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Mt. Baker Youth Symphony performs at The Leopold

Sharyn Peterson is the artistic director of Mt. Baker Youth Symphony, which performs Nov. 2 at The Leopold.
Sharyn Peterson is the artistic director of Mt. Baker Youth Symphony, which performs Nov. 2 at The Leopold. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Sharyn Peterson, artistic director and conductor of Mt. Baker Youth Symphony, doesn’t just fiddle around.

A professional violinist who has performed at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, she was concertmaster of the University of Washington’s University Symphony and performed under the direction of Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood Music Camp.

For Mt. Baker Youth Symphony, Peterson selects the music, conducts the advanced group, coaches the violins and violas, runs rehearsals, does marketing, sets up performance venues, obtains coaches, recruits students, and co-ordinates concerts with the group’s sister symphony, Fidalgo Youth Symphony.

Not only that, she has organized two concert tours to China and a tour to Portugal, and is planning a trip to Prague and Vienna in 2016.

“We emphasize experiencing other cultures, to help foster understanding between people,” Peterson says.

Closer to home, the youth symphony performs at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, at The Leopold’s Crystal Ballroom, 1224 Cornwall Ave.

And, yes, young people still enjoy playing and listening to classical music.

“Classical music patterns are the basis of all styles of music,” Peterson says. “Once these sound structures are familiar, students can branch out successfully to other styles, besides cultivating a lifelong enjoyment of music and understanding of the eras in which music emerged in world history.”

Mt. Baker Youth Symphony provides performance opportunities for youth in addition to their school experience. The staff consists of numerous well-known teachers and professional musicians, including cellist and bass player Matthew Rehfeldt, bassoonist Pat Nelson and flutist Nirvana Guernsey.

The symphony received a Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award in 2002, and several former students have made careers in music as professional string quartet members, symphony players, and music teachers, Peterson says.

The students don’t stop practicing and performing when school’s out in summer. Many participate in the annual Sounds of Summer Music Festival, where they find challenges and performance training that help prepare them for further excellence in classical symphonic music, jazz, fiddling, and choral singing, Peterson says.

“The social aspects are extremely important too; having fun with musical friends in the afternoons and evenings, with sports, talent shows — usually hilarious — campfires, square and swing dancing, allows for a supportive and affirming arts environment.”

The symphony will partner in summer 2016 with Cascadia Film Workshop, under the direction of Hollywood director Mel Damski, who now lives in Bellingham, to provide film production and acting classes for the musicians. See for the registration form.

Peterson is thrilled about a concert coming up Dec. 8 at Mount Baker Theatre. The Youth Symphony is partnering with Bellingham’s Suomi Chapter of the Finlandia Foundation to present music of the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Special guest artists are Kati Vaalima, a violin soloist from Finland, who will perform three of the “Humoreskes” by Sibelius, accompanied by the Starry Night Chamber Orchestra, an adult professional group that Peterson directs.

The other guest artist is Maria Mannisto, soprano, originally from Finland, who now performs regularly in Seattle and elsewhere in the Northwest. She will sing a set of Finnish songs by Sibelius and two songs by Edvard Grieg.

The Youth Symphony will perform the Ballade and Alla Marcia from Sibelius’ Karelia Suite, “a very beautiful dark melancholy slow movement followed by a highly energetic and joyful march,” Peterson says.

The Wade King Elementary School Choir will join the orchestral groups for a rousing finale, “Finlandia,” the great tone poem that inspired a nation and contributed to a political victory for Finland.

“The December concert is a big deal,” Peterson says.

To gear up for the December event, the Nov. 2 concert will be preceded by a reception at 6:45 p.m. to benefit the Finlandia concert. The program on Nov. 2 includes “Spider Attack,” “Grandfather’s Clock,” “Ballet Parisienne” and “March Slav.”

NaNoWriMo returns to Whatcom County

What’s called the largest writing event in the world — National Novel Writing Month — provides a public way every November for people around the globe to achieve a common goal: To write 50,000 words (yes, per person) in 30 days. Writers need not be professional; in fact, it’s aimed at anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

You don’t have to do it alone in a room of your own, because Bellingham Public Library is offering meet-ups, writing sessions and author events for local NaNoWriMo participants. There’s a kickoff event from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1, at the downtown library, 210 Central Ave., and authors Vanessa Blackburn, Cory Skerry and Thom Carnell will share their experiences throughout the month.

Details:, 360-778-7217,

At the end of it all, at 7 p.m. Nov. 30, at Village Books, 1200 11th St., open mic emcee Laurel Leigh invites everyone to share their stories, poems and essays, or just come to listen. Sign up to read at the main counter on the first floor, or call 360-671-2626.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or Read her columns at

Opening Concert

When: 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2

Where: The Leopold Crystal Ballroom, 1224 Cornwall Ave.

Cost: $10 adults, $1 ages 16 and younger.

Program: Sharyn Peterson directs the symphony in “Spider Attack,” “Grandfather's Clock,” “Ballet Parisienne” and “March Slav.” The concert will be preceded by a reception to benefit the Dec. 8 Finlandia Concert at Mount Baker Theatre.

Details:, 360-421-2527