The Haunted Carousel,” “Fright Night”, and “Incantations,” all spooky and wonderful, but we have several added treats. As the orchestra is playing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” we have Daunne Zinger, a well known local dance teacdher andchoreographer, and her Luigi Jazz Dancers performing her unique choreography with an entire company of energetic undead. To close the show our island’s favorite actor/director, David Ossman of Fireside Theater fame, will be starring as Boris Karloff in “Monster Mash.”

It’s a strange time to be conducting and shepherding an orchestra, but I am grateful to have such resilient members and a wonderful board to help us get through this with creativity and excellence. We are so thankful for the ongoing community support we receive as well from Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland, and Island Church of Langley. Please join us on Halloween weekend for “The Witching Hour,” featuring Whidbey Island Orchestra, Daunne Zinger and the Luigi Jazz Dancers, and our beloved guest David Ossman at


Our beautiful Dahlia getting ready to celebrate Halloween.

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