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High Culture, Low Cost 

Central Oregon Symphony performs for the reasonable price of free

Wendy Bloom leads a threefold life. She is a mother of two young kids, 6-year-old Bobby and 2-year-old toddler Madeleine; in itself, that keeps her plenty busy. But she piles on more: By day, she is a network and systems engineer, working on computers for local school districts. And, finally, by night, the lanky, blond Colorado native drops the kids at home, forgets the virus scans and emails, and emerges as her orchestral alter ego, principal bassoon player for the Central Oregon Orchestra.

"I've been playing for 25 years," said Bloom. The bassoon looks a bit like a clarinet, but at 4 feet 6 inches long with a curved mouthpiece, it also resembeles a saxophone. Deep and rich, the bassoon sounds like a clarinet-oboe hybrid that serves as the backbone of the woodwind section. "It's something I have to do," she asserts. "I don't feel right or whole as a person if I'm not playing my instrument."

Fortunately for Bloom, the Central Oregon Symphony is a rare opportunity, a professional-quality, full-blown orchestra in an area where it is more common to find a chainsaw artist than a classically trained harpist.

But its existence is no accident. Since 1967, the Central Oregon Symphony has worked with Central Oregon Community College to bring classical music played by an all-volunteer orchestra to Central Oregon. The symphony will bring the joy of high culture to the High Desert again this weekend with a full crew of winds, strings, brass players and percussionists.

Cassie Walling, executive director of the Central Oregon Symphony Association, said that when it began, the program was more of a chamber orchestra made up of just a few members. Now it's a nonprofit that funds half a dozen programs and boasts 85 members.

"We have students as young as 11 who play in the violin section, and we have people all the way up into their 80s," Walling proudly announced. "All the musicians are members of our community."

"As much as I think the notes on the page are important," she continued, "I think it's that camaraderie that is the really special thing about the Central Oregon Symphony."

The feeling of harmony that comes from an orchestral performance is as affecting for the players as it is for the audience. The buzz of the strings, bows moving in perfect synchronization layered with horns, and driving percussion isn't the snore-fest classical music haters make it out to be. It only adds interest when the players are friends, neighbors and family members.

Local donors to the Central Oregon Symphony Association provide most of the budget for the programs, including a youth orchestra, Music in Public Places and reimbursement for musicians' training classes and instruments. Donations also make it possible to offer free tickets to the community.

"It's really incredible to have a group such as the Central Oregon Symphony, at the caliber they're at, that's available to everybody," Walling said. "We play at Bend High because it's the biggest auditorium in town. We're able to seat 1,400, and we've overflowed the hall a couple of times."

Under the leadership of Michael Gesme, conductor of the symphony for 15 years running and professor of music at COCC, the orchestra will take the stage for three spring performances of some recognizable material: Leonard Bernstein's 'Symphonic Dances" from West Side Story; "Kol nidrei" by Max Bruch, an early 20th century German romantic composer; Antonin Dvorak's fast-slow-fast concerto for Violin in A minor, Op. 53; and French romanticist Camille Saint-Saëns' "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso."

Central Oregon Symphony

7:30 pm, Saturday 4

2 pm, Sunday 5

7:30 pm, Monday 6

Bend High School Auditorium, 230 NE 6th St.

Request tickets at



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