Community orchestra, chorus bring Uintah Basin talent together

Published: Friday, Dec. 6 2013 6:27 p.m. MST

VERNAL — Less than a month after auditions were held, members of the Uintah Basin Orchestra and Chorus went through their final rehearsals before performing for the first time Friday night.

The group's inaugural concert was performed under the direction of Mike Bankhead, former conductor of the U.S. Air Force Band and now head of the Music Department at Utah State University.

"I'm an old dog. I've been around a lot, and this is very exciting," Bankhead said Thursday before leading the 160-member orchestra and chorus in a dress rehearsal.

Community members first approached Bankhead last November to discuss the idea of forming the select group.

"My initial response to it was, 'This is great, if there's the talent pool to do it,'" Bankhead said.

Auditions held in early November answered that question, attracting a number of experienced musicians like Melinda Smith.

"I've been playing the violin since I was 6; so pretty much all my life," said Smith, who was a member of the Teton Chamber Orchestra in Idaho before moving to Vernal six years ago.

A few younger players were also among the about 200 musicians and singers who tried out for a spot in the group.

"A young cellist comes in. I say, 'What are you going to play for me? He says, 'Saint Saens Concerto for cello,'" Bankhead recalled.

"And it went well," seventh-grader Dante Zubel said with a laugh.

"It was amazing!" Bankhead said. "This young lad's thinking about going to Juilliard, and is that good."

Most members of the orchestra and chorus aren't looking to make music a career though. They're just happy to be performing again, and at such a high level.

"It's nice to be in a choir where, when you're singing, the person next to you is singing the same note," tenor Ben Wood said. "To have such an adult choir here in the Basin, it's just fantastic."

The group, which is already planning a spring concert in March, only had about 10 hours of rehearsal together before its Christmas concert, which boasts more than an hour of complex music.

Bankhead, however, had no doubt they'd be ready when the curtain went up.

"They're not doing it because they have to, or because they're getting a grade for it or getting paid for it," he said. "They're doing it for the sheer love and passion about the music and about each other; making music together that they can share with an audience. It's an amazing thing to be part of."

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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