A Brief History of OVOC
The Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus is a non-profit organization granted Section 501(c)(3) status on September 6, 1984. The original Articles of Incorporation state that the purpose of the organization, in part, “is to promote means and opportunities for the education of the public with respect to the study and cultural use of instrumental and vocal music and the enjoyment and wholesome utilization thereof,…to perform public concerts, to assist public schools and municipalities within the Okanogan county area in promoting and developing music education and appreciation and to assist musical organizations within the community in the performance of musical works.” As stated further in the Bylaws of the organization, the purpose “shall be threefold: to present fine music for the people of Okanogan County, to provide opportunities for County musicians to perform, and to promote music education and appreciation.”
In fact, the orchestra formed in 1978 as a community outreach program connected to Wenatchee Valley College-North and concerts were held in the Okanogan High School gymnasium. In 1981 the group began producing Gilbert and Sullivan musicals as well as approximately four concerts each year, moving their venue to the Omak Cinema. The orchestra and college connection ceased when the college music teacher moved away in 1982. In 1984 the Chorus was formed and the two groups were combined under a Board of Directors, adopting the current name of the Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus (OVOC). When the Omak Performing Arts Center opened in 1990, OVOC moved its season of performances to that venue.
In keeping with its goal of music education, a youth strings group was established in 1985 as a way to provide instruction in an area lacking in the schools. It has been a successful program over the years and a number of the students moved on to play with the full orchestra. In the late 90’s, the Children’s Corner was added to the concert program providing youngsters with an opportunity to learn about the music to be played that day. Free concert admission to all children under the age of 12 was adopted in the hope of bringing more students to an appreciation of classical music. With the added capabilities of the Performing Arts Center, the group changed from the Gilbert and Sullivan format to large Broadway show musicals every spring. Over the years, these shows have involved hundreds of musicians, singers, dancers, children, senior citizens, and even a dog or two!
In 1998 the organization lost its resident conductor who took a job near Seattle. A search for a new conductor resulted in the hiring of Kevin Hekmatpanah, a music professor at Gonzaga University in Spokane. Under his leadership, the organization was awarded a prized grant in 2000 to present an original composition entitled “Landscape Changing”, written especially for Okanogan County by New York composer Andy Teirstein. The grant was a part of a nationwide project called “Continental Harmony, a Musical Celebration of the New Millenium”, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Composers Forum and was the only grant awarded in the state of Washington. The Orchestra is currently under the leadership of Matt Brown from Chelan. Matt leads the much acclaimed High School music program in Manson. The Chorus is led by Jonathan McBride, music teacher for Pateros schools. Jonathan is also a respected composer, published and marketed by C. L. Barnhouse Co.
Currently the orchestra consists of approximately 30-35 players and the chorus is composed of about 30-45 singers. These musicians are volunteers, many traveling great distances to rehearse and play for the concerts. All interested people are encouraged to join the chorus and/or the orchestra. There are no auditions; everyone is included and welcomed. The Chorus meets on Monday evening from Labor Day through March at the Omak High School Choir room. The Orchestra meets on Tuesday evenings from Labor Day through March in the Omak High School Band room. Participation in the Spring Musical is by audition for actors/singers, usually held in the late autumn, but volunteers to serve in the many capacities of production are sought and welcomed! Contact Coordinator Judy Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information. The Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus has grown greatly from its meager beginnings and has become, in the words of Omak Chronicle arts reviewer, Elizabeth Widel, “a rich resource” for Okanogan County residents.