Almost 40 years ago, Morgan Hill resident Pat Meyer and her
husband made up half the ensemble that would become, and remains
the South Valley Symphony.
Almost 40 years ago, Morgan Hill resident Pat Meyer and her husband made up half the ensemble that would become, and remains the South Valley Symphony.
The couple, along with Harold Bass and Shirley Autry – also Morgan Hill residents – were asked by another musician, Kay Barraclough, to play their first public gig at the city’s annual Independence Day celebration in the early 1970s, Meyer recalled.
“We had so much fun we decided to keep going,” Meyer, now the symphony’s principal cellist, said at her south Morgan Hill home last week. “You could say we were born on the Fourth of July.”
Now in its 38th year, the South Valley Symphony has grown substantially since then. The only community orchestra in South Santa Clara Valley plays four concerts per year, and features musicians of all ages, hailing from San Jose, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Hollister and surrounding areas.
Their next concert will take place Sunday – Mother’s Day – at the Mission San Juan Bautista, a venue which was chosen as an annual concert site about five years ago for its architectural, cultural and pastoral ambiance.
“The Mission is a wonderful venue to have a symphonic concert,” said SVS board president Chris Hopwood. “The acoustics are fabulous, and we feel very fortunate we’ve been able to play there.” After the Mother’s Day show, spectators will be invited to a reception in the Mission’s garden, where they can meet the musicians.
The nonprofit symphony works closely with Gavilan College to promote the arts among younger people, and some of its longtime members – like Meyer – have continued volunteering their abilities for exactly that reason.
The youngest musician of the 40-member orchestra is a freshman in high school who just started playing oboe for the volunteer symphony, according to SVS board vice president John Graham.
He added that despite being a bona fide community mainstay – longer than most organizations that serve the area – the SVS is the “best kept secret” in the South Valley.
“It’s not just good for the community, culturally,” said Graham, a San Juan Bautista resident. “It’s good for the musicians. They have the opportunity to perform and be a part of the group.”
Hopwood said she was inspired to join the SVS board because of the dedication displayed by the musicians and other board members.
“These people are volunteers and they play as well as many professional orchestras, people that are paid full-time,” Hopwood said. “Every time I go to (an SVS) concert, I am reminded how great they are, and how fortunate the community is to have this.”
Meyer, 86, has played cello professionally since before she and her husband Phil, who is deceased, moved to Morgan Hill in 1969. Once the principal cellist for the San Jose Symphony, and a former music teacher who still does educational performances for classrooms, Meyer said she has “never” thought about retiring – mainly in order to preserve an interest in music among children.
“I love the music and I love to see other people enjoy it too, especially young people,” said Meyer, adding that it makes her “sad” to see Morgan Hill Unified and other public school districts in the Bay Area cutting music programs.
As part of its contribution to the community, the SVS coordinates an annual youth music competition, held in honor of former board member Al Navaroli, who Hopwood describes as “a very active supporter” of the local symphony. The competition is open to musicians age 10 to 18 in Santa Clara and San Benito counties, and allows the winner a chance to perform as a soloist with the SVS.
Donating her abilities as a volunteer for the South Valley Symphony is a significant time commitment for Meyer, who also plays professionally for the Alexander Trio, a classical ensemble that is based in Los Gatos and plays private gigs. The SVS still practices at least once a week for several weeks leading up to each of its four annual concerts. And while it has become more difficult for Meyer to carry her bulky instrument around as she has grown older, she said “a lot of nice people” help her.
Some of those nice people are the other musicians in the symphony who, no matter how old they are, share Meyer’s enthusiasm for classical music, and their desire to share it.
“They love to play, and they work hard,” Meyer said. “There’s a lot of camaraderie in the orchestra.”
Adding that, in her long experience, a classical musician with an instrument is welcomed by strangers the world over, Meyer noted just one more reason why she will continue playing cello – professionally or as a volunteer – as long as she can.
“Next to my God and my family, music is my life. Music keeps you alive.”