Matthew Martz was an 18-year-old high school senior in Fairfax, Virginia, last year when he founded the Student Symphonic Orchestra.
Now a freshman in college, Martz says the student orchestra provides an opportunity for aspiring young musicians to explore their talents and have fun while they're at it. Those talented young artists have just celebrated the orchestra's first anniversary.
Pursuing a passion
Music has always been Matt Martz's passion. He played the trombone in his high school band and remembers wanting more opportunities to perform.
"I was talking to some of my band teachers," he says. "They looked at me and they were like, 'I'm sorry but there is nothing other than the concerts that we play.' So I thought to myself, 'Well, I have a little bit of musical background and some free time and I might as well start my own little band and we can just perform here and there.'"
That's how the Student Symphonic Orchestra of Fairfax was born. It started with 12 members, mostly Matt's friends and band mates. Eighteen-year old Michelle Bui, now a Virginia Tech freshman, was one of them.
"Matt is one of my very good friends so I did it as a friend, but also because I love playing the violin," she says. "It's an opportunity for me to relax and express my creativity."
Student Symphonic Orchestra of Fairfax
Tenth-grader Lizzie Culberston, who plays French horn, joined the orchestra last year and hasn't missed a Sunday rehearsal since.
"First of all I get to see all my friends on Sundays, which usually I wouldn't get to," she says. "Plus, I get to play music, which I love to do. And we're playing really good music, too, so, it's really fun."
The Student Symphonic Orchestra now has more than 30 members and has just celebrated its first anniversary.
Sixteen-year old Nicholas Black is one of the newcomers. The violinist joined the ensemble a few weeks ago after seeing an article about it in a local newspaper. Nicholas says he likes that the music he plays with Martz's group is more challenging than what he usually performs with his school orchestra.
"The music here is more complicated and harder, but I think it's partly because it's also with woodwinds and brass, basically with a band," Black says. "At school we do just strings. We don't have a complete orchestra. This orchestra here adds a lot more challenge. I would actually like to major in music, so this is a kind of a step forward in that direction."
At 13, oboe player Kanika Sahi is the youngest member of the orchestra.
"I've never played anything like that before," she says. "They just show me how to be better, different techniques of playing and stuff like that."
Having musicians of different ages and abilities is not a problem, according to orchestra founder and conductor Matt Martz.
"I try to keep them in groups," he says. "If there is a player who hasn't been playing for very long, I try to keep them next to the section player, or leader as we call it, that has been playing a while so they can always ask questions say, 'Hey, I don't know what that means,' or 'How would I play this?' So they get that connection right from the person next to them."
Matt now attends college in another city. But, as his mother, Carol Martz, explains, the orchestra's rehearsal brings him back to town every weekend.
"This is one of his top priorities," she says. "He has learned to be more organized. He just doesn't skip Sunday night orchestra ever. He loves it and he really feels he's doing something for the community."
The community support, Matt says, is what keeps the orchestra going. It presents free performances in the local church where it rehearses, and receives donations from the audience.
"In our first concert, we made $1100, which was fantastic," he says. "That helped pay for a lot of music that we had purchased. Then this last concert in January, we made over $1500, which is just incredible. So it's growing. We can see that people are really liking what we're doing.
Matt Martz hopes the Student Symphonic Orchestra of Fairfax will become even more popular and grow.
He knows someday he might leave the group and move on with his own musical career. He hopes somebody else will take over and keep the orchestra together. But for the time being, Matt is focused on attracting more talented musicians and presenting a wider variety of music.