Blaine Waldbauer had a vision for a community orchestra in the valley.
He had the students, he had the idea, and he had some expertise to share. He knew he needed help to make it happen.
Michele Morton had a background as an ER nurse. She had skill in organizing people, events, and attending to details while keeping a sense of the big picture. She took care of her husband, Tom, as he navigated the challenges of significant changes in his health.
Tom had a lifelong desire to play the violin. When illness brought great physical pain into his life, he reached for a violin and sought a teacher to guide him. He practiced four to five hours a day. While he was playing his violin, he didn’t feel the pain.
Blaine, Michele, and Tom got to know each other as Tom’s journey through both health changes and the pursuit of his love for playing music brought them together.
One day, Blaine asked Michele if she might help him build a community orchestra. She agreed to try.
Slowly, together, they built a team of musicians and volunteers to help administrate the logistics of forming such a group.
The Strathcona Symphony Orchestra, home to community orchestral music in the Comox Valley, was born. From its inception in 2005 through the present day, it has provided opportunities for musicians to try new things; to face their fears, such as that of performing in front of an audience; to collaborate with fellow musicians on side projects, such as small ensembles; allowed musicians opportunities to grow, such as experiencing what it is to audition for a chance to perform a solo (such as a concerto) with the orchestra; and to develop leadership skills, such as the opportunity to lead a section (hint: it isn’t always the oldest musician leading a section—sometimes, it may be the youngest!). With the SSO, there is ample opportunity to grow together as musicians, in a safe, encouraging, and supportive environment.
This is a place where both young and old and everyone in between can come together, get to know each other, and grow—whether they’ve just begun their journey in music, or have been playing for a lifetime and are eager to encourage others. It’s a delicate balance to manage the needs and interests of such a broad range of ages, aptitudes, skill levels, and aesthetic preferences, so our conductors have a unique and invigorating challenge to harmonize it all!
Violinist, educator, and Comox Valley resident, Blaine Waldbauer, conducted the SSO’s inaugural concert at North Island College’s Stan Hagen Theatre on May 6, 2006, and cemented the SSO’s inclusion as a promoter of live classical music played by volunteer musicians. What started as a mostly strings group attracted siblings and friends who played other orchestral instruments, and the orchestra began to grow.
Professional oboist, teacher, and business manager for the Vancouver Island Symphony (VIS) at the time, Pippa Williams took over the baton from 2009 to 2015. Pippa’s connections to a professional symphony allowed the SSO to access a more extensive music library portfolio and collaborate with guest soloists, including a ballroom-dancing couple, singers for a wildly popular Gilbert and Sullivan performance, and university students returning to the SSO to perform concerti. During Pippa’s tenure, the SSO was proud to perform Tchaikovsky’s explosive 1812 Overture, complete with a firework finale at the Courtenay Airpark, as part of the City of Courtenay’s 100th “Symphony of Fire” anniversary celebration.
Dr. James Montgomery
Dr. James Montgomery, a distinguished trombonist, conductor, and university music educator, conducted the SSO from 2015 until 2018. His extensive musical background elevated the orchestra’s playing abilities further, and he was integral in expanding the music library and ensuring it remained a priority as the SSO grew over time.
After Dr. Montgomery’s retirement, a rigorous search for a new musical director and conductor resulted in the selection of renowned cellist and resident music teacher, Helena Jung.
Helena is passionate about applying her musical abilities to enrich the Valley with inspiring musical selections that are both delightful for audiences to hear and musicians to play, while challenging the musicians to grow stronger, both individually and as an ensemble.
Under Helena’s leadership and with the support of our dedicated board of directors and volunteers, the orchestra has broadened the scope of experiences the SSO offers to both musicians and audience members. In addition to the full symphony orchestra experience, the formation of smaller ensembles of varying sizes has opened opportunities for musicians to experience a more diverse and expanded range of repertoire. This has made it possible for the SSO to continue to perform despite limitations in place during the 2020-2022 seasons.
As the past meets the present, the SSO is committed to continuing to fulfill its intended function and purpose: to provide a home for music and musicians to play, share, grow, and pass it on: