LAKEVIEW — Forget the concept of a community orchestra as just casual musical hobbyists.
The Lakeview Orchestra, the newest identity of a group of neighborhood musicians, is dead set on being serious, performing musicians.
The 50 person symphony orchestra broke off from Lakeside Pride Music Ensemble, a non-profit aiming to bring together the LGBT community through music, a few months ago. And from goals for more concerts and more practice to dreaming up ways to convert more people to classical music, the Lakeview Orchestra wants to focus less on the social activism and more on the music.
"When we started, it was important that it was a gay orchestra, and there was a social element to it, with ideas about solidarity and change," said Greg Hughes, Lakeview Orchestra's artistic director and conductor. "But we got together, and we could really play. We sounded good. So we said, 'Let's take this and run with it. Let's see how much music we can do and at what level we can perform'."
The result: An ambitious community orchestra—whose players, incidentally, have always been about half gay and half straight—with plans for six shows in its first year alone.
"Lakeside Pride is great, and they helped us a lot, but eventually the kid grows up and moves out of the parents' house," Hughes said.
Lakeside Pride is a historic umbrella for a marching band, jazz ensemble and symphony band with a focus on community service for the LGBT community, said Lakeside Pride board chair Drew Favreau. The symphony orchestra was started just about two years ago, a baby compared to the ensemble's approximately 30-year legacy.
"We were all kind of one big gay family," Hughes said.
But after a couple years of playing with the ensemble, the orchestra's members became "really enthusiastic" about playing and wanted to move away from the LGBT social focus, said Lakeview Orchestra board director and strings player Greg Zinkl. The visions collided, they said.
"It was unfortunate that they decided to separate after the band and other members tried to work with them," Favreau said of the split. "But we understand they are doing well."
So Zinkl hit up his music-friendly church, the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church at 1218 W. Addison St., which was happy to host practices and concerts. In just a couple months, the group put together a plan for the 2013 season and played an inaugural concert on Tuesday, Feb. 5. The next one is a few weeks away, on Tues. March 26.
One of the main goals of performances is to make classical music accessible to the community, Hughes and Zinkl said. The inaugural concert of Edward Elgar's "Enigma Variations" in February, for example, was a part of a planned Music Discovery Series, where the concert is preceded by a discussion of the music's history and context.
"I don't want us to be an orchestra that plays to a crowd of 'blue hairs,' " Hughes said, referring to older audiences of most classical concerts. "We really want to be able to engage the community, particularly in Lakeview but really in all of Chicago."
Not that Lakeside Pride eschews the music — the marching band, the most well-known of the ensembles, even marched in President Barack Obama's second inauguration. But the ambitious Lakeview Orchestra wanted more.
"No musician lives to rehearse," Hughes said.