MARQUETTE - The lights dim and a hush falls over the audience. One by one, the musicians fill the stage and wait patiently until Jacob Chi walks across the stage, bows, and faces the Marquette Symphony Orchestra. His hands gesture upward and in one swift motion waves of instruments are placed in position and the music begins.
For the orchestra, the music began In 1996, when several musicians banded together with the goal of creating a symphony orchestra for the Marquette area. Their idea was simple: To bring regional musicians together to share a passion for the arts and present a new level of artistic culture to the community. In 1997, their idea became a reality.
The MSO includes more than 60 members - ranging from students to community members, music teachers and musicians - from as far as Wisconsin and the Lower Peninsula. Perhaps traveling the farthest is Chi, who took over the role as conductor in 2008 and travels from Colorado the week of performances to meet and rehearse with the symphony and then conduct each concert.
Jacob Chi, conductor of the Marquette Symphony Orchestra, leads the musicians through a piece during a recent concert. Chi has been the conductor of the orchestra since 2008. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Chi began conducting at the age of 23 and studied in Michigan. In 2008, he was asked if he was interested in the position as the MSO conductor. To be considered, Chi had to submit his educational and background material. Once he made it to the final round of interviewees, he then had to conduct a concert as part of his audition. It was then that he was offered and accepted the position.
To produce the best concert possible, Chi said he looks at what the symphony has performed in past seasons to avoid repetition. He then selects music that falls within a comfortable range - neither too easy nor too difficult for the musicians. The orchestra's latest concert featured the film music of John Williams.
"Our audiences range from about 700 to 800 people and we often see a full house," Chi said.
He said he believes it is vital for a city to have a symphony orchestra because of the musical culture it provides.
"Marquette is a beautiful city and I am lucky to be part of the symphony," Chi said. "I hope they continue to invite me back."
Although new members join the symphony as others leave, generally the same musicians come back each year. One such musician is Mark Flaherty, an associate music professor at Northern Michigan University. Flaherty has been playing trumpet with the orchestra for 11 years. A trumpet player for more than 30 years, he auditioned for the MSO at the same time he auditioned for his teaching position.
"We have a vibrant art scene here in Marquette, and we're taking the talent in the area and bringing it together for something that is very worthwhile," Flaherty said.
The musicians typically receive their music a month in advance, during which time they rehearse individually to prepare for their group rehearsals the week of the concert.
Flaherty said performing in the MSO has always been a fun and enjoyable experience - "musically satisfying."
The orchestra is funded through public support, grants, private and public donations and ticket sales. It is overseen by a 16-member board of directors, all volunteer, and two part-time employees. Within the board are several committees, such as the artistic advisory committee that interacts directly with the musicians and repertoire selection, the executive committee, the public relations and advertising committee and the finance and fundraising committee.
It costs nearly $25,000 to put on each concert, according to John French, vice president of the orchestra board. Fees include paying the musicians, rental fees for the music, the venue rental, advertising and general business expenses. While tickets sales help with close to 30 percent of the cost, the rest must be made up elsewhere.
"I think it is a very important cultural aspect that Marquette, as an art city, has the symphony," French said. "We have a very appreciative audience that supports us."
The Marquette Symphony Orchestra's next concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Kaufman Auditorium. Information on the symphony, including the concert schedule, tickets prices and outlets, can be obtained by visiting www.marquettesymphony.org.
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org