The young players in the Rosedale Valley Strings are musicians on a mission.
The 35 violinists, violists, cellists and bassists, who come from all over Central Alberta and as far as Grande Prairie for weekly rehearsals with the Lacombe-based orchestra, are using proceeds from their concerts to building classrooms for Afghani girls and helping feed African nursery school children.
Creating wheelchairs out of recycled bicycle parts for African polio victims was one of the more interesting projects, said 17-year-old violinist Charles Nokes, who credits the orchestra for keeping him interested in music — and at the same time, broadening his world view.
“It’s great to be part of a group that’s reaching out to people,” added Nokes. “We’re not just playing beautiful music. Our music has a point.”
Orchestra members, who range from age eight to 20, perform Beethoven and Mozart arrangements and other compositions for the listening pleasure of Central Albertans. They have also raised more than $60,000 over the last five years for causes supported by the charities A Better World and Freedom Run 5000.
“That’s very impressive,” said A Better World founder Eric Rajah, who has used the money to pay for surgeries for blind children and new classrooms in Afghanistan. Plumbing was installed in a Kenyan orphanage and specialized furniture constructed for the disabled.
Rajah credits Rosedale Valley Strings founder and conductor Naomi Delafield for encouraging such enthusiastic youth involvement.
“It gives young people an opening to think about development opportunities in their own community,” he said. “The goal is to create future philanthropists and volunteers, which will be needed in the next generation.”
Delafield, who was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist in her native Australia, started the youth orchestra in 2002 shortly after settling in Lacombe with her Canadian husband. The couple now have a two-year-old daughter.
“One of my passions in life is to educate people about the power of music in the loves of young children,” said the 35-year-old who believes musical training expands brain pathways, contributing to students’ academic success.
She noted many “graduates” from her orchestra have gone on to play in the Canadian University College Chamber Orchestra. Several have pursued careers in music, engineering and other demanding fields.
Delafield’s idea was always to mix music with a mission.
The violinist, who started lessons at age three in her hometown of Budgewoi, New South Wales, relocated to the U.S. at age 17 to play with a Maryland youth orchestra that toured internationally and also worked on global aide projects.
All the touring “gave us a good look at what’s out there and how fortunate we are to live in North America,” recalled Delafield, who was inspired to provide young Central Alberta musicians with a similar experience through the Rosedale Valley Strings.
“We are committed to making a difference with each note that’s played — not only in the local community, but in the lives of children around the world,” Delafield said.
In March, some of the orchestra’s young players will have their eyes opened to how much of the world lives when they travel to Kenya to assist with A Better World projects.
The group is rehearsing African music in order to eventually play this for an African audience.
Delburne mother Grace Flynn said she has been driving her children to Lacombe for weekly rehearsals since 2003 because she believes in two things — the high standards Delafield, holds the young musicians up to, and the aspect of using music to achieve good in the world.
“There’s a tendency for musicians who get really good to get proud,” said Flynn. “But when you’re a musician on a mission, it takes the spotlight of yourself and encourages you to give to someone else.”
The young musicians are also learning they have something valuable to share, added Flynn, whose oldest son is a “graduate” of the orchestra and two younger children are current members. All are cellists.
“Their music is really making a difference in somebody’s life.”
The Rosedale Valley Strings recorded a CD in 2008 and intend to tour to Australia in 2012 to celebrate the group’s 10th anniversary. The young musicians have performed twice with the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra, for which Delafield is the concert master.
Working with the RDSO “is one of the greatest highlights in my life and provides so much inspiration that I then attempt to pass on to my students,” said Delafield, who also has future plans to collaborate with the Red Deer Youth Orchestra.