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Up close and personal with the Columbia Orchestra

Sitting in the back row of the Columbia Orchestra, Julie Rosenthal’s ball of yarn rolled away from her. Not missing a beat, she scooped it up and continued crocheting. A few rows away, Kaila Ruffin jotted down notes in a binder.

At an open rehearsal for the Columbia Orchestra, a crowd of about 45 people got to experience the group prepare for its upcoming Feb. 8 concert, Inna Faliks Plays Mozart, in a setting that allowed them to sit with the members while enjoying wine, cheese and crackers.

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“I love coming to these,” Rosenthal said. “It is so peaceful to listen to the music and to crochet. They are phenomenal.”

For the past few years, the orchestra has invited the public to four or five open rehearsals a year, typically held before the group’s classical concerts. An idea of Jason Love, the group’s conductor, the rehearsals have been very popular.

“It is meant to be very casual,” said Katherine Keefe, executive director. “People come and go. It is a really different kind of experience.”

Rehearsals are held in The Gathering Place’s ballroom, a room big enough to accommodate the group and its guests. While the acoustics may not be the best, the space gives the crowd a chance to sit between the members of the group and follow along to the music without playing a note, or to sit behind the group and watch Love direct.

“It’s interesting, especially sitting behind them,” said Donna Wallis, of Clarksville, who was attending with her friend, Mary Ellen Fields. “We sat on this side before. We’ll have to switch sides next time.”

The audience also gets to hear Love’s comments to the group as well as to them.

“Jason is a great music teacher,” Keefe said. “He is really good about sharing information.”

At the Jan. 13 rehearsal for the group’s Inna Faliks Plays Mozart concert, Love shared information about themes in music and explained fugues and their many voices.

“People do comment on how they enjoyed the concert even more or listened a little more” after hearing Love at the rehearsals, Keefe said.

While Love did occasionally address the audience, it was clear that it was a true rehearsal and not a performance, as the group went over various parts repeatedly and tempos were adjusted.

“So many orchestras do open rehearsals right before the performance,” Love said. “This is very much the process. You see us working things out.”

The group of about 90 musicians “don’t mind being in the fishbowl” for the occasional rehearsal, Love said. Many in the group are music teachers and invite their students to come hear them rehearse.

“It’s good for them to see and have this model to emulate while in class,” said Jen Retterer, a music teacher at Lake Elkhorn Middle School, in Columbia, who plays cello. “It’s an opportunity to see me as an actual performer.”

Joshua Terry, 12, was one of her students attending the rehearsal.

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“It’s not really like our rehearsals at all,” said Joshua, a viola player. “It’s so big. We’re not combined with the band, either.”

Kaila Ruffin, 14, a student at St. Vincent Palloti High School in Laurel, was there as part of an assignment for music class and to see her teacher, too.

“Each quarter, we are required to go to some type of concert,” Ruffin said. “We take notes about how they are performing and staying together.”

She, too, said her orchestra rehearsals were different than Columbia Orchestra’s.

“This sounds really good,” Ruffin said. “Ours never sounds this good.”

During a break halfway through the rehearsal, members were able to enjoy refreshments with the crowd and answer questions. Love admitted the second half of the rehearsal would be a little rough, as the group would be rehearsing the Mozart piece featuring Inna Falilks on piano.

“The challenging thing is … I will be singing the soloist part,” said Love, as Falilks lives in California and will only be rehearsing with the group before the concert.

Along with Mozart, the concert will feature works by Bela Bartrok and Duke Ellington.

“I think it is really good for our community members to see what we’re doing,” Retterer said. “They can see the work we put into it. I love being in this group.”

Eleanor Dixon-Terry, Joshua’s mother, was just as enthralled with the rehearsal as her son.

“This is really amazing,” Dixon-Terry said. “You get to hear the Columbia Orchestra perfecting their craft. When you go to a performance, you have no idea.”

Columbia Orchestra presents Inna Faliks Plays Mozart on Saturday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at the Jim Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpter Road, Columbia.

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