There’s an 83-year age gap between the youngest and oldest members of this year’s Intergeneration Orchestra of Omaha.
That fosters growth for those on both ends of the spectrum — and all the musicians in between, said Chris Gillette, who helped found the group 30 years ago as a project of the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging.
“What I’ve heard is that they learn so much from each other,” said Gillette, who is the community services division director for ENOA. “When you have a younger musician sitting next to a former Omaha Symphony member, I don’t know how you can compare that experience to any other group.”
The 50-piece orchestra, which plays popular music, has been practicing every Sunday all summer. Now it’s ready to present its season-opening concert Sunday night at Sumtur Amphitheater in Papillion. Noted Omaha musician and composer Chuck Penington, the orchestra’s conductor, has been with the group since the beginning.
Gillette said the group began when her office was searching for something both generations could do together. She got a grant from the Kiewit Foundation and launched the Intergeneration Orchestra for people 25 and younger and 50 and older. Most years, the group is generally made up of half-young and half-old, though it skews slightly to one side at times.
Each musician must audition for the group. Flutist Glennis Stout is its oldest member. At 94, she faithfully attends three-hour rehearsals, relying on her son to drive her from Immanuel Courtyard assisted living to practice at First Christian Church near 69th and Dodge Streets.
“It’s absolutely the highlight of her week,” Gillette said. This is Stout’s first year in the orchestra.
The group’s youngest member is Macy Klein, an alto saxophone player who turns 11 on Sunday.
During the concert season, the group gets together twice a month: one Sunday to rehearse and one Sunday to perform. Its repertoire includes songs older people will remember as well as original pieces Penington composes just for the orchestra. Each year, Penington chooses a theme for his musicians; this year, it’s “From Classical to Pop.”
Performances take place mostly at retirement homes and nursing centers, although the November concert is at St. Paul United Methodist Church and the annual spring “Pops and Pie” concert is at Joslyn Art Museum’s Witherspoon Concert Hall.
While participation is especially educational for the group’s younger members, Gillette said the older players also learn new things.
“The older members sit next to the younger members, and they get a completely different perspective,” especially if they have played for many years with adult-only groups, she said. “They’re just playing music. They forget about their years.”
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