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Throughout Sedona and the Verde Valley many residents go through life harboring talents even their neighbors don’t know.

In 2002 two Sedona residents decided to combine their talents and gather other local musicians to form the Verde Valley Chamber Orchestra. That year the Sedona Community foundation named Dr. Thomas Leenhouts, a retired ophthalmologist and cellist, Philanthropist of the Year. He contributed his award to found the ensemble. He also was a member and chairman of the Sedona Arts and Culture Commission, president of Chamber Music Sedona, and served on the Sedona Arts Center Board and the Sedona-Oak Creek School District board.

Verde Valley Sinfonietta musicians, from right, Marianna Hartsong, Dick Griesenbeck, Geraldine Gains and Liz Hargrove rehearse for the upcoming concerts at the Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in West Sedona.Leenhouts’ partner in the project, Lelia Schoenberg, is a violinist and, in 2010, won the Sedona Mayor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts for her work in several groups such as the Sedona Arts and Culture Commission, Chamber Music Sedona, the Opera League of Northern Arizona, the Sedona Arts Center and Filmlovers.

During the 2005-06 season, the orchestra established itself as a nonprofit corporation and changed the name to the Verde Valley Sinfonietta. A sinfonietta is defined as a small symphony orchestra. In fact, the group defines itself as, “Sedona and the Verde Valley’s little symphony.”

Currently the Sinfonietta is a paid, professional orchestra of about 30 local musicians from Sedona, the Cottonwood and Camp Verde areas, and Flagstaff. “We have a combination of retirees and people who still work,” Sinfonietta Board of Trustees President Mary Pope said. “The idea of bringing people together to enjoy music is phenomenal. That’s what we try to do.”

In 2008, the trustees recruited David Cripps as the Sinfonietta’s third music director and conductor following first Clarence Shaw, then Sean Paul Mills. Cripps lives in Flagstaff.

“David came from England in 2003. He was principal [French] horn for the London Symphony Orchestra,” Pope said. Following are some brief profiles to let people in Sedona and the Verde Valley know who their neighbors are that play with the Verde Valley Sinfonietta:

Schoenberg plays violin while continuing her work around Sedona advocating for the arts and arts education. She also serves on the board. Schoenberg is joined by local violinists Eric Spitzer, Larry Perkins, Sai Chang and Maureen Smiley.

Violist Marianna Hartsong also does transformational healing. She also plays with the Flagstaff Symphony.

“The two instruments I play, the viola and the human body, require the same: sensitivity, good listening skills, good blending skills, and the ability to adapt to different styles and moods,” Hartsong said. She has a T-shirt she likes with the statement, “Plays well with others.”

Hartsong’s local viola partner is Dick Griesenbeck, a retired Sedona physician.

The Sinfonietta has two local cellists: Liz Hargrove and Geraldine Gains. Gains is an original member of the Sinfonietta. She moved to Sedona in 1999 from Northern California where she played 43 seasons with the Marin Symphony. She has played many concerts with the Verde Trio, along with Marion Maby and Patricia LaLiberte, and has taught a number of private students. “I like to be challenged, and my real joy is found in helping create beautiful music,” Gains said.

Hargrove started playing the cello at the age of 9 and played through high school. Like most, she gave it up but 10 years ago she started playing again. She also is one of the original members of the Sinfonietta.

The woodwind section includes John Dorch on clarinet. He also serves on the board.

“At 4 years old, I had the run of my dad’s classical music record collection, so I grew up with symphonic music. I started the clarinet in the fourth grade,” Dorch said.

In high school, Dorch was the first soloist with the district honor band as a junior and was principal clarinet with the Rio Hondo Symphony in Southern California as a senior. Dorch went on to earn his master’s in clarinet performance at the University of Southern California.

“I love teaching, and feel an obligation to pass on what I have learned to a new generation,” he said.

Anita Brandon is the Sinfonietta’s oboist. She has held the position of principal oboe in numerous organizations, and has created a CD of music for oboe and piano. She also plays with the Cottonwood Community Band along with her husband and composer Sy Brandon. Outside of music, Anita Brandon designs jewelry.

Sy Brandon, a tuba player, won the Arizona Centennial competition for an original musical composition, Pope said. His work will be a part of the Sinfonietta’s Centennial Concerts.

Before joining the Sinfonietta, Laura Lawrie played flute and piccolo with the Cottonwood community Band. She has a very musical family. Her husband, William Lawrie, is a tenor and sang in a men’s choir in Sedona. Her older daughter Aurora is a cellist and Viveca plays trumpet. Both girls play in the Northern Arizona University Academy Orchestra.

Outside of playing music, Lawrie is a member of the Sedona Public Library Board of Trustees.

Helping fill out the brass section are Joe Jackson on French horn and Dean Cathcart on trumpet. Outside his Sinfonietta career, Cathcart is a chaplain with the Arizona Wing of the Civil Air Patrol through Verde Valley Composite Squadron 205. Before his call to full-time ministry, Cathcart was a certified master auto technician.

The Sinfonietta presents three regular season concerts at the Rock of Ages Lutheran Church on Dry Creek Road in Sedona, and hosts what is now called the Kids Concert club prior to each concert series at the dress rehearsal. The event, during which soloists interact with the children and their parents, is free. Reservations are required and a light supper is provided.

“We want to bring families in and encourage children while hearing a wonderful concert,” Pope said.

The Sinfonietta has had a youth outreach program since its 2006-07 season with the Emerging Artists. The first of the concerts featured violin and cellists Madalyn and Cicely Parnas, then aged 16 and 13. “They will be our featured guests at the Emerging Artists Concerts on Saturday, April 16, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 17, at 2:30 p.m. at Rock of Ages Lutheran Church, 390 Dry Creek Road. The girls are still young enough,” Pope said. To qualify for emerging artists a musician must be 19 years old or younger.

Along with the April concerts is a raffle drawing. Tickets can be purchased through www.VerdeValleySinfonietta.org.

Pope said the Sinfonietta is already working on next year’s season, including the Arizona Centennial series.

“We have Arnaud Sussman, a violinist from Lincoln Center. He will play Beethoven’s violin concerto with us. It should be pretty amazing,” Pope said.


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