Founder looks back on Steamboat Springs Orchestra’s early days |

Founder looks back on Steamboat Springs Orchestra’s early days

Margaret Hair

Flute player Mary Beth Norris stands by a display at the Bud Werner Memorial Library about the history of the Steamboat Springs Orchestra, which she helped found. The orchestra plays at 8 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Steamboat Christian Center.

Almost 20 years ago, Mary Beth Norris had an idea that there were musicians in town whose violin cases were gathering dust. She had an idea that those people might like to play in an ensemble.

"I had no idea how that was going to occur," Norris said Friday at the Bud Werner Memorial Library, where a glass case holding old concert posters and musical instruments displays the history of Steamboat's community orchestra.

Norris put her idea into action in the early 1990s when she started conducting a few players meeting in Judy Dettwiler's living room as the Steamboat String Orchestra.

Norris pledged to give her all, "blood, sweat and tears," to the ensemble for five years and see where it went, she said. At 8 p.m. today and at 3 p.m. Sunday, the Steamboat Springs Orchestra will show how far Norris' dream has come and where it can go from here.

A holiday concert featuring Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G Minor and a singalong with the Mountain Madrigal Sin­gers and Yampa Valley Sing­­ers is at the Steamboat Christian Center.

"The seed was that I very much felt that Steamboat Springs could have an orchestra, a fabulous orchestra," Norris said.

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By the time Norris stepped down as executive director, the orchestra rehearsed weekly from Labor Day to Easter for its two annual concerts, and wind, brass and percussion had joined the group, she said.

"It's the manifestation of many people's dreams. I was at the head of the ship for a while; I helped build a mooring for it, but it's been manned by some amazing captains," Norris said.

Norris was a public school music teacher before she moved to Steamboat Springs in the late 1970s. She wanted to learn how to ski, and when she first got to town, her flute lived in a small box under her bed.

Before long, she turned to music as her natural resource, playing around town and bolstering her knowledge with lessons locally and across the state. A preschool pennywhistle program turned into a program for elementary school students, which bred a studio for pennywhistle and flute lessons.

At her teaching peak, Nor­ris had more than 40 students and participated in a cultural exchange with Japan that included the Steamboat Inter­national Flute Festival and a 1998 trip to Japan during the Nagano Winter Olympics. Her students watched Olympian Todd Lodwick — a former flute and pennywhistle student — compete in the games.

Norris still teaches, and aside from her position as a flutist in the orchestra, plays in a woodwind trio and other groups. This week, she was in the beginning stages of a recording project with the Common Ground Con­sort, a Celtic-Baroque group featuring Randy Kelley on guitar and Larry Gulley on concertina.

Since it held an initial fundraiser in 1991, the Steamboat Springs Orchestra has gone through a number of leaders on stage and behind the scenes.

Now a collection of mostly local musicians with ample performance backgrounds, the orchestra rehearses in short time frames before several concerts each year and tackles more challenging repertoire with each performance.

If you go

What: Steamboat Springs Orchestra holiday concert

When: 8 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Steamboat Christian Center, 821 Dougherty Road

Cost: Advance tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for youths ages 10 to 15 and are available at All That Jazz, at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, at Vino, by calling the orchestra office at 870-3223 or online athttp://www.steamboatorch…> http://www.steamboatorch…; tickets at the door are $25 for adults and $10 for youths; children younger than 10 get in free

Call: 870-3223

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