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East County Community Orchestra director Roger Nickerson is from Oregon City

Orchestra director Roger Nickerson knows what audience members expect to hear when they come to an East County Community Orchestra concert, and the upcoming spring concert May 21 will more than satisfy those expectations.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Dr. Roger Nickerson directs members of the East County Community Orchestra in a concert earlier this season. Their final concert is May 21."We have a loyal following, and I have a rapport with them. I always pick a theme, and this year's is 'Dancing Through Our Memories,'" Nickerson said.

Among the pieces to be presented will be much loved favorites, including George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's "A Little Bit of Luck" and Artie Shaw's "Dancing in the Dark."

The concert will take place at 3 p.m. at the Horner Performing Arts Center at David Douglas High School, 1400 S.E. 130th Ave., in Portland. The event is free, but donations are much appreciated.

Choosing music

The audience for an ECCO concert always expects a march, Nickerson said, and he also includes Broadway hits, show tunes and folk tunes from around the world.

"The audience enjoys that variety and the orchestral arrangements [of the folk tunes] are so beautiful," he said. He looks at the concerts almost as if they are music-appreciation classes, with pieces that the audience can relate to.

"Everyone who attends can tie in to something musically," Nickerson said. "Most of our audience members grew up in the '30s, '40s and '50s, and have an appreciation for big band and dance band music." Many bring their grandchildren to the concerts.

Nickerson, a longtime Oregon City resident, has directed the ECCO since 2014. In addition, he is the director of music at Gresham United Methodist Church and director of the Portland Metro Concert Band.

He was the band director at Oregon City High School for 20 years, retiring in 1998, and is the president of the Downtown Oregon City Board, an economic-development organization that works with the city.

Music on the brain

ECCO is composed of around 70 players ranging in age from 30 to 90, and includes many Clackamas County residents. The orchestra has "quite a repertory," playing eight to 10 pieces in three different concerts a year, Nickerson said.

"When I retired from teaching, I discovered a whole body of [senior citizens] who enjoy playing. So I did some research on seniors and why they need to play," he said. "I realized that brain cells can remember if they are learning something new, so it has become my mission for seniors to engage their brains. Half of our programs have a new musical aspect, emphasizing growth."

Nickerson added: "This is a great group to work with; they have every personality style and level of musicianship. I help them grow their musicianship. It is really about the group performance."

Why should people come out to deep Southeast Portland to attend the concert?

"There is no better growth experience than live music. We've had a downturn in music programs in our schools, but now there is an upturn and people are being reinvigorated," he said.

"This is someplace to bring your grandchildren that is not a Pizza Hut. And it gets them off their phones."

Spring concert

What: The East County Community Orchestra presents "Dancing Through Our Memories"

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, May 21

Where: The Horner Performing Arts Center at David Douglas High School, 1400 S.E. 130th Ave., Portland.

Details: The event is free, but donations are much appreciated.

History: The orchestra began as the Gresham Seniors Orchestra in 1978. In 2000, the group's name was changed to the East County Community Orchestra, to reflect the wider area of activity and membership. Members, who are all volunteers, are a mix of professional and amateur musicians from across the Portland metro area, including Clackamas County.

Website: eccoorchestra.org

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