The East Metro Symphony Orchestra closed out its 10th season with anniversary concert "10 Years and Still Celebrating!" May 19 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater. Special guests, including a nyckelharpa, or key fiddle, player and traditional Swedish dancers graced the stage alongside the orchestra, playing in the occasion.

But the past 10 years aren't the whole story. The group was formed in the summer of 1956 as the 3M Club Symphony Orchestra, one in a series of amateur music programs funded by 3M Corp. for its employees, retirees and their friends and family.

When 3M discontinued its music clubs in 2009, it was up to members of the orchestra and its leadership to save it - and they did. The orchestra received its initial funding from a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council grant and donations made by members, friends and family. Instruments, music and equipment bought by 3M were also donated by the corporation.

Through Merrill Arts Center, the group reached an agreement that would allow it to rehearse in the orchestra room at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, with many of its concerts held at the school's The Loft Stage.

Now a nonprofit, the orchestra receives funding from individual donations, corporate matching funds, various grants, ticket sales and other fundraising events, former president Sally Browne said.

"I think it spoke a very powerful message about how important members of this orchestra thought it was to continue on," musical director and conductor Elizabeth Prielozny Barnes said.

The May 19 concert marked the end of a chapter for Barnes, who decided to leave her post after 20 years.

"It's important for the orchestra to have new leadership, new creative input," she said.

The group is currently searching for a new director and conductor and hopes to have the position filled by the beginning of the 2019-2020 concert season.

Amateur musicians

The orchestra is made up entirely of amateur musicians, other than concertmaster and violinist Joan Malloy.

"Everyone ... has a day job - this is just essentially a way that they are expanding on their own personal interest in music," orchestra administrator Anna Salisbury said.

Orchestra members often serve in a variety of roles outside musicianship, Salisbury said. Some are also board members or volunteer to usher at a concert if they aren't performing, and everyone helps to promote events.

Salisbury added that the orchestra is always looking for new members and volunteers.

Over the past 10 years, the orchestra has consciously moved away from its "insular" corporate roots to programming focused on inclusivity, Barnes said, adding that the group takes community outreach "really seriously." During the 2018-2019 concert season, partnerships included musicians and singers from King of Kings Lutheran Church, Woodbury Dance Center dancers and the East Ridge High School orchestra, wherein the high schoolers played right alongside East Metro Symphony Orchestra musicians.


Another main focus of the orchestra has been to make their performances accessible for people who aren't normally exposed to orchestral music. An effort to include informal, less traditional programming has led to a series of performances at local senior living facilities and South Washington County schools. The orchestra also brought a sing-along concert to the stage as part of the Merrill Arts Center Holiday Festival last December.

The push toward accessibility has also included an effort to make every performance either low-cost or free.

"I think the big message for the Woodbury community is that this orchestra is really a profound and open community resource," Barnes said.