Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra returns from pandemic pause with new venue and collaborations

The Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra went on hiatus for an entire season, but now the group is back, looking to reconnect with long-time supporters and win new fans.
The Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra (YSO) went on hiatus for an entire season during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the group is back, looking to reconnect with long-time supporters and win new fans.

The YSO's first concert since it went on hiatus in spring 2020 took place in October at the Lincoln High School Performing Arts Center, drawing an audience of about 150. Long-time volunteer and board member Julie Morrison says the word that best describes the atmosphere at that concert is "joy."

"Everyone was really excited to be able to play in an ensemble again," she says. "It went really well. We had an enthusiastic audience, and the players were having so much fun."
The Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra rehearses at the Lincoln High School Performing Arts Center.
The YSO's principal flute player, Kris Lenart, has been with the YSO since almost the beginning. She says she felt a little sad missing rehearsals with the group, but didn't realize the depth of her feelings until she showed up at the first in-person rehearsal in months and realized she was so rattled that she'd forgotten her flute.

"I almost didn't realize how much I missed it until I was back," she says. "I realized how much I missed the community and that aspect of my life, playing and making music with others."

No such thing as "used to be a musician"

The orchestra's founder and director, Adam Riccinto, says the all-volunteer orchestra, founded in 1999, is made up of people with diverse life experiences but a common urge to make music. He says there's no such thing as someone who "used to be a musician."

"The question is whether you're practicing your craft or not," he says.

He says people who played an instrument in high school and went on to other careers in adult life still often feel they need the release and stimulation of making music with others.
Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra founder and director Adam Riccinto.
"They may want a social outlet or need one day a week to push pause on everything else in their lives and come make music in a place free of social pressure, politics, and all those things," Riccinto says. "All that stays out there. Here, none of that matters. It's about the music and about fellowship."

That's certainly the case for Lenart, who works as an attorney in her day job. 

"One of my favorite things about the orchestra is the different people who are in it," she says. "They have all sorts of different backgrounds and have so many different kinds of day jobs, but what brings us together is our love of making music and sharing music with each other and with audiences."

Although some players got together in small groups for private performances and Riccinto hosted a few virtual happy hours during the pandemic, there was no effort to try to do anything official, like rehearsal, via Zoom.

"We always really worked to provide high-quality material, and we didn't have the bandwidth to do it well virtually," Riccinto says. "We stayed in touch and kept building relationships, and I did some coaching where I could."

YSO Concertmaster Edwin Olson says stopping group rehearsals was "the right thing to do, but very painful."

"I really looked forward to those Tuesday night rehearsals," Olson says. "It was hard to go a year without my weekly self-care ritual with people who love to play music."

New venue, new audience members, new collaborations

Riccinto says he and the YSO board were "thrilled" when Lincoln High School reopened and welcomed the YSO back. The orchestra has been rehearsing at the high school for many years but had traditionally played most of its concerts elsewhere. Most recently the YSO played most of its concerts at Washtenaw Community College's [WCC] Towsley Auditorium, with an annual May concert outdoors at Riverside Park.

However, the Morris Lawrence building that houses Towsley Auditorium is currently closed for renovations, so YSO is seeking a new venue. The high school's recently-built performing arts center was a natural fit.
The Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra rehearses at the Lincoln High School Performing Arts Center.
"So far, I've really enjoyed it. I think it's a really nice performance space, and the acoustics are great," Lenart says.

The new venue will be a change for long-time YSO supporters, but Riccinto and others in the YSO hope the new venue will also bring new audience members and foster new collaborations. For example, the YSO will collaborate with the Lincoln High School Band for the orchestra's December show.

"It might be a challenge for people who were closer to WCC, but it might also give us an opportunity to reach out to more people in the [Lincoln] area," Morrison says. "And any time we can collaborate and play with ensembles from schools, it's a lot of fun."

The next chance for the public to catch a performance by the YSO is its "New World Holiday" concert starting at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Lincoln High School Performing Arts Center, 7425 Willis Rd. in Augusta Township. 

The holiday concert will feature Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World"), followed by a selection of holiday favorites. The YSO will be joined by the Lincoln High School Band, directed by Leslie Schwegler, and Lincoln High School Choir Director Toni Micik, who will narrate a special musical version of "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

The cost is $12 for adults, or $6 for children and seniors. Attendees are required to wear masks. More information about the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra is available at www.ypsilantisymphony.org or on the YSO's Facebook page.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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