Niles orchestra works for food

Published 9:43 pm Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Niles Area Community Orchestra gives the gift of music and nourishes bodies as well as the soul with food donations.

Valerie Rumpf conducts the orchestra during one of its Sunday afternoon rehearsals.

Valerie Rumpf conducts the orchestra during one of its Sunday afternoon rehearsals.

The volunteer orchestra composed of some 50 musicians from across the greater Niles region performs to benefit charities, including nonperishable food donations to the Salvation Army pantry, while promoting music education.

Sandra Redman, of Milton Township in Cass County, learned to play violin so she could participate.

“These are the neatest people I’ve ever known in my life,” she said. “I retired from the medical field and know a lot of people. I didn’t know A from E when I started two and a half years ago.

The orchestra, conducted for 10 years by Valerie Rumpf, rehearses every other Sunday afternoon at New Apostolic Church, 1451 E. Broadway at 15th streets.

It fills the lower-level fellowship hall wall to wall.

“We could use bassoon, a couple more French horns, a tuba, lots of strings,” Rumpf said. “Last year, we opened it up to the community. The first concert we put on was in May 2012 at the Queen Anne room,.

The event attracted more than 200 people to Four Flags Hotel.

“Out of that, we added 10 new players to the orchestra. We play original scores, so it’s challenging, but it’s brought the orchestra up.”

Niles Area Community Orchestra, or NACO, grew out of the New Apostolic Church Orchestra, where Rumpf, who runs The Music Academies, 115 N. Third St., is organist.

She has been playing since 4 and has a master’s degree in music composition.

“We would be more benefit to the community with wider participation,” her husband, Dave, a viola player, said.

Pastor Michael Sirovica plays French horn. In high school, he played for Harry Ahrens, Niles’ band director for 17 years.

“It’s something you learn in high school that you can use your whole life — and the first thing cut,” Sirovica said.

Players, who can be as young as 12, have come from Dowagiac, Paw Paw, Bridgman, Sawyer, Buchanan, St. Joseph, Edwardsburg and Berrien Springs in Michigan and South Bend, Mishawaka, Osceola, Elkhart, New Carlisle and Granger in Indiana.

On July 7, NACO rehearsed for its Sept. 8 concert at Edwardsburg Performing Arts Center.

“I’m not worried yet,” said Rumpf, of the remaining two months the group has to prepare.

The repertoire includes “Minnie the Moocher,” a million-selling jazz tune Cab Calloway recorded in 1931 and involves singing as well as playing.

Musicians also practiced “Fascinating Rhythm” and a medley that included “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

“Let’s try it from the beginning and get all the way through. I have confidence,” the maestro said.

Daughter Rita Schenk, a violinist and dental hygienist, playfully slips on a black eye patch during “Pirates of the Caribbean.” She started playing at 8 with the sole goal of becoming better than her 6-years-older sister. Son Rich plays cello.

“Big social situations, I’m quiet and awkward, but here …,” Schenk said.

It’s this kind of family atmosphere that sends former musicians scurrying to cellars or attics in search of long-forgotten horns or stringed instruments to rekindle their dormant passions.

Dave wears a necktie, but the percussionist is dressed casually in a Tigers tee and trombonist Ted Schlossmacher, who graduated from high school in Japan in 1993, has on an orange Jack-o’-lantern shirt that looks as if “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is coming up on the playlist. His wife, Stephanie, urged him to join.

“It would be cheaper to have orchestras than jails,” Dave said. “In Venezuela, they took kids off the streets and taught them to play. Now, everybody wants to be part. It gives them hope they can fit into society, where before they were just ‘trash.’ ”

Orchestra members believe music-making instills tolerance “because we all know every one of us screws up,” Dave said. “We rely on each other to get us through those measures.”

NACO played a Christmas concert at Niles High School and a spring concert May 8 at Brandywine Elementary School.

For more information, email or, call (269) 362-5780 or contact them through their Niles Area Community Orchestra Facebook page.