Soothing Strings Calm Covid Anxiety
The Reunion Music Society

   By:  Ralph Brooker, President, Reunion Music Society                                   

NOVA Annandale Symphony Orchestra with the combined Northern Virginia Chorale and New Dominion Choraliers

At the Beginning

It’s 1994.  Gladys Watkins and Herb Smith, Professors of Music at the NVCC Annandale campus, propose an idea to their friend and colleague, Dr. Claiborne Richardson, eminent music educator and member of the NVCC Board.   Your community music association, the Reunion Music Society, has a mission of serving the community through music, but it is too small to form a symphony orchestra. NVCC needs an orchestra ensemble class, but there aren’t enough student musicians to make one viable. How about a collaboration between RMS and the NOVA Annandale campus?  Students would get college credit for playing alongside experienced community instrumentalists.  Everyone gets a chance to play in a full symphony orchestra.  Dr. Richardson agrees wholeheartedly, and with support from Dr. Richard Ernst, NVCC President, the NOVA Annandale Symphony Orchestra is launched.

Cut to 2018.  Dr. Richardson, now in frail health, is beaming with pride.  The orchestra has just given a sparkling performance of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and other substantial works.  The collaboration has paid off in spades.

It didn’t take 24 years to reach that level, though. At the very first concert on April 15, 1994, conducted in part by Dr. Richardson, the orchestra presented Samuel Barber’s Serenade for Strings, Copland’s Lincoln Portrait (narrated by Dr Ernst himself) and Fanfare for the Common Man, and other substantial pieces.   The orchestra began a long-standing tradition of major concerts in the fall and spring and pops concerts in the summers.  The current Music Director, Christopher Johnston, joined the orchestra not long after its founding and has led it through 25 energetic seasons.


The NOVA-Annandale Symphony Orchestra is s mix of more than 70 student, adult, and professional musicians from the DC metropolitan area, almost all volunteers. The orchestra has performed favorites by Mendelssohn, Holst, Beethoven, Sibelius, Vivaldi, Mozart, Elgar, Tchaikovsky, and many other favorites, as well as works by lesser-known and diverse composers.Matthew Trkula guitar performs with the NOVA Annandale Symphony Orchestra

The orchestra’s home venue is the Richard J. Ernst Cultural Center on the NOVA Annandale Campus, but it also performs in the Schlesinger Concert Hall and the Stacy C. Sherwood Center, and even travels to special performances at the Greenspring Senior Community. In the summer, it gives free pops concerts in regional parks.

RMS music activities are not limited to the orchestra, though.  The highly respected Jazz Ensemble performs regularly, and the Annandale Brass presents popular concerts in parks and at their annual Winter Wonderland. 

Orchestra players often collaborate on chamber music in the Alexandria Lyceum, showcasing string quartets, solos, duets, and chamber orchestra ensembles. A recent program traced a thematic thread from Shostakovich back to Bach.

Last year, as the finale to its 25th anniversary celebration, the orchestra collaborated with the Northern Virginia Chorale and the New Dominion Choraliers to present Carl Orff ‘s  spirited Carmina Burana to a standing ovation of over 700 attendees.  In all there were almost 200 musicians and singers on the Schlesinger Concert Hall stage.

Community Service Through Music

RMS uniquely serves our community in many ways.

  • It affords community musicians the opportunity to play in a full symphony orchestra, playing at an advanced level.
  • It brings high-quality programs to our audiences – free, or at extraordinarily-low ticket prices.
  • It provides an ensemble class experience for enrolled Northern Virginia Community College students, with credit towards an associate degree in Fine Arts.
  • It creates a venue to discover and present the works of little-known composers and offer programs of seldom performed music.
  • It fosters and promotes music of different cultures and heritages, commissions new works, and programs performances for diverse audiences.

Dealing with the COVID pandemic

The pandemic has hit musicians especially hard. Until February, the entire orchestra of 60-70 players would meet weekly for three hours in a rehearsal room on the NOVA Annandale campus; concerts were in auditoriums with 300-700 audience members. Players and audience members alike have a wide range of ages and health conditions.  For safety, all of those activities have been suspended.  They cannot return to normal until the COVID-19 pandemic is thoroughly suppressed. 

Nevertheless, RMS and the orchestra members re-invented methods for making and performing ensemble music in isolation. We divided into over a dozen small ensembles, each playing chamber music, jazz, and other arrangements. Players now meet outside (distanced and masked), use technology such as “JamKazam” to play together over the Internet, or make independent home audio/video recordings which are subsequently merged.

Music Director Chris Johnston, RMS, and many volunteers collaborated over the summer to test these new methods, resulting in the proposal of a novel “Virtual Orchestra” syllabus for the NVCC Music 148/248 class.  Furthermore, although NVCC is struggling with enrollments due to the pandemic and has cut back on many classes, our musician community rallied to support the orchestra by enrolling in record numbers.  NVCC accepted the new syllabus, and with this unprecedented support, re-authorized the course for Fall 2020.  It is now underway, and over 14 ensembles are working towards presenting concerts as pre-recorded Internet streaming premiere events.

The Reunion Music Society is actively supporting these new isolated ensemble activities with loans of good quality audio equipment for use at home, scholarshipsThe NOVA Annandale Symphony Orchestra, tuition reimbursements, and lots of volunteer work.

Get involved!

Everyone is invited to our concerts. You will find a level of energy and enthusiasm unlike other ensembles!  Visit and sign up for the newsletter there for announcements.

While the pandemic restrictions are still in place, view recordings of past concerts on the website, and stay tuned for online premieres of new performances made using our new techniques.

Donations are our life blood.  Your support is critical and greatly appreciated!  Visit the Donate to the RMS page on the website. RMS is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

If you are a musician and you want to join ensembles with other enthusiastic players, visit the Come Play With Us page on the website. 

Volunteers are always very welcome!  We rely on their support to find venues, manage events, organize streaming, websites, and publicity, and everything else. 


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