During the day, Sidney Ross works at his french-weaving business in the Valley. But as often as he can, Sidney returns to his real love: music. To fulfill his dream of performing publicly, even having the chance to display his talents in a solo performance, he joined the L.A. Solo Repertory Orchestra.
"There's not many orchestras that would give me the chance to solo," asserted tympani player, Ross.
Like other community orchestras, the Valley-based orchestra uses local musicians, both amateurs and professionals, to fill its ranks. But, unlike other neighborhood orchestral groups, the primary focus of the L.A. Solo Repertory Orchestra is to give the artists a chance to display their individual talents.
Aspiring soloists must audition to join the repertory. And even then, they might not win the opportunity to perform solo for an audience. But music director and conductor James Swift says the symphony tries to give everyone a chance.
"The initial concept of the group was to give a lot of people the opportunity to play solos," said Swift, who said he always wanted the chance to work with more solo performers. "Various people play in rehearsals, and we select the better ones for the programs."
"All of the string players and most of the brass players have worked on solo pieces with orchestral accompaniment," explained the Solo Repertory's president, Robert Rouse. And he added that they try to give all members a chance to solo even if they play an instrument, like Ross, that isn't usually associated with soloists.
The Solo Repertory is an eclectic group, with the 65 or so musicians ranging from teen-agers to an occasional octogenarian. While some musicians stay with the orchestra for just a season or two, there is a nucleus, including Ross and principal bass Joe Feinbloom, that has been with the orchestra since its inception 16 years ago.
Some of the group's members are professional musicians, most of whom work on a free-lance basis, and play "casuals" such as weddings, parties, dances, etc. to support themselves. Many of the group's older members are retired musicians like bass player Joe Feinbloom, 72, who played in a number of Broadway productions before relocating to the West Coast. Others, like Ross, are dedicated amateurs, who just want the chance, and a place, to perform.
Swift said that many of the professional musicians often miss rehearsals if they are offered paying jobs.
"Money provided is minimal," he explained. "About one-third of the musicians are paid. They depend on the little money they get from the short concert season for part of their income. The others play for the love off it. All of the musicians must have a certain devotion to the art. To a degree, it's selfish. You must have an outlet for your emotions."
Like the variety of musicians, the music the group performs is also wide ranging, from such ethnic works of Japanese, black, Latin and Hebrew music to the standard concert fare of Brahms, Mozart, and Debussy and more contemporary composers such as Scott Joplin.
"We try to choose works that cover a lot of tastes," explained Swift. "And, of course we do the solo literature. But now we're trying to put more emphasis on American composers."
To that end, Swift has drafted a member of the orchestra, trombone player David Stout, to write a composition for them to play, with a solo for himself.
"This is a rare opportunity for someone who isn't affiliated with a university or for any unknown composer," Stout remarked. "To get a work performed by a symphony orchestra is extremely difficult. Unless you have some kind of fame as a film composer, it's practically impossible. This seemed like an opportunity knocking very loudly."
"Odyssey," the composition he has written for the orchestra, will be performed publicly for the first time in February at the Forest Lawn Hall of Liberty. The 37-year-old Stout said he is waiting for that moment with bated breath.
"It's a one-shot deal. If I get hit in the face with a brick the day before, it's all over," he said with a laugh. "As a free-lance musician I take basically anything that's offered to me. But as an artist, I have all these emotions about music. This orchestra gives me the opportunity to play the more serious side of music, the side you don't get from playing casuals."
It's a sentiment that's shared by his fellow musicians, whose attitude is apparent as they immediately lapse into silence when Swift raps his baton signaling the start of rehearsal.
Responsible for forming the orchestra, Swift, a retired Lockheed engineer, was formerly the conductor of the Valley Symphony but split from the group, taking a number of the musicians with him, to form the Solo Repertory in 1969.