Dr. Ralph G. Laycock is taking up the baton for his 11th year as 87 musicians tune up their instruments for the 31st season of the Utah Valley Symphony.

Season tickets are on sale for the five concerts, beginning with a program of Russian music Wednesday featuring Cynthia V. Richards as soloist in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Remaining are the Christmas concert and carol sing Dec. 7-8, Young Artists concert Jan. 25-26, the Austrian piano duo of Susan Neumuller and George Kem on March 15 and the pops concert featuring saxophonist Daron Bradford on April 13. All concerts begin at 8 p.m. in the Provo Tabernacle.It's a season the symphony couldn't have had, with music they could not have played 10 years ago. It's to the credit of both conductor and musicians that the group has been able to fill the Tabernacle in recent years - not just with music, but with an appreciative audience.

Laycock, who has become a familiar fixture with the orchestra the past decade, is quick to point out that he's building on the efforts of many players and the conductors who preceded him. "I just want to continue the growth in the competence of the group and provide entertainment and education for our audiences," he said.

Members of the Utah Valley Symphony receive absolutely no pay; they play for the joy of it. And that's one of the delights Laycock has in working with them.

"Many have worked hard to improve their own skills," Laycock said. "They're taking their music home and working on it." Some have been so earnest to improve that they've begun private music lessons again after age 60.

While Laycock has always been careful to gauge the music to the group's ability, he is noticing that the ability level is steadily rising. "We are tackling more and more complex music," including the Saint-Saens "Organ" Symphony performed last year and Stravinsky's "Firebird" Suite now in rehearsal - "but because members are more sure of themselves, their confidence and experience have made it much faster work with more complicated music."

While a good share of this year's 87 musicians are longtime members, Laycock said, the members who have joined in recent years have added noticeably to the orchestra's strength. He's not sure if this is the largest the orchestra's ever been, "but it's certainly the strongest."

Laycock feels the symphony's firm footing - despite the fact players are unpaid - is the result of support from the community. The guild's fund-raisers, while selling the public on the symphony, have also recently added a harp and celeste to give the orchestra a more complete sound. Public relations director Eleanor Hart and business manager Beverly Dunford (who also play in the orchestra) do a variety of tasks to see that each performance has an audience, the right equipment, and no money owing.

Laycock also feels - and rightly so - that the improved musicality of the orchestra is responsible for the crowds it attracts. Twice a year, Laycock and company do a sort of show-and-tell concert for students in Alpine, Nebo and Provo school districts - part of his plan to educate the community and build audiences for the future.

The conductor, born into a musical family in Raymond, Alberta, spent 32 years in the music department at Brigham Young University, officially retiring three years ago as head of orchestras. He has filled his "retirement" days by pulling together special orchestras for local performances of the ballet and opera - and keeping up with his clarinet practice.

For Laycock, apparently, the music never ends. And as long as he's conducting the Utah Valley Symphony, it only gets better.

Season tickets may be ordered by phoning 377-6995 or 375-0871. They are $30 a family, $20 single reserved, $10 single, and $8 students and senior citizens.