For community orchestra, the mission is low cost music

By Sabina Mollot

The Greenwich Village Orchestra at a recent performance. (Photo by Adi Segal)

For the past quarter century, the Greenwich Village Orchestra, a group of over 60 musicians from around the city, has been devoted to playing free or low cost symphony concerts. The full orchestra, which performs the most often at the auditorium of Washington Irving High School, around six times a year, also sometimes plays at Rose Hall at Lincoln Center as well as Manhattan churches and parks. The next performance will be at Washington Irving at 40 Irving Place on Sunday, March 25 at 3 p.m.

Jeanne Poindexter, an East Midtown Plaza resident and viola player, has been with the orchestra almost as long as it’s been around, and like the other participants, was never a pro musician but had a background in music. Members include architects, accountants, carpenters, advocates and retirees.

“Some people play freelance, but most people make their living doing something else,” said Poindexter, a PhD and retired professor of biology. “They’re just people who learned to play a youngsters and didn’t want to stop playing.”

Though having always played, Poindexter still studies at the Third Street Music School where her daughter also took classes.   “You need someone to constantly criticize your playing — that’s what keeps you playing well,” said Poindexter.

To promote the shows, which have taken place at Union Square and Gramercy Parks as well as in  concert venues from the Lower East Side to Columbus Circle, the musicians usually just post fliers around neighborhood stores and senior centers. Music is always classical or classically inspired and the March 25 program will include music by Brahms (Symphony No. 3) and Khachaturyan (Sabre Dance). Guest conductor will be Farkhas Khudyev.

Students who are college-age also occasionally play with the Greenwich Village Orchestra, whose longtime music director is Upper Manhattan resident Barbra Yahr. Rehearsals take place once a week at Washington Irving, where the orchestra has been playing for years.

While the school is slated for closure by the DOE, it is expected that two new high schools will be moving into the space, which is already utilized by a couple of small schools along with W.I.H.S. Poindexter said the orchestra so far has not heard anything about the city’s plans affecting the orchestra’s use of the building, which is over 100 years old. In fact, it was close to 20 years ago when the orchestra last faced the possibility of a change in venue. But even then, it was only that the high school was undergoing some renovation work and the musicians were concerned that changes would be made to the auditorium’s original pillars and paintings. Fortunately, the historic design stayed put.

The future of the orchestra itself is hardly in question though, as the group has always existed on donations which have allowed it to rent its concert venues. There are no plans to do any recordings — though audience members are encouraged to record performances for CDs. Financial contributions can be made online at gvo.org, though the orchestra will just as soon accept donated refreshments for shows.

The next show, on March 25, is being offered free to readers of Town & Village. Normally, the suggested donation for a show there is $15 for adults, $5 for students, children and seniors, but mentioning this article will be accepted as a ticket. The last show for the orchestra of the season at W.I.H.S. will take place this year on Sunday, May 20.

Notice: Due to an error in a press release, the print edition of this article incorrectly states that the date of this weekend’s concert is March 31.

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