CHAMPAIGN — When Savoy resident Audrey Vallance heard about her daughter's orchestra trip to Washington, she wanted to help raise money for the trip.
But selling candy bars isn't really her thing, so she and other Centennial orchestra parents have helped students organize themselves into small ensembles and play for groups around town to raise money.
She and other parents started calling around, and before long, small ensembles of orchestra members were playing for nursing homes, holiday parties and even at Marketplace Mall.
"I figure the more people you talk to, the more good will come to you with this," Vallance said.
The ensemble requests a minimum $100 donation when playing for a group, and when the ensemble is out on its own, it puts out an old violin case to ask for donations.
In many cases, Vallance said, people have donated as much as double.
As the students travel, they'll stop in Muncie, Ind., for a performance clinic, and then will visit Gettysburg, the Manassas National Battlefield, as well as seeing sights in Washington, including Ford's Theatre, orchestra director Rodney Mueller said. The April 25-29 trip will include several performances.
"It's a fantastic time for bonding among the students," Mueller said. "This is the first big trip of this sort that I have done with the orchestra."
But it's an expensive one — because the orchestra will perform, the group is taking a couple of basses and a dozen cellos, Mueller said.
"A bass takes up two seats on a bus, a cello takes up a seat," Mueller said, because they can't be exposed to temperatures under the bus. "That sort of makes it a challenge financially. You're paying to travel with those large instruments, as well."
Vallance said it's her goal to raise enough money to pay for the bus trip.
"We are a little under halfway there," she said.
Vallance, who teaches voice and music, has a daughter, Lindsay, a freshman who plays violin in the orchestra.
She said along with raising money for the orchestra's trip, students learned valuable skills as they participated.
"Not only did we generate income, but the kids stepped up," Vallance said. "The kids' playing improved. Their leadership skills improved, because they were going out in small groups rather than the groups of 44."
And no matter when the orchestra's ensembles were booked, students volunteered to play, even as they played at several places around town during busy December.
"Kids are jumping to the occasion to play," Vallance said. "We've never had to turn down an engagement because we don't have people to step up."
Mueller said it's also been valuable to the students as they develop their musical skills. Instead of being one of 40-some orchestra members, if they play in a quartet or a double-quartet, they take responsibility for their own part, Mueller said. Some students are also gaining experience as soloists.
"It's great for ear training and learning to play together and making great music," Mueller said. The students play from both the orchestra's repertoire and from what Mueller calls a "gig book," which includes popular classical music, movie themes, pop music, Beatles songs and even some Broadway music.
He also thinks it's valuable for students to play outside of a traditional performance setting.
Vallance said the experience of playing to raise money for the trip will supplement its value for the students.
"I think the coolest part is that the kids are taking ownership in the whole event," she said. "They're honing their skills, they're putting themselves out there, performing, and by performing, they're improving."
Ensemble to play at Heart Association event
A small ensemble from the Centennial Orchestra will be accepting donations when they play in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn on Feb. 17, before an American Heart Association luncheon.
If you're interested in having a small ensemble from Centennial's orchestra play for your organization for a donation, please contact Audrey Vallance at firstname.lastname@example.org  or at 722-4448.