Dover Symphony Orchestra rings in the holidays

Dover Symphony Orchestra conductor Don Buxton during rehearsal Nov. 13. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Celebrating its 50th year, the Dover Symphony Orchestra is tuning up for Sunday’s holiday concert at Dover Downs.

Anyone who has attended the holiday concert in the past will hear an almost entirely different performance than previous years because the orchestra works to keep the show fresh and is always on the hunt for new pieces or arrangements it hasn’t done before.

“A lot of it depends on what we haven’t done because we don’t want to repeat pieces but we do end with ‘A Christmas Festival’ by Leroy Anderson each year and I think people who come each year have come to expect that,” said orchestra music director and conductor Don Buxton.

Longtime Dover Symphony Orchestra member Jill Mears on French horn. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Even though the orchestra is a local group, they perform the same music as professional groups and use the same instruments — up to 35 — in their performances.

“The first rehearsal is always a sight reading, so the most of the musicians are seeing the music for the first time and sometimes I think ‘what have I done?’” Mr. Buxton said.

But since the first day on the job 28 years ago, Mr. Buxton vowed not to present the players with any wa-tered-down versions of the selected music and even after directing professional groups across the country, he said the players in the orchestra are the real deal.

“Everyone here loves to play and is dedicated, otherwise they wouldn’t come every week. So by the time the show comes, the music sounds great and I couldn’t be more proud. They may doubt themselves at the beginning but the outcome is always wonderful, and those who doubted themselves have so much more confidence after,” he said.

Nikki Burns of Camden said the continuous practice that the orchesta offers is what keeps her coming back.

“I love playing violin and it’s so much fun to keep getting better,” she said. “Every rehearsal is a chance to practice and improve and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been here since 2003.”

Ms. Burns was one of a group of high school students who joined that year because few schools offered programs for strings players.

Vince Adkins, also a board member, plays bass fiddle for the Dover Symphony Orchestra.

“There weren’t any strings instruments in the school band so I was in First State Strings and four of my classmates and I joined the orchestra because it was a good opportunity,” she said.

“It exposed us to challenging music and made us better musicians.”

Celebrating five decades, Dover Symphony Orchestra contains many players who have been members since the early days, including Mr. Buxton.

“I love this orchestra because they play with warmth and beauty and it’s a non-professional orchestra so they’re not just here for a paycheck. They’re here because they have a passion. They love music and want to play,” he said.

“I said I’d keep coming back as long as I saw progress and after all this time, the orchestra is still progressing.”

Phil Steinhoff of Dover has been a member for almost 40 years and started playing clarinet when he was 10 before switching to bassoon at 12.

Brass section of the Dover Symphony Orchestra during practice session at Calvary Assembly of God Church in Dover. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

French horn player Jill Mears of Townsend has been a member for 38 years, went to school with Mr. Steinhoff and said her passion for music keeps her playing.

“I started playing in fifth grade and since the beginning, it’s always been a high,” she said. “It’s interesting to see every piece we play evolve during each rehearsal and there’s something so special with the music all around you.”

Ms. Mears grew up listening to classical music and said that she originally wanted to join a professional symphony. Although teaching became her passion, she could never let go of the french horn.

For her, nothing is better than hearing classical music live and being a part of the live performance.

The orchestra isn’t only an outlet for amateurs. Several professional players including violinists Lorraine Combs and

Dover Symphony Orchestra cello player and board president Nancy Pikulik. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Paul Herman take part as well.

Ms. Combs and Mr. Herman both play with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

“The arts are the fabric to our society,” Ms. Combs said. “It’s great that there are professional groups in more populated areas, but everywhere has talented musicians with a need to play and they have an important place in every community.”

“When it’s in your blood, it’s hard not to do,” Mr. Herman said. “I’m retired from work and when that day came, it was delightful but I never want to retire from violin.”

At the orchestra’s holiday performances, there is always some kind of audience participation and at this year’s concert, the audience will be encouraged to sing along to four well-known Christmas carols.

Sunday’s 3 p.m. concert, entitled “Ringing in the Holiday Season,” will also feature a reading of “Twas the Night before Christmas” by well known local singer and educatior “Miss Jackie” McCabe.

Displays of the work of a number of Central Delaware artists and artisans will open at 1:30 p.m. and sweet treats will be available at at bake sale.

Valet parking will be available. Additionally there will be free shuttle service throughout the parking lots.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors, students and military. Young people under 18 are free with a paying adult.

For ticket sales, log on to or call 270-1903. Tickets will also be sold at the door.

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