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First Person

Maestro about town

Conductor Yoichi Udagawa nurtures volunteer musicians in the Quincy and Melrose symphony orchestras, two of the country’s longest running community orchestras.

Jessica Rinaldi

I started out thinking I’d want to be a conductor of a professional orchestra, working exclusively with professionals. But working with community orchestras has so many great things about it. Everyone wants to be there. They’re not being paid for it. This is what they love.

Even though they are “amateurs,” we have some players who are playing at phenomenal levels. We have a whole wide range of very highly educated, cultured people in the orchestras. In Melrose [in the symphony orchestra], we have a veterinarian, a lawyer, a realtor, a couple of music teachers, high school students, some retired teachers, stay-at-home moms, some grad students, a retired chemist.             

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By the nature of the way the orchestra is set up, for example, if you have a wind player or a brass player, there’s usually one to a part. Every part sticks out. Often at concert rehearsals, I’ll say, “Oh, that sounds pretty good.” And they’ll say, “Oh, you don’t expect us to play that well?” Of course I expect them to play well. I think the audience is often kind of shocked, surprised, blown away by how good it is.

An orchestra is interesting because it’s a collective effort. It always ends up being better when we all get together and work toward a goal. It’s a kind of mysterious thing in a way, where the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts. That’s why, when people come to hear a community orchestra, it can be so much better than what they expect.           

Boston is unique. There’s possibly [more] community orchestras in the Boston area than in the world.  

— As told to Kathy Shiels Tully(Interview has been edited and condensed.)

LISTEN The Melrose Symphony Orchestra’s season starts November 2 (781-662-0641,, and the Quincy Symphony Orchestra’s first concert of the season, a free one, is November 3 (800-579-1618,

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