Arts and Entertainment

Heart of the strings

Gary Anderson is always giving his students A’s.

As the Bainbridge Orchestra’s concertmaster – principal first violin and head of the string section – Anderson leads the tuning before each rehearsal and performance, adjusting his ‘A’ string to match the oboe and setting the pitch for the rest of the strings.

Since his arrival on Bainbridge in January, he’s also taught the ensemble a thing or two about making music.

“Gary has a knack for helping other string players, in particular, succeed as a section,” says James Quitslund, coordinator of the Bainbridge Performing Arts classical music program. “He’s demonstrated how the orchestra, especially in the classical repertoire, relies on the leadership of the strings.”

Agrees conductor Kathleen Macferran:

“Gary brings enthusiasm and a lot of skills to the group.”

Skill and enthusiasm are evident as Anderson rehearses Arcangelo Corelli’s “Concerto grosso in F Major,” one of several shorter works on the orchestra’s season-opening program this weekend.

He pushes the group toward greater precision, snapping his fingers to demonstrate a difficult rhythm. But his emphasis is on musicality rather than technical perfection.

“There is a lot of ‘perfect’ music out there that doesn’t touch you,” he says. “The purpose of conducting isn’t to show you when to play, but how to play.”

Anderson doesn’t let the intensity of rehearsal get in the way of having fun. During the Corelli, a cellist observes the piece is still sounding “heavy.”

“You mean like this?” Anderson asks, dragging his bow across the strings to force a screech from his violin.

Although he occasionally calls out instructions or encouragement to the players, most of his direction comes from the confidence of his playing – leading the string section, Quitslund says, to its most unified sound in years.

Anderson acknowledges his leadership, but he’s not drawn to limelight.

“I don’t like to be the person out front, playing the solos and getting all the attention,” he says. “I do like to be the person behind the scenes helping everyone in the group to make better music.”

This hasn’t stopped him from lending his talents to numerous musical organizations on the island. In addition to being the concertmaster for the Bainbridge Orchestra and the assistant concertmaster for the Rainier Symphony, Anderson plays with the BPA’s chamber music group and teaches violin and viola privately. He directs the Bainbridge Island Youth Orchestra’s “senior” group, for musicians in grades six through high school, and is the overall director of the island’s youth orchestra program.

Anderson began playing the violin in fourth grade.

Although he took private lessons throughout his childhood, he didn’t get serious about the instrument until college. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance at Washington State University, and a degree in music education from the University of Puget Sound.

After six years teaching in Washington and Alaska public schools, however, Anderson decided to return to school himself – this time, in computer science.

“Music wasn’t valued very much in the public schools,” he says. “You were always trying to protect your program from being cut.”

Although he now makes his living as a software designer, he is still passionate about the need to teach music to children.

“Music is at the core of almost everything we experience today,” he says. “You can’t turn anything on – television, radio – without hearing music.”

Even in a community as appreciative of its arts as Bainbridge, Anderson says, there is room for more music education. He laments the lack of a string program in the district.

He also sees the need for a smaller, chamber orchestra on the island, so players can learn a new repertoire. Under Macferran, the Bainbridge Orchestra performs several pieces each concert with smaller ensembles drawn from within the group. The players appreciate these chances to work with a core of dedicated musicians, Anderson says.

“If you have quality,” he says, “then quality people will want to be a part of it.”

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The Bainbridge Orchestra presents its first concert of the season at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 and 4 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Playhouse. Tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at the Playhouse or may be charged by phone at the BPA Box Office. For information, call the box office at 842-8569.

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