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Jackson Heights Community Orchestra Tuning Up for First Performance

Read the DNAinfo article by Paul DeBenedetto, here.

A group of local musicians is looking to hit a high note in Jackson Heights come December.

The newly-formed Jackson Heights Community Orchestra, launched by conductor Patricia Glunt, has scheduled its first performance for Dec. 12 at the Jackson Heights Community Church.

“Jackson Heights is ripe — and it’s ready for an orchestra,” said Glunt, a 58-year-old musician who lives in the neighborhood. “The idea is really to explore and showcase the talent that we have in Queens, and use Jackson Heights as the center of that.”

There are a handful of musicians who hail from outside the neighborhood, including a viola player from Brooklyn, a trumpet player from the Bronx and another one from the Upper West Side.

But the orchestra is meant to represent Jackson Heights, and it’s well-stocked with local talent.

Sarah Jay, 44, has lived in the neighborhood for six years. To her, the orchestra is about finding time to work on something she’s passionate about.

“I’m very busy, and I don’t take my cello out of the case very often,” said Jay, who’s played the instrument she was 7. “Joining an orchestra gets you to play.”

Lucinda Bartley, 36, who has lived in Jackson Heights for five years and has played the flute since sixth-grade, said she’d been searching for an orchestra. But in New York, she said, there’s too many musicians and not enough spots.

When her husband mentioned he’d heard about the auditions, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I put all this work in, and I love playing,” Bartley said. “I feel like I got an in, because it’s still filling out.”

The idea of creating a community orchestra has been on Glunt’s mind for years.

A Queens resident since the mid-1980s, Glunt said she’s conducted since junior high, when a music teacher and mentor began to give her lessons.

From there, Glunt continued to follow that passion, attending the University of the Pacific’s Conservatory of Music, where she studied violin performance and theory composition. In the 1970s, she studied under Finnish conductor Jorma Panula at the Sibelius Academy in Finland at a time when it was uncommon for women to attend the esteemed school.

But after moving to New York, her time was filled pursuing a masters degree at Queens College, guest conducting across the tri-state area, teaching, and eventually, working as the assistant principal of Long Island City High School.

It wasn’t until she retired in 2010 that it became clear she might have time to start her own orchestra. So she floated the idea to the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, who provided seed money to start the orchestra.

“The basic feeling is that you have to grow your audience, and you have to be part of that community, in a sense,” Glunt said. “I knew that as a single person who just lives in the community, I’d need the support of an established entity.”

Auditions were held in late September, and after just a handful of practices at the Community Church, the roughly 12-person orchestra is now getting ready for its first show.

“I’m a little nervous, because I haven’t performed for a while, but the orchestra’s ready,” said Jackson Heights resident Genevieve Scandone, who has played the French Horn for about 50 years and heard about the orchestra through a friend of her husband.

“It’s nice to play in a big group, with a string section, and with more than five people. You get more harmonic possibilities and more orchestration possibilities. The music is just bigger and denser.”

After the Dec. 12 concert, Glunt is aiming for two more shows early in the new year, and she hopes to have a core group of 25 musicians by that time.

There are musical gaps, of course — they could use some violins, bassoons and an oboe — but for now, Glunt said she enjoys working with the group she has.

“There’s immediate reaction, and it’s nice,” Glunt said. “These people have come to me saying they haven’t played in 12 years, or I haven’t played in 20 years, and I say, ‘It’s not too late, let’s get going.’ ”

The first Jackson Heights Community Orchestra Concert is Dec. 12 at the Jackson Heights Community Church 7 p.m. There is a requested donation of $10, and a reception will follow.