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Orchestra opens doors for musicians of all levels, ages

CARLSBAD — For most people, orchestras typically strike up an image of professionals who have dedicated their entire lives to music.
Over the last two years, Carlsbad’s Museum of Making Music has altered that perception with the formation of its own string orchestra for beginning performers.
The North Coast Strings invites novice musicians, even those who don’t already know how to read music, to learn and play in a supportive environment. During the year-round sessions, adults gather at the museum to hone their violin, viola, cello and bass skills.
“The people in this orchestra are really special,” conductor Paula Simmons said. “It’s different — they’re all here because they really want to be.”
Museum director Carolyn Grant founded the group to present a unique opportunity to North County’s aspiring musicians. Grant was inspired to launch the orchestra by a similar program, New Horizons International Music Association, that teaches adults how to play instruments later in life.
Grant notes that unlike other professional orchestras, it’s the ideal place for people to reconnect with the instruments of their youth, or learn to play an instrument they never knew before. Orchestra members ranging in age from 25 to older than 80 have jumped at the chance to participate.
“Many adults want to participate in music making but cannot find a place to do so if they aren’t professional or accomplished musicians,” Grant said. “We fill that niche and provide not only musical enjoyment, but personal enrichment.”
As the group continues to gain new members, it’s always looking for ways to garner support for the orchestra. Most recently, they received a grant from the Saxton Family Foundation to start a string orchestra music library to be housed at the museum.
“This is huge,” Simmons said. “We were really getting to the point where I was scrounging to get music.”
While many people have donated pieces from the personal collection, it still wasn’t enough. The grant will also allow the group to commission original pieces from local musicians. “We can build a library that can be used for many years to come,” Grant said.
In its sixth session, the orchestra is just getting started. Simmons and Grant, who is also a member of the orchestra, have already seen the positive impact that such an orchestra can have on a community, and expect it to continue flourishing in the future.
“There’s no jealously or rivalry — people just come in, sit down and play,” Simmons said. “This has been one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
The North Coast Strings orchestra currently accepts new musicians year-round. For more information about upcoming sessions, visit