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Symphony keeps playing after more than 40 years

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Gaile Zack and Virginia Kusler were merely looking for an outlet for their musical talents when they came together and began making music in 1971. More than 40 years later, a duo of violinists has grown into the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, which performs six main concerts every year.

Zack said she and Kusler had both recently relocated to Wilmington with their families in 1971 from cities with established community orchestras.

“We tried playing duets but that wasn’t what we wanted, and one day we said we just needed to start an orchestra,” Zack said.

The orchestra began with the help of the University of North Carolina Wilmington Music Department and the players consisted of anyone interested.

“When we started, if you owned an instrument and could warm a chair you were in,” she said, laughing.

Things became more serious for the orchestra after present conductor Steven Errante took the helm in 1986 and the orchestra began holding auditions to ensure the best musicians in Wilmington were on board to help it grow.

Now, the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra holds auditions twice per year and each member of the orchestra has to re-audition every five years.

The next audition is Monday, Jan. 12, and Errante said the caliber of musicians in the orchestra has improved greatly over time.

“When I first got here it was an all-volunteer orchestra and anyone could play in it, and now we have much higher standards and we actually are able to provide the players with a little what we call gas money,” Errante said. “Wilmington is a destination community and the population has gone up quite a bit over the years I have been here. In turn you are more likely to have more qualified musicians.”

Each audition lasts around 10 minutes, and each musician must perform a piece prepared by the orchestra and demonstrate his or her ability to sight read. To make sure there is no bias in selecting members, Errante said the musicians perform behind a screen.

“It is a small enough town that it is a good idea because you would probably know them,” he said.

Looking at what the orchestra has become, Zack said she remembers a time when she would worry that the orchestra would fail if something were to happen to her.

“I can remember coming to the realization one day that I could drop dead and the orchestra would continue on,” she said. “I have thought about retiring from the orchestra but I think I’ll just keep playing until they kick me out.”

For more information about auditions and the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, visit www.wilmingtonsymphony.org

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