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Loyola students start a volunteer orchestra in New Orleans

NOVO was created by two Loyola students to give musicians in the entire New Orleans community a plac

On November 8, 2012

  • The New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra performs in Roussel Hall on May 8 during their premiere performance. NOVO has members from all over the New Orleans community, but they are centered at Loyola. They have been practicing fervently for their upcoming concert on Nov. 9. SOPHIA STEVENSON / CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

If you thought a Facebook message couldn't change your life, think again.
This past March, music education senior Chris Bergeron asked his fellow music education major, current sophomore Joseph Cieslak, if he'd like to start the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra (NOVO) at Loyola.
"I thought it was a little bit crazy, but the next day I was like well, what do I have to lose?" Cieslak said.
Now, six months after getting officially chartered, the two students have turned what started as two students looking to gain experience in their craft into a haven for musicians within the Loyola community as well as outside of it.
The now roughly 40 to 50 member strong orchestra has attracted musicians from all over the city, including former Loyola professors and alumni, high school students and musicians with no affiliation with the university who responded to the organization's Craigslist ad.
"Every week of rehearsals we grew and grew, and now we're basically full in every section and we're able to do huge pieces of music because of that," Bergeron said.
According to Bergeron, members of the orchestra range from teenagers to adults in their 60s and 70s.
One of the orchestra's flute players, Sydney Gray, had no affiliation with the University before she saw the ad for NOVO on Craigslist. "The last time I got to play my flute was ten years ago, so I was really happy to find them," Gray said.
"The pieces they select are really ambitious which I've been really impressed with, and the level of players that they have attracted has been impressive as well," Gray said.
Each week, NOVO rehearses songs that "mix classical music with contemporary things that you would hear in movies or TV - it's kind of young and fresh," Cieslak said.
On Friday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m., NOVO will be performing its sophomore concert, titled "A Night at the Movies... In Space" in Roussel Hall. The show will feature music from "Star Wars," the television series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and classical pieces such as "The Planets" by Gustav Holst.
"This isn't going to be a boring orchestra concert. We're playing some exciting literature - it's accessible stuff. It'll be a short little distraction for your Friday night," Cieslak said. "It's something worth supporting - two Loyola students having put something like this together, and having members of the community come out and play is a pretty unique experience."
According to Cieslak, one of the driving forces behind NOVO is the leadership that Bergeron has displayed as director of the orchestra. "I've really been learning a lot from Chris because this is really what he wants to do, and the dedication and the passion that he has for it has really rubbed off on me and the rest of the group," Cieslak said.
"I'm impressed, honestly, that Chris and Joseph have really stepped up and created something that I don't think I would have thought of in college," Gray said.
For Bergeron, however, the driving force behind his passion for NOVO has grown from educational and professional pursuits to something much deeper.
"Several of the community members in the orchestra have come up to me and said, 'Thank you for doing this, this has really changed my life.' This has been an outlet to make these musicians feel human again and NOVO has really given that to a lot of people in the city. Some people have gone so far as to say, 'You really have saved my life.' That's what I really like about it - giving back to the city and the school. These people really love music and they're really glad that they've gotten this opportunity to play again and perform again," Bergeron said.
Shannon Donaldson can be reached at

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