The New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra, the largest community orchestra in Louisiana, will hold a free concert at 7 p.m. March 27 at Holy Name of Jesus Church, 6367 St. Charles Ave. The performance will include four pieces featuring full orchestra with 60 musicians and 40 singers. Donations received at the concert will benefit Make Music Nola, an after-school program that provides musical instruction to elementary school children.
Loyola music majors Chris Bergeron and Joseph Cieslak founded NOVO just three years ago as a way to expand their own experiences conducting, but the orchestra has become a labor of love that gives professional and amateur musicians from the community an outlet for creative expression and welcomes diverse audiences to appreciate orchestral performances.
“We started it with one thing in mind and then it became very different,” Cieslak said.
The founders initially reached out to fellow musicians and posted notices on Craigslist and Facebook to draw a mix of students and adults. Any musician interested enough to show up at weekly rehearsals, instrument in hand, could join.
“It is such a fantastic community of musicians,” said Meghan Kessel, a Loyola student who plays violin. “Some used to play in school and stopped because of work and life but wanted to have fun and participate in music again.”
NOVO’s repertoire includes a range of classical and pop music, including movie and video game scores.
“We don’t play music like the LPO,” Bergeron said.
Friday’s concert will open with “Finlandia, Op. 26” a dramatic score written by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1899 as a protest against the Russian Empire, featuring horns and percussion.
“These dynamics are important,” Bergeron told musicians during the orchestra’s regular Sunday night rehearsal at Loyola University. “There are some big moments,” he said.
“Baba Yetu,” a gospel song that became the first video game theme to win a Grammy Award, will be performed by the newly formed choir, accompanied by the orchestra. “Baba Yetu” is the Lord’s Prayer sung in Swahili. “Halo” and “Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” both video game themes, incorporate ample opportunities for voice as well as instrumentals. Bergeron believes popular music appeals to a younger audience who might find they also enjoy classical music.
“The big piece is the ‘Requiem,’ ” said Dale Norris, a former school choir director who is helping the singers learn both music and Latin diction for Gabriel Faure’s work.
Bergeron and Cieslak decide the repertoire based on what music is available in the public domain. Most scores written before 1923 have outlived copyright and can be downloaded off the Internet on the International Music Score Library Project website. Cieslak arranges the video game scores.
“We couldn’t exist if it weren’t for public domain,” Cieslak said.
The mix of musical styles creates a varied performance even a neophyte can appreciate.
“My family loves it. It’s so creative and you want everyone to see this and be a part of it,” Kessel said.