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Sound the Horn for Old York Road Symphony

Janet Hamilton manages more than the French horn.

For almost 80 years, the Old York Road Symphony has been making rich classical orchestral music and pops concerts comfortably accessible in the northern suburbs. During the past 15 years, the success of this nonprofit has been due in large part to the skills of its personnel director, according to OYRS board member, First Violin and Concertmaster, Bill Philips. 

Abington Patch introduces Janet Hamilton, French horn, and organizer of some 50 to 65 or so volunteers, whose dedicated weekly rehearsals produce four or five concerts per year — a dependable cultural asset to the community.

Hamilton’s involvement with the Old York Road Symphony began intermittently when she was in high school and at Temple, when OYRS had an occasional need for an extra French horn.  There was an opening in the 1980s, and Hamilton became a regular.

At that time, Hamilton was a music teacher in the Philadelphia School District.  She had grown up in the Philadelphia system and recalled being invited to play one of two instruments left in the music closet. 

“They were euphonium and French horn, and I’d never heard of either one,” she said. 

She said she considered herself lucky that her first teacher was a horn player, and a very good instructor.  Hamilton found what she loved, and was excited that her own teaching career enabled her to give back to kids.

“To many kids, the music program is really huge,” she said.

Turning “squeaks and squawks into music,” and watching light bulbs go on for her students pleased Hamilton. But teaching beginners didn’t provide her with opportunities to use her more advanced performance capabilities. 

“I needed an outlet to play the symphonic literature I love,” she said. “There’s a special feel and sound when you’re up there performing. When I’m up there, I can hear when all the horn players breathe together.”

OYRS attracts students as well as serious regional musicians.  Each year, the organization sponsors its Young Artist Competition, awarding solo opportunities and a cash prize to the winner.  Sometimes when openings occur, or if specific repertoire requires additional parts, qualified students in the area may be invited to participate.  Hamilton considers this good for the orchestra as well as for the students.

Of course, public audiences are essential to the mission of OYRS.

“We want to play for an audience,” Hamilton said. “We feel we have a responsibility to the community to provide this great music, live. It’s so different than listening to it on the radio.”

Hamilton spoke to the question of how important the arts are  – and said they should be part of the life of any community. Even in casual conversations with people, she noted how often people say, “Oh, I used to play the … I don’t know why I stopped.  I wish I’d continued.”

Hamilton mused that she could fill every night of the week playing with a different community music group.  Even in retirement, however, her schedule is packed with other activities.

Her husband Jerry is an active Mason and she has become involved in the corresponding women’s organizations. 

She reflected with disappointment that some people today don’t understand the Masons or are put off by some of the secrecy involved in their work.  She emphasized, “They’re wonderful people, devoted to charities.” 

For examples, she cited the Masonic sponsorship of Shriners Hospitals, the Knights Templar Eye Foundation and Special Olympics.

“Being happy is doing things for others,” Hamilton said.  “If you give of yourself – your time and effort – then you’ll be happy.  ‘Selfish’ doesn’t work.”

The Hamiltons also enjoy visiting with their three adult daughters and traveling. 

Hamilton said that she’s not making the popular “bucket list” of things she wants to do.  Instead, she said she’s doing them.

OYRS players are volunteers.  But Old York Road Symphony hires a professional music director, and currently thrives under the baton of Maestro Yoon Jae Lee, who commutes to Abington from New York City every Tuesday night for rehearsals. 

“We’re all good sight readers,” said Hamilton.  “We can play through anything.  But … rehearsals are where it all happens.  It’s a huge commitment there.  He guides us through it.”

The next public performance is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at in Sutherland Auditorium. The doors open at 7 p.m.

Also, the snow last month cancelled the symphony’s opening concert, so those ticket holders will get in for free as long as they register with Kim Dolan, who may be reached at 215-782-1149 or at kim.dolan@rhls.org.

For tickets or more information call 215-782-1718.

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