Making Strings Sing


String Ensemble conductor Fumi Torigai bounces and sways before a semicircle of bow-brandished musicians at the front of Hellaby Hall.

He dives his hands in and out of the air as if weaving music from mid-air.

In front of him, six musicians command their instruments with swift saw-like motions, their eyes engaged on Torigai and the music stands raised before them.

Heads perch upon violin and viola chin rests, and a lone cellist sits upright, with his lower-octave cello braced between his fingers.

As musicians charm the last notes from George Gershwin’s Embraceable You, the crowd’s applause should be overwhelming; that is, if there were a crowd for this Wednesday-night rehearsal.

The ensemble, composed of nine string musicians ranging in age from 13 to 78, has been practising since September and is gearing up with a new musical repertoire for a number of performances around the territory in 2009.

While the group’s January performance at Hellaby Hall was a success, with approximately 60 audience members in attendance, the String Ensemble looks forward to branching out even further.

Visits to Copper Ridge Place and Macaulay Lodge have been common in the past for the ensemble, but new for the troupe this year will be travelling to Haines Junction for an April performance most likely to be held at the Haines Junction Convention Centre.

Torigai, who has been conducting for over 30 years and directing the ensemble for five, notes that this will be a special event for the String Ensemble as most of their presentations have been showcased in Whitehorse.

This group of new and returning string musicians will also be entertaining summer masses for Arts in the Park performances that start in May as well as a spring performance at Hellaby Hall.

School concerts are also on the horizon, “but while the group is mainly composed of adults, it makes it difficult to arrange for time off during days,” says violin player Chic Callas, who has been a member for three years.

“There are 29 schools,” says Callas. “If we cover four a year, we’ll eventually get to every school.”

The String Ensemble usually recruits members by word of mouth through the Suzuki Strings Association Yukon and through Dean’s Strings and Music Supplies where owner and musician Dean Tower passes along word of the string company.

Torigai says he would like to see even more co-operation and collaboration with the Suzuki program in the Yukon as youth are the future of string performers.

The String Ensemble lost a few members this year, which Callas says is common in the North as residents move and students return to post-secondary education outside of the territory.

“One of our two viola members moved to Haines Junction,” Callas laughs. “We lost half of our viola section!”

Callas describes the community String Ensemble as “an easygoing group who would like to see more string players out.”

“It boils down to the love of music,” says Torigai.

“The main thing we are trying to do is keep classical music alive and well.

“It’s to get together to share the joy of making music.”

Even rusty string players, who might be hiding in the Yukon woodworks, are encouraged to join.

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