The Wasatch Community Symphony Orchestra isn't afraid of a challenge.
In about two weeks, the musicians perform Robert Schumann's Concert Piece for Four Horns, Op. 86, in their annual fall concert. It's a difficult three-movement piece for the all-volunteer orchestra.
"The horn section came to me about the Schumann," said music director Ted Zalkind. "I said they were crazy. They said we're all crazy and we want to play this."
They're not the Utah Symphony.
Their music comes from retired teachers, doctors, teenagers and homemakers, to name a few. Some have not picked up an instrument in 10 years and wanted to play again. But they're willing and feel they're in good hands, and they can even produce music almost as good as the downtown orchestra's, says Zalkind, whose brother Larry is the Utah Symphony's principal trombonist.
In fact, the Schumann is coming together nicely.
"There's maybe something extra that we all banded together and pulled off what maybe people didn't think we could do," Zalkind said. "We won't just do a movement of Beethoven's symphony, we'll take the whole symphony. And that's very difficult."
Zalkind came to the orchestra as a guest conductor for its spring concert in 2009. He fell in love with the role and, since the group was in need of a new conductor, stayed on.
He'd wanted to direct adults for a long time. Zalkind teaches fifth- and sixth-graders the art of string instruments at nine schools, and his grown musicians feel the influence of the educator.
When Zalkind gets up on the podium, the musicians feel a high expectation to perform well without any intimidation, said Jeremy Johnson, an English horn player and elementary-school music teacher. He credits that balance to Zalkind's ability to educate the volunteer musicians.
They know what's expected and rise to the occasion, said Marie Maxfield, a violist in the orchestra. Her husband plays trumpet in the group.
Ever the music teacher, Zalkind makes every weekly rehearsal a learning experience, Maxfield said.
Johnson has noticed that the quality of his fellow players has "improved exponentially" since he joined the group a year ago. As a soloist playing in front of the group, Johnson has caught himself suddenly turning around "and see the magic happen" when he hears a piece that had been a train wreck before completely clicking.
The group's success is manifest in the amount of personal time the players spend on the music. Sections meet outside the weekly rehearsals to practice the pieces. Five members even started their own woodwind quintet within the orchestra. And Johnson met with the horns through the summer to prepare for the difficult Schumann.
Zalkind has seen the improvements of the personal investment and practice. There are musicians in the orchestra who weren't even sure they should be there two years ago, but now they are hitting every note, he said.
And Johnson anticipates hitting some hard ones on Oct. 28 at the fall concert.
"The first horn part goes out-of-the-universe high, so don't be surprised if my head explodes halfway through the concert," Johnson quipped.
What Zalkind doesn't realize is that he draws people in and gets them interested with his personality and musical experience, Maxfield said. She had known about the orchestra for years, but never had a desire to be part of it until she met him and he invited her to play.
"I wanted to stay as long as he was conductor," she said.
And the orchestra keeps growing. This year it added an associate conductor, Jong-hun Bae, the first one in a long while. The orchestra will soon have to find a new venue as well, as it has outgrown its home at All Saints Episcopalian Church, particularly for the crowds that the holiday and pops concerts draw.
The musicians have been at the church for about a year and a half, and "it's a wonderful achievement" that they need a new home, Maxfield said.
Fall Classics Concert
The Wasatch Community Symphony Orchestra presents its Fall Classics concert featuring Concert Piece for Four Horns, Op. 86 by Robert Schumann, as well as "Quiet City" and "Variations on a Shaker Theme" from "Appalachian Spring" by Aaron Copland. Admission is free.
Where • All Saints Episcopal Church, 1710 S. Foothill Blvd., Salt Lake City
When • Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.