Paula DeWit, newly appointed director of the more than four-decade-old White Rock Community Orchestra, knows what’s necessary to be a good – even a great – conductor.
“You try to portray the piece – you have to look like the music,” she told Peace Arch News.
“One of the first things is that you want to be really clear to the musicians – if the conductor is really expressive that makes the music so much better. But a lot of the work is really done in the rehearsals – when you go on stage, it’s about putting it all together.”
And DeWit said she is excited to have an opportunity to work with WRCO’s board and volunteer members in putting together musical programs that will offer a little something for everyone in the audience (the next big concert will be Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at St. John’s Presbyterian Church), while building membership and raising new awareness of the group in the community – and even, perhaps, collaborating with other groups such as the White Rock Children’s Choir.
DeWit – who assumes her new role at the Saturday, Sept. 10, morning rehearsal of the 35-member orchestra – knows whereof she speaks.
As co-founder and director of the Chilliwack Symphony Orchestra and Chorus – which she established with her late husband, Maestro John Van Liempt, 17 years ago – the Canada and U.S.-trained DeWit has long established a reputation for attention to detail and the ability to inspire singers and instrumentalists to excel in performance.
But the versatile DeWit, successor to former WRCO director Stuart Martin – leaving to pursue a musical opportunity in the U.S. – brings other skills to the table.
She is also a professional trumpeter who has worked with the Lion’s Gate Sinfonia and the Kelowna Pops Orchestra, among other ensembles, as well as being a vocal soloist and choral singer.
In fact, she honed her performance abilities as trumpeter and vocalist during an 11-year stint with the Canadian Forces, as featured artist with a touring band that performed extensively throughout Canada, the U.S. France, Belgium and Germany.
She continues to sing with her own choral groups and at church and even – as a keen Rotarian – plays trumpet with a small group that plays pop standards before dinners and other functions at her local club.
“As a conductor, I feel fortunate that I can do both things,” she said. “To be able to sing a passage and be able to play it helps me understand the music from both perspectives – it’s an asset.”
It’s definitely helped with some of her many musical director assignments with the University of the Fraser Valley’s theatre department, the Chilliwack Players Guild and the Chilliwack Opera Troupe, for such shows as Once Upon A Mattress, Willy Wonka, White Christmas, The Wizard of Oz, The Drowsy Chaperone, The Pirates of Penzance and The Magic Flute.
Given such a varied background, it’s not surprising to learn that DeWit appreciates a broad spectrum of music (“I even like country and western – although my heart belongs to Bach,” she said).
And one of her delights, she said, is arranging contemporary pop songs for orchestra – offering an accessible route to appreciation of lush classical harmonies.
“Arranging is probably the one thing I love even more than the others,” she adds. “It so much fun to be able to put music on paper – and it’s useful when you’re working with an orchestra with only one flute, or an ensemble of only five kids.”
The WRCO welcomes new musicians of all experience levels and is currently seeking violin, viola, oboes, bassoon and saxophone players as well as a drum-set drummer. For more information, contact president Don Miller through wrco.ca