String Connection showcases talent of young musicians

The young musicians who make up String Connection, an orchestra based in Happy Valley, know how to get an audience in the mood for the holiday season. Start with an arrangement of “Jingle Bells,” and then throw in a 5-year-old girl on the drum, for “Little Drummer Boy.”

by: PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK - Members of String Connection, with co-director Colleen Wheeler, pause between numbers at a recent concert at Somerset Lodge Assisted Living.Add a few more Christmas carols, follow those with some classical and baroque music, and audience members will express their delight with applause and compliments.

by: PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK - Linda Vasey and Colleen Wheeler are founders and directors of String Connection.That was the scene at Somerset Lodge Assisted Living in Gladstone last week, as String Connection, a group of 42 student musicians ranging in age from 7 to 18, played a concert for residents.

Originally a music studio founded by Linda Vasey and Colleen Wheeler in 1989 in Happy Valley, the orchestra of the same name came about in 1992.

“Linda and I are the founders and directors of the String Connection studio where we teach private lessons, conduct the orchestra and have summer educational programs. Linda also runs the pre-twinkle class; several of the young students are children of our former students,” Wheeler said.

She has a bachelor’s degree in music from Portland State University, and is currently working on a master’s degree. She plays violin and viola professionally, and has been a substitute performer in the Portland opera for over 20 years, as well as playing in many other local groups. 

Vasey has a bachelor’s degree from Marylhurst and a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University. She has been the principal second violin for the Portland Opera for over 20 years, and is a core member of the Oregon Ballet Theater orchestra. 

Throughout the year, String Connection gives 12 to 15 concerts, most of them during the holiday season, and many of them at retirement communities in the area.

“We like sharing our music with people who aren’t able to go out to concerts. This environment is perfect to showcase our music and to have fun playing for others,” Vasey said.

“We find that the more we give, the more we receive,” she added.

Wheeler and Vasey collaborate on choosing the music for the group to play, making sure the pieces are appropriate for the young musicians and for the venue where they will be playing.

Over the years the orchestra has won 24 national titles and three international titles.

The group has performed at the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C., and in prelude concerts for the Oregon Symphony. In June of 2014, String Connection will travel to Los Angeles to take part in World Projects; the group is one of only four orchestras selected to be part of this event.

Young performers

Isabel Jolley, 16, has been playing the violin since she was in kindergarten at Stafford Primary in West Linn. What she likes best about String Connection is that the group is a “mini-community,” with members who “love and support each other.”

She enjoys playing for the retirement communities; because she is not a member of her school orchestra at West Linn High School, this is her chance to see everyone’s faces when the group plays.

“I’m proud of my orchestra — we have won so many awards, and the young kids keep up with the music,” Isabel said, noting that her favorite piece the group plays during the holiday season is Torelli’s “Christmas Concerto,” because it flows so beautifully.

Addie Peterson, 14, is a freshman at Clackamas High School, where she is in the concert orchestra.

One of her favorite pieces to play at the moment is a baroque concerto by Corelli, although she also enjoys playing orchestral arrangements of “Sleigh Ride” and “Jingle Bells.”

Calling the violin a “gorgeous instrument that is fun to play,” Addie noted that the notes in the higher register give her chills.

Eric Mull has a slightly different story to tell. The 14-year-old freshman at CHS is also an orchestra member, but he plays the bass.

He started with the violin when he was 3 years old and switched to the bass just last year, after hearing the instrument at school and loving the sound.

In case anyone thinks the two instruments are similar, Eric noted that the bass is the opposite of the violin to play, and carrying the large bass can be a challenge.

“The bass plays an important role; it is the heart of the orchestra and keeps everyone in beat,” he said.

Eric likes playing at local retirement communities because it is not a high-pressure concert, allowing the musicians “to focus on little things, and give back to the community.”

Another orchestra member at CHS is 14-year-old freshman Alexander Wilde. He has been playing the cello for 10 years, but has only been a member of String Connection for the last five months.

He commented that it has been easy to get to know the members of the group, and he likes the fact that the performances are a mixture of different types of music.

String Connection is available to play for special events, Vasey and Wheeler noted, and that is one way the group can raise money to offset the funds needed for the musicians to travel to L.A.

Vasey added, “We need to get funding to travel farther and wider, now that people are finding out who we are.”

For more information about String Connection, a studio for stringed instrument players of all ages and abilities, call the studio at 503-788-8129, or visit the Facebook page.

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