by Lora Whelan
(This article was originally published in the May 12, 2023 issue of The Quoddy Tides. EAC extends our thanks for permitting us to share the article here).
The Passamaquoddy Bay Symphony Orchestra (PBSO) has been delighting audiences
and the musicians who devote their time to playing in the orchestra since the inaugural concert
held at the Eastport Arts Center in August 2007. However, times are changing, and the PBSO [presented] its last concert as a symphony orchestra at its spring concert series, Finale Fantastique, the weekend of June 2.
The man behind the PBSO formation is conductor and music director Trond Saeverud, who
formed the nonprofit 501c3 Harald Saeverud Chamber Music Program a few years before the
PBSO launch and incorporation into the nonprofit. “He loaned the 501c3 to PBSO to use,”
because of the time and complexity involved in starting a new nonprofit, explains PBSO Board
President June Gregory.
Saeverud had been conducting the symphony orchestra at the University of Maine at Farmington and teaching at the University of Maine at Machias and had a group of area musicians interested in what he was doing. “They thought there were enough people here to start an orchestra.” A meeting was advertised and 40 people showed up. PBSO began to operate as a constituent of the Eastport Arts Center while maintaining its 501c3 status and grew rapidly, to the region’s great pleasure in attending two symphony performances a year.
For just about 16 years PBSO created community programs based on devoted volunteers donating their musicianship and other skills to create music for the wider regional community. They performed 84 concerts in Washington (Maine) and Charlotte (New Brunswick) counties; featured 27 soloist performances; commissioned and premiered seven new works by composers from Maine and Norway; played 124 works by 67 composers; reached more than 3,500 children in 19 Music for Children performances; provided outreach to underserved populations, such as school children and the elderly, through ensembles such as the Woodwind Quintet; provided performance scholarships and leadership internships to four high school seniors, and provided an opportunity for more than 75 volunteer musicians to learn from Saeverud and composer, musician and assistant conductor Gregory Biss.
However, times have changed and Gregory explains, “While we successfully survived the COVID
pandemic as an organization, we have struggled to find and maintain musicians, especially string
players. For the past two concert series, rehearsals have been attended by only seven to 15 players and we have had to hire as many as 12 ringers [professional players] to fill missing parts for the concerts. Not only is that financially unsustainable, but it defeats the purpose of a ‘community’ orchestra.”
Beginning in the fall of 2023, PBSO will modify its semi-annual concert series to present
programs featuring professional chamber music. Saeverud will continue as music director to
seamlessly continue the tradition of providing classical music to the Passamaquoddy Bay region.
Gregory explains that PBSO as an entity will continue through 2023, with programs such as the
Children’s program in October and the Fall Concert Series sponsorship continuing. But at the end of the year the PBSO board of directors will dissolve and the 501c3 will revert to the Harald Saeverud Chamber Music Program.
“PBSO musicians want to continue to play,” says Gregory, but it will be in a different format. The
same goes for many of the other programs, such as Music for Children. How each program area
decides to carry on and redefine itself will be up to the people involved, but Gregory sees it as an
opportunity for new people to get involved and shape the future of community music endeavors.
She adds, “For an organization to be sustainable it has to be resilient and flexible. We have to
adapt to what’s available to us. It’s not for a lack of desire, but times are different.”
Gregory sums up her experience with PBSO. “When I retired and moved to Maine from Florida in
2008, PBSO quickly became my family. Each concert series I have had the joy and privilege of
working with and learning from musicians from a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and
experiences who share a common love of music. What we have been able to accomplish in 10-
week rehearsal schedules astounds me even today and is a great source of personal pride. One of my favorite sayings is, ‘You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust your sails.’ The wind has
indeed changed. I will miss playing in a community orchestra but am excited about the many
musical opportunities that are waiting to be discovered and created.”