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El Cerrito’s New Amateur Orchestra Is Music To Our Ears

L-R: Celeste Rosen-Rooney, Lisa Guan, Ronald Gutierrez, Kathy Doan, Ronald Deans, Gary Pieroni, Jave Kane, Rosemarie Girard, Barbara Williamson, Diane Williamson, Kyle Baldwin, Suzanne Balmaceda, K~lee Kemp, Xiaorou Ruan, Michael Garcia, Piyamaporn Creel, Mhel Kavanaugh-Lynch.

By Kathy Doan

One of El Cerrito’s best-kept secrets is their new musical orchestra! The El Cerrito Community Orchestra (ECCO) has helped quench the thirst of amateur musicians looking to perform in a local ensemble. The ECCO was formed in June 2019, bringing such musicians together with support from the El Cerrito Arts and Culture Commission.

While the players are indeed “amateurs,” it helps to remember the term’s root meaning. In Latin, amator means “lover,” which aptly describes the ECCO—a group of people who play music for the love of it.

ECCO members are as diverse as their instruments, which include strings, woodwinds, and brass. So far, the ensemble has been made up of students, retirees, and everyone in-between. Some members have not played an instrument in over 30 years while others are taking up a new one. Members gain the precious experience of performing with an ensemble while being coached by a professional conductor.

“I’m absolutely excited to conduct the El Cerrito Community Orchestra,” Kyle Baldwin, ECCO conductor, commented. “There are few opportunities for amateur musicians to play in large ensembles, and I’m delighted to be part of one of the few in the East Bay.”

ECCO members come from all over the Bay Area, from Pleasanton to Oakland, and even Conductor Baldwin commutes from San Francisco. All diligently attend weekly rehearsals in El Cerrito, and some open up their homes to host extra practices —a true testament to the members’ passion.

Unlike some other East Bay musical ensembles, the ECCO is open to all instruments as well as beginner musicians, and is the perfect chance for adults to join a supportive and educational space where musical growth is celebrated. As Ronald Deans, who plays trumpet observed, “In rehearsals, we encourage each other. When someone had trouble with a part, we waited patiently and cheered once they got it.”

Conductor Baldwin takes into consideration each player’s experience, skill, and comfort level when programming performance pieces. His conductor’s wand doubles as a magician’s wand: Within a concert set, he is able to transform a collection of amateur musicians, most playing in a group for the first time in many years and perhaps ever, into a cohesive orchestra that plays beautifully together.

For many musicians, joining the ECCO has been the perfect way to revive their passion for playing and to discover new wonders in music. As Wayne Howard, bassoonist, commented, “Though we’re not as proficient, we’re serious in our efforts.” Howard last played 53 years ago prior to joining ECCO. “Playing music again has improved my ability to ‘listen’ to the various voices of other players and enabled me to learn interesting facts about musical theory and style that would have gone completely over my head in high school,” remark Gary Pieroni, clarinetist.

The ECCO was created as a summer-only program with nine members. Exhilarated by their experience and wanting to keep playing together, the original ECCO members successfully appealed to the El Cerrito Arts and Culture Commission to continue the program sooner. Having caught the attention of like-minded musicians, the ECCO ensemble more than doubled in size from the summer to the winter sessions, expanding to 21 players. “I have always wanted to be a part of something special starting from the beginning and build it into something extraordinary,” Deans shared. “One day, I will be able to say proudly, I was one of the first nine that help build this beautiful orchestra.”

The ECCO has so far had two performances—a summer recital in August 2019 and a winter recital in December 2019. Their next concert will take place in May 2020. The spring session will start up in February 2020. Registration information is available on the El Cerrito Arts and Culture Commission website.

The ECCO hopes to keep fostering amateur musicians’ love of music by holding free concerts for the community. Let’s never forget: Without music, life would B-flat!

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