The Charleston Chamber Orchestra playing in Carnegie Hall in New York City in June 2018.

As a musician, I’ve always sought to join a music community with great opportunities to grow, and share my musical talent with the Charleston area. My desire culminated into joining the Charleston Chamber Orchestra (CCO) about two years ago. We, a community of diverse ages, professions, musical backgrounds, and levels of experience gather every Tuesday night with the common goal to create beautiful classical music. Together, our common goal and determination to improve brought a slew of irreplaceable experiences.

I have been told the best way to understand something is to experience it, which is why I decided to sit down with Dr. Scott Woodard, the Associate Provost, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Music at West Virginia State University, as well as a conductor of the CCO. He, along with the addition of Chris Rasmussen, created the dynamic duo of conductors, who were pivotal to the orchestra’s growth. The conductors contribution and nurture to the orchestra has brought shows that have moved from the West Virginia State campus to Carnegie Hall and to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Talking with Woodard was a very heartwarming experience. His genuine passion and love for the arts was something that is difficult to put into words. I wanted to fully grasp what the orchestra meant to him and the orchestra’s small beginnings.

“It started in the fall of 2015,” Woodard said. “Essentially there was a need for a new ensemble; we never had an orchestra here [at WVSU] and creating one would help build up our string studios, so we decided to put together a small orchestra.”

After fulfilling the need for an ensemble at WVSU, Woodard realized that not only was it giving students a chance to play, but also it was giving the community a chance to have their share. This realization helped develop a large family and light atmosphere.

“It’s an outlet to play,” Woodard said. “There weren’t any places for the doctors, administrative personnel and students that wanted a place to play and are not necessarily interested in being paid… It would be an orchestra with a few professionals and would be a place where nonprofessional community members and students can come together and every week get the value of playing orchestral music and playing with professionals like the Montclaire String Quartet and provides an opportunity to make music and learn from professionals at the same time in a non-competitive environment.”

The state of the CCO is well balanced with talent, heart and hard work. Thus, this has built and continues to build a path of many opportunities and experiences that aid the development of the orchestra.

“Of course, I want to see the orchestra keep growing in quality and in size, “Woodard said. “I never ever want to see the vision and the mission of the orchestra change. I want a space where people can learn and make great music.”

There was also some important news he had to share, a new chapter in the orchestra’s history.

“I’m really happy about the fact that we are about to change the name of the orchestra,” he said. “Changing the name from a chamber orchestra to a philharmonic really shows the public the kind of growth we’ve had, which I’m really proud of.”

Woodard also talked of the next step, traveling and spreading our voice and playing where the great orchestras have played before us.

“When the orchestra has come as far as it has as quickly as it has, we begin doing crazy things like playing in Carnegie Hall,” he said. “And now I really like the prospects of us playing in Europe.”

The future undoubtedly holds many more opportunities in store for the Charleston Chamber Orchestra, and there are many ways to experience the accepting and lighthearted atmosphere.

You can attend the Charleston Chamber Orchestra’s local free concerts hosted at West Virginia State University’s F.S. Belcher Theater in the Davis Fine Arts Center. The next concert is on Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. and has music ranging from a Christmas medley to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. There is no better way to experience music than to hear it in person for yourself, and I promise you won’t regret it.