The Gomez Years ~ ¨The Orchestra with a future¨

The Delta Youth Orchestra first rehearsed at 2:00 pm. on the afternoon of Saturday September 11, 1971 in the then new Delta Community Centre in Ladner. With the support of approximately forty players, Harry Gomez, who had been the Vancouver Youth Orchestra Junior Division Conductor, formed the DYO and became its Conductor and Music Director. The DYO first performed at an open rehearsal for Mayor Dugald Morrison on September 25 at the Ladner Community Centre. In October of 1971, articles in the Delta Optimist advertised vacancies for oboes, bassoons, french horns, trombones and all strings to play with ¨the orchestra with a future¨.

The players proved that they were ¨the Orchestra with a future¨ in their first concert season. The DYO performed to a near-capacity crowd at the Ladner Community Centre in a Centennial Christmas Concert with the Hawthorne Elementary School Choir joining the orchestra for Christmas carols. The program included the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Haydn’s Oxford Symphony, Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Jazz Pizzicato by Leroy Anderson.

In the spring of 1972, the DYO competed in both the Coquitlam Music Festival and Vancouver Kiwanis Festival. The orchestra won both competitions and brought to Delta the Kiwanis Music Festival Shelley Cup for first place finish in the Intermediate Category. The DYO continued to win in this category until 1975. In addition, a string quartet, the first of a series of chamber groups associated with the DYO, had been formed and earned awards at the Kiwanis Music Festival. Sometime during the season, the traditional concert dress consisting of purple skirts for girls and black pants for boys was established.

The success of the DYO in its first season was in large part due to the respected conductor, Harry Gomez, who had an ability to create both enthusiasm and a desire to work in his students. An article in the Delta Optimist states,  ¨his (Gomez’s) practice sessions are no-nonsense affairs and his drive for excellence may mean rehearsing a difficult section of music many times to get it right.¨ No first season orchestra member will have forgotten Gomez’s favorite saying, ¨You may hate me now, but you’ll love me in 25 years.¨

In October of 1972, the first DSS Newsletter was sent out announcing the Christmas Concert which along with the DYO featured the Canadian Dance World Ballet in Ballet Parisienne. A number or open rehearsals by the 44 member orchestra were used to waken interest in classical music within the community and it was an honour for the DYO to receive the 1972 Delta Award of Merit from the Municipality of Delta for outstanding contribution to cultural life in Delta.

By the 1973/74 season, sectional instructors were formally employed for brass, woodwind, and percussion with ¨strings naturally taken by Mr. Gomez himself.° The expansion and diversification of the DYO was clear in February of 1974 when the DSS formed a Junior Division to its youth orchestra. According to the February 6, 1974 Richmond Review, ¨the orchestra was formed to help young musicians who do not yet meet the standards required for players in the main orchestra¨. David Larson, an alumnus of the DYO, was the conductor under Harry Gomez who supplied musical direction. The original four member Junior Division grew to a 26 member orchestra by June of 1974! Both the Junior Division and the DYO performed at the Ladner Community Centre Year End Concert, and the season ended with a DYO concert trip to Salt Spring Island.

Further expansion of the DYO occurred in the 1974/75 season with the formation of a third division. The original DYO became the Senior Division, the Junior Division became the Intermediate Orchestra, and a beginner string orchestra, the Junior Strings, was formed and conducted by Lorraine Ovenell. The Junior Strings Division began its now traditional role in community service, by playing a variety of concerts at libraries, community centres and senior citizen centres.

The DYO won numerous awards through out the 1970?s. This was an era when local festivals were still competitive, arts programs and music education flourished, and no one had yet conceived of the notion of budget cuts, downsizing, or recessions. The Senior Division took the Gold Range Knights of Pythias Cup, which was won every year from 1975 – 1978). The orchestra played by invitation at Government House in Victoria before the Lieutenant Governor of BC. All three divisions of the orchestra participated in the Richmond Kiwanis Music Festival, The Junior Division won the Ebony Cup for the first time in the Kiwanis music festival in 1979.

The 1980?s saw further expansion of the orchestra. In the 1979/80 season, a Junior Brass and Woodwind Division was formed and conducted by Henry Ohlemann. Two compositions were premiered by the DYO during this season. In recognition of Canada Music Week, the Senior Division performed the ¨Centennial¨ suite composed by Ryszard Wrzaskala at Richmond Bethel Church.

In the 1980/81 season, the DYO undertook a ¨new venture with the formation of ensembles under the direction of brass instructor Richard Hawkins¨ (Delta Optimist, October 22, 1980). Since then, brass and wind ensembles under various conductors have had a fluctuating existence within the organization. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the DYO, a three divisional Spring Concert was held on May 3, 1981 at the UBC Old Auditorium with the Honourable Henry P. Bell-Irving, Lieutenant Governor of B.C. present. The season closed with the Senior Division making a concert trip to Harrison Hot Springs.

By the invitation of Lieutenant Governor Bell-Irving, the Senior Division performed for the second time at Government House in Victoria on December 6, 1981. The year end concert at the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse was well attended and featured the Senior Division and a three division, 110 member Grand Finale performance of Triumphal March from Aida. The three division orchestra received a standing ovation and repeated the Grande Finale for an encore.

The 1982/83 season featured several soloists. The Senior Division performed at the Delta River Inn with Jane Martin, then principal flautist with Symphonie Canada, as soloist. The Intermediate Division played in a performance with classical guitarist Stephen Boswell in Tsawwassen. The season also included concerts at the UBC Old Auditorium, at the Alpen Club, and on Salt Spring Island.

Orchestra in transition

During the thirteenth (1983/84) season, Harry Gomez’s health declined sharply and in January 1984 Garth Williams was appointed music director. Harry Gomez’s death in May 1984 shook the supporting structure of the DYO and the Senior Orchestra’s spirit suffered and many seniors decided to leave.

Starting his first full season in 1984/85 with the DYO, Garth William’s major goal as music director was ¨to maintain the high standards of its’ former conductor, to explore new directions and to make the DYO more recognizable in the community.¨ Accordingly, a full concert season was planned. Both the Intermediate and Junior Divisions performed with the Surrey-Delta Youth Choir and at the final three division concert, harpist Charlotte Peters and flautist Rhonda Guild performed as guest artists with the Senior Division. The seniors participated in a successful weekend long workshop in Vernon with the Vernon Youth Orchestra. In the 1985 spring newsletter, DSS vice-president Bob Peters described the DYO as having been in a transition period with the “¨loss of our esteemed director, ¨but that ¨the time is opportune for a new beginning.¨ The DYO was on its way to recovery.

The Lloyd Blackman Years ~ We turn Music into Magic

The growth and recovery of the DYO went smoothly under the expertise of music director Lloyd Blackman, who was appointed in September 1985. For the Senior and Intermediate Divisions there was a weekend music camp in September at Camp Luther. This was a means to advance the orchestras in its repertoire through intense rehearsal and to provide social interaction among players and conductors. Regular sectional rehearsals were reintroduced and a new program of chamber music with string quartets and woodwind and brass ensembles were implemented under Lloyd Blackman. These chamber groups continue to exist today and perform in their own concerts. All three divisions performed on Cable 10, the Senior Division had a joint concert with New Westminister Symphony and both Senior and Intermediate divisions played at Expo 86. In addition, all divisions played a large role in the DSS sponsored Delta Music Week. In July of 1986, the first BC Youth Orchestra Clinic, was held with participants from the DYO and from all of the province under the direction of Lloyd Blackman with VSO players providing sectional instructions. In August 1986, members of the DYO hosted the Wachendorf Jugend Speilmanzug, a marching band from Syke, Germany.

The DYO underwent tremendous growth in this season, with new members auditioning almost every week. This growth can be attributed to the natural ability Lloyd Blackman had in relating to young people while still commanding a great deal of respect from them. He sees being a member of an orchestra as  ¨an educational gift¨ and the source of ¨mental development and discipline.¨ One of his prime interests being to develop excellent spirit within the orchestra, Lloyd Blackman hopes ¨ that no student will ever leave a rehearsal discouraged and not believing in themselves.¨

In the 1986/87 season two new divisions were initiated: the Preparatory String Division (known later as the Pre-Junior Strings), small classes designed to feed into the Junior Division, and the Wind Ensemble, conducted by Chris Robertson. This was a busy season for the DYO, starting with a second annual music camp for Intermediate and Senior Divisions held at Camp Luther. All three divisions performed at the opening of Fantasy Gardens in Richmond and played a Spring Concert at Gateway Theatre. The Senior Division was honoured to be invited to play at the opening of legislature in Victoria and contributed to Sweden Day at the Robson Media Centre, performing works by Swedish composers. The season concluded with a successful second annual BC Youth Orchestra Clinic.

At the start of the 1987/88 season, intensive planning was under way for a Senior Division concert to Germany and there was a continued push to build a strong orchestra of a high standard. Both the music camp in September and the third annual BCYOC held in May were used to advance the Senior Division in their repertoire. The results showed in the February Gala Concert where, under Lloyd Blackman, the now 45 member ¨orchestra’s poise and presence reflected years of discipline and training.¨ (Delta Optimist WeekEnder, March 4, 1988) In June, the Senior Division played at the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse for the first time since Harry Gomez’s death. The Intermediate and Junior Divisions both performed on a concert tour: the Intermediates traveled to Portland, Oregon to perform while the Juniors performed in Victoria. Finally, during July 1988, the Senior Divsion mad a three week tour of Germany, Holland, Switzlerland, and Austria. Eight concerts were played throughout a memorable trip.

The 1988/89 season was fairly low key in comparison to the exciting tours of the year before. Once again the Senior Division performed a joint Christmas Concert with the Delta Community Choir to raise money for Delta Assist, and in the spring the Central Valley Academy of Music Society sponsored the Senior Division in concert in Abbotsford. The Senior Division also played a joint concert in Nanaimo under Lloyd Blackman, conductor of both orchestras. In July the fourth BCYOC was held and DYO members played hosts again, this time to the Powy Band of Wales.

Two major changes occurred early in the 1989/90 season: Jim Ewen was appointed as the new Intermediate division conductor, and the Serenata Strings was formed. The Sereneata was a string group made from members of the Junior and Intermediate orchestras. In March the Intermediate Division hosted the Portland Youth Orchestra and the two orchestas performed in a concert together. In July, the Senior Division completed their second concert tour overseas. During their trip to England and Wales, the orchestra performed in such locations as Shrewsbury, Powys, Bath, and Marlbourough.

Delta Youth Orchestra celebrated its twentieth season (1990/91) with the opening of the new Genesis Theatre in Ladner, and Wallace Leung, an alumni of the orchestra, was appointed conductor of the Junior Division. Lorraine Ovenall became conductor of the Intermediate Division. Stephen Robb became the Woodwind instructor for the Intermediate and Senior orchestras. The Intermediates participated in the Variety Club Telethon and helped raise $1300 for the charity.

DYO celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 1991 with a concert which was held on December 22, 1991 at the Genesis Theatre in Ladner. The concert featured John Gomez, son of the late Harry Gomez and conductor of the Ottawa Youth Orchestra, as guest conductor. Allyson Phillips, also an alumni of the DYO, now with the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, was the featured soloist in the Mozart Horn Concerto. Lloyd Blackman composed a special piece for the orchestra, entitled Delta Retrospect. Deanne Eisch became director of the Junior Strings in September 1991. Wallace Leung became director of the Intermediates.

Lloyd Blackman retired from the orchestra at the end of the 1994/95 season. Blackman’s final concert with the DYO was the All Division Concert on June 4, 1995. ¨One could not contrive a more successful storybook ending to Blackman’s 10-year reign as artistic director of the Delta Symphony…, and a lifetime career of over 45 years as musician, teacher and mentor to generations of young musicians.¨ (Delta Optimist, June 10, 1995).Also in 1995 Wallace Leung and the Intermediates brought fame back to the DYO with a Gold Standing at the Kiwanis Music Festival.

This page is dedicated to the memory of Fred Preuss (1915 – 1997).

The above history of the DYO was written by Christine Malmberg, a former player in the orchestra, in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Delta Youth Orchestra.

Many thanks to Eva Preuss for collecting and maintaining the DYO archives for over 20 years.

The Archives of the Delta Youth Orchestra are held in the Delta Museum and Archives in Ladner, B.C.