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'A Toast to Twenty Years'...
Buffalo Community Orchestra celebrates

By Ed DuBois

The members of the Buffalo Community Orchestra (BCO) come from many different career paths.  They work in law enforcement, health care, the postal service, social services, local stores and restaurants, libraries, and more.  They all have one thing in common.  They love making beautiful music together.

They love it so much, they have been doing it for 20 years.  A celebration of BCO's 20th year is underway, and you are invited to come and celebrate with them at their spring concert, "A Toast to Twenty Years," on Saturday, May 9, 7:30 p.m., in the Buffalo High School (BHS) Performing Arts Center.

Michael Halstenson, who has twice served as the BCO's conductor, has written a special 20th anniversary piece for the concert.  "Dancing on Emerald Stars" will premiere at the event.

"So few things get people out now, but BCO offers a very nice evening," commented Mary Ellen Lundsten, one of the BCO founders.

A night out for a BCO concert begins with a Conductor's Chat, during which you can learn about the selections to be presented during the concert.  After the concert, you can enjoy a reception.


Summer of 1995

Twenty years of BCO concerts began with a summer meeting in 1995 at the home of John and Mary Ellen Lundsten.  A trio of local musicians, El Gervasio and Dr. and Mrs. Andy and Sherilyn Burgdorf, performed during the gathering.  A few of the guests included Mike Walsh, who is well known as a music director and the vocal music teacher at BHS, and pianist Gale Holmquist.

A special guest was Roger Hoel, the music director for the Minnetonka Association of Music, who provided insights on how the community orchestra in Minnetonka was formed.

The first BCO conductor was the late Mary Roberts Wilson, who was the principle flutist with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  Her warmth and friendliness made her a great first conductor for the BCO.

The first concert was on Nov. 26, 1995, and El Gervasio was the concertmaster.


Young musicians welcomed

Gervasio was the original conductor of the Montrose youth orchestra, which is now known as Bravo Strings and is now led by Erin Walsh.  The children have been welcome additions to BCO concerts for many years.

"We have been proud of the presence of the young performers," Mary Ellen Lundsten mentioned.  "During the May 9 concert, some of the children will be performing side by side with BCO musicians for one piece."

She added that the annual fall concert has often been youth oriented.  During at least one of the fall concerts, the Bravo Strings performers came in their Halloween costumes.


Many concert themes

The BCO began with four concerts a year, and in 2000, a fifth concert (the Christmastime event) was added.  Commonly referred to as the holiday concert, it has become an annual favorite.

Many concerts have a theme.  A few years ago, a passport theme was underway throughout the concert schedule.  Every concert had a country.

A couple of times, the BCO collaborated with the Buffalo Community Theater (BCT), and people liked that very much.  A "Camelot" concert was enjoyed recently, for example.

A few other very memorable concerts included a flamenco dancer at one and Spelmanslag, a fiddlers' club from the American Swedish Institute, at another.

"We try to bring new things to the concerts," said Gretchen Katzenberger of the BCO.

Just a year ago, a concert featuring a Charlie Chaplin film, "The Immigrant," was very well received.  A May 2012 concert featured merry old England period costumes.

In October 2005, world-class singer Maria Jette performed in a concert featuring a Dr. Seuss "Green Eggs and Ham" musical.

A first-time performance with a live orchestra was enjoyed when the North Ballet Academy presented "Nutcracker" selections during a December 2013 BCO concert.


Musicians and conductors

The BCO started in 1995 with 39 musicians, and today the BCO includes 60 or more.  They come from all over Wright County and beyond.

Mary Ellen mentioned, "We are always looking for violins."

Some of the positions with the orchestra are filled by college students, and others formerly played in college.

"I was always in bands.  This is my first orchestra, which is more about the strings," Katzenberger said.

"I love hearing how all the instruments are contributing," Mary Ellen commented.

She added that it has been great to have good conductors.  The BCO keeps getting young, aspiring conductors.  Many have come from the University of Minnesota PhD program.  They often stay here three years and then go on to further pursuits.

"We are their orchestra family, which is a warm and welcoming group.  The conductors embrace Buffalo.  They have said they love the community, the merchants and the people," Mary Ellen said.

Altogether, ten conductors have led the BCO.  The current conductor, Paul McShee, is originally from Scotland and is working on a doctorate in Conducting at the University of Minnesota.


Rehearsals on Sundays

The orchestra rehearses on Sundays from 4:30-7 p.m. at BHS, September to June.  An average of eight rehearsals go into preparing for each concert.

Some of the sections of the orchestra rehearse separately, in addition to entire orchestra rehearsals.  Kari Hartman, the BCO's general manager, is a member of a string ensemble, which performs at nursing homes, Rotary events, weddings, funerals, at Buffalo Books and Coffee, and at the Farmers' Market.  They call themselves Trillium (in reference to a musical term, trill).

Many people come forward to help in various ways as a new concert date approaches.  Mary Ellen mentioned John Holahan of Annandale, who serves as the budget chairman, has enjoyed speaking at area schools about the orchestra.  He has also talked about serving in World War II and working at General Mills, where he helped invent Lucky Charms cereal and Bugles snacks.


Costs of concerts

Hartman and two assistants take care of many concert preparations, including the physical chore of copying all the music for the musicians.  The music is obtained from music libraries, and sometimes the cost for the music is quite high.  In fact, some concerts cost as much as $8,000 for the music.

After the concert, the music must be collected and sent back to the music library.

The cost of concerts is a primary reason why fundraising is very important for the nonprofit BCO.  Some much-appreciated grants are provided through sources such as: the Central Minnesota Arts Board, the Great River Regional Library, Wright-Hennepin Electric, and the Rotary Club.  During a fall fundraising campaign, the BCO seeks businesses, organizations and local residents who would like to support the orchestra.

During the recession, contributions decreased, and the grants were a big help, Mary Ellen mentioned.



Interestingly, many requirements come along with nonprofit status.  All activities must be documented, along with ticket sales, demographics and goals.  The BCO must also document whether or not goals were met, and if not, the reasons for not meeting the goals must be documented.


Coming together

In the meantime, musicians from almost every walk of life devote their free time to come together regularly and share the one thing they all have in common, a love for making beautiful music.

Mary Ellen marvels at the way they all work so well together.  She is an expert and a lecturer on world politics, and she commented that the world of the community orchestra is the opposite of world politics.

"The musicians," she said, "all support each other."

They have been doing so in Buffalo for 20 years.


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