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Pops Orchestra marks fifth anniversary with Christmas concert

December 15, 2018
Brock Besse - The Rochester Pops Orchestra
Brock Besse - The Rochester Pops Orchestra

Five years ago, Brock Besse sat in the pit at Rochester Civic Theatre and wondered if all the talented musicians around him would want to form a pops orchestra.

“I thought, ‘This town has great classical music, but do they have a pops orchestra?’” Besse recalled. He made some inquiries and almost immediately had the names of 50 musicians who were interested.

On Oct. 19, 2013, the Rochester Pops Orchestra debuted with Besse as director, and five years later, the orchestra is still going strong. The annual Christmas concert will be presented Sunday night at Bethel Lutheran Church.

Somehow, against the odds — crowded venue schedules, demands on musicians’ time, stiff costs for the rights to music — the Rochester Pops Orchestra has survived and thrived.

“A lot of good has come from assembling a group of people to play music,” Besse said.

After performing at a few different venues to start, the orchestra has settled for now at Bethel Lutheran Church. “It’s a great sanctuary, the acoustics are perfect,” Besse said. “We’ll still look at being at Century High School, but the cost has gone up so much. When ticket costs go up, we start losing people who are on a fixed income.”

This year’s Christmas concert will feature the 59-piece orchestra and 42-voice pops chorale, as well as the guest vocal trio Triple Berry Pie. Besse said he’s learned what audiences want from a Christmas concert.

“Things that are crowd-pleasers are uptempo, and get your foot tapping,” he said. “So we try to keep it upbeat, keep it on the secular side.”

The addition of the chorale, he said, “has really opened up our repertoire.”

The holiday concert will include “Jingle Bells,” “Ding Dong, Merrily on High,” “We Need a Little Christmas,” and Michael W. Smith’s “The Promise.” And, finally, there will be some music from the Charlie Brown TV specials. “I’ve been asked for years to do it,” Besse said. “My whole orchestra gets giggly and smiley when they’re playing it.”

As for the next five years of the Rochester Pops Orchestra, Besse has a wish list that includes video and lighting enhancements at the concerts, and eventually the commissioning of pieces of music.

“I hope to just keep improving on what we’re doing,” he said.

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