By: Abeera Shahid
The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra has been bringing orchestral music to the city since its humble beginnings in the late eighteenth century. As it approaches key milestones, the HPO is collaborating with McMaster’s history department to discover its legacy through the eyes of its community.
Carol Kehoe, the former executive director, started the HPO Legacy Project because at the heart of HPO’s success lies individuals who have tirelessly advocated for its existence.
Their stories are missing from the musical records, and the project seeks to rediscover their experiences and contributions to the orchestra.
The five-year project is in its infancy and will culminate in 2019 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the HPO’s designation as a semi-professional ensemble.
In addition to a permanent archive of the oral history, the final product may include a commemorative book, short videos and events.
Edin Duranovic, an Honours History and Political Science student, was part of the first of nine cohorts from McMaster to participate in the HPO Legacy Project through a historical practicum course last semester.
His cohort captured oral history through interviews with 15 community members.
Future students will be digging through Hamilton’s archives for further insight on the earliest members of the orchestra.
As a student unaware of the HPO’s presence before the project, Duranovic now fondly shares the conversations he had with community members about their involvement with the orchestra. One such experience was with Glen Malorey, the force behind children’s programming.
“He said that everything he wanted to do in his life, he was able to. His main passion was to teach children the wonders of concert music, and he got to spend 50 years of his life doing that by being the conductor of the youth orchestra. Glenn represents what it means to give back to the community without expecting anything in return,” explained Duranovic.
He even met musicians like Darcy Hepner, who started his journey playing cello with the youth orchestra, then switched to the flute while attending McMaster in 1975, but his true passion lies with the saxophone and jazz music.
Hepner then spent 30 years playing in cities including Miami, Boston and New York. He returned to Hamilton in 2005 and came full circle by performing with his jazz band at the HPO in 2011.
Hepner’s musical journey is intimately connected to his experiences in Hamilton and he even remembers some amusing times with the orchestra.
“I was a shy guy who sat in the back, impressed by all the musicians that surrounded me [and] when I was principal cellist, we were supposed to show up to a concert in black and white, but because it was the 70s, I wore platform heels. About 6 inches high… People in the audience told me how they couldn’t take their eyes off my shoes,” said Hepner.
Duranovic was inspired by the stories he heard because of his own love for playing music, adding that since working on the HPO Legacy Project, he has been inspired to try playing the double bass.
Diana Weir, the new executive director and an alumna of McMaster strives to continue the narratives being showcased through the HPO Legacy Project by fostering new collaborations with the community. Most notably, the HPO has partnered with local indie bands to reimagine orchestral music.
Electronic rock band Illitry was one of the first music groups they experimented with, where the HPO’s composer and musicians worked with band members over the span of a few months. They rearranged the band’s music, brought in orchestral elements, and created a unique cross-genre set.
Tory Witherow, the lead singer of Illitry began to see his own music differently.
“It opened my eyes a little bit to the music I write and normally listen to, maybe the music that I am coming up with isn’t as interesting as it could be,” said Witherow.
The HPO’s willingness to evolve and engage with people has created their place as an anchor arts organization in Hamilton.
The HPO recognizes that orchestral music has different meaning for each individual.
For some it is associated with the orchestra coming to their school when they were young, while for others they are proud that their community supports musicians.
“I really believe in the power of [an] orchestra’s music and its power to touch a person’s life [and] to offer solace in a hectic lifestyle. It [has] power to make people see the world in a different way and to offer a sense of belonging for people,” said Weir.
The hope of the project is to assure that the efforts of everyone involved will not go forgotten.
HPO’s exploration of the past showcases how they want to recognize and value the individuals whose contributions allow the orchestra to continue to touch the lives of Hamiltonians.