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W.V. Symphony is crowd-pleaser

Now in its seventh season, the West Valley Symphony is establishing itself as a viable grass-roots musical organization.

Saturday's performance, while not flawless, was entertaining and fun, and the community responded by showing up. There were empty seats in the Granger High auditorium, but not many of them.What's more, symphony music director Stephen Baker knows how to please an audience. At the end of the concert, Baker directed the orchestra in a sure-fire, can't-miss, crowd-pleaser of an encore: John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever," which won him a standing ovation from the smiling audience.

Having the piccolos and brass section stand during their solos was a nice touch.

The Sousa was not out of character. Saturday's program consisted primarily of light, popular numbers, including selections from the musicals "The King and I" and "The Sound of Music," Gershwin's "The Man I Love" and Dietz and Schwartz's "Dancing in the Dark." They were pieces well-suited for members of an amateur community orchestra, whose passion is unquestioned but whose pitch and precision occasionally fall a bit short.

The symphony's woodwinds were often imprecise and sometimes downright sloppy, but they were helped out by the strong strings, especially the cellos. During the evening's most technically challenging piece - the overture to Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" - a segment featuring a shaky woodwind section was rescued by the entrance of the confident cellos and basses.

The orchestra did Leroy Anderson's popular "Bugler's Holiday" justice. The three featured trumpet players - Samantha Goodman, Justin Clark and Mike Dowse - did a fine job technically, and they were clearly having fun. Besides a relaxed, loose sound, all three wore red vests decorated with Valentine hearts for their big number.

Give the musicians credit for perseverance. Goodman initially muffed her climactic high note at the end of "Bugler's Holiday," but she kept at it and hit it by the time Baker cut off the orchestra. The oboist initially bungled a solo during "The Sound of Music" selections but pulled it together and ended strongly.

Hands-down winner of Most Unusual Solo: the clarinetist who simulated a rooster call through his mouthpiece at the end of Anderson's "Chicken Reel."

One complaint: the musician playing the drum set was precise and steady, but too loud - he tended to single-handedly overshadow the orchestra. The problem is, however, understandable, since drum volume is often out of balance in string orchestras. In a decibel contest between a drum and a violin, or even two or three or four violins, or a whole section, the drum will win out every time.

The drummer provided the evening's most adroit display. Once during "The Sound of Music" selections, he had to lean forward way over the drum set to turn the page with his left hand. While he was doing that, he somehow managed to get the stick in his right hand under his body and left arm to whap a cymbal on his left side.

Had there been judges, they would have awarded a 10 for physical dexterity.