BRATTLEBORO -- The first notes played by the Windham Orchestra at rehearsal Monday were not what conductor Hugh Keelan had in mind ... at all.
As he waved his baton and summoned what he thought would be the opening notes of Saint-Saens' Rondo Capriccioso, Keelan was instead treated to a rendition of "Happy Birthday" in his honor.
Joke -- and song -- well-played, the orchestra went about its business, but it was the first of many delightful surprises that unfolded during the evening.
And now those surprises are yours for the enjoying, as well.
The Windham Orchestra invites the community to celebrate the first day of spring by strolling down to the Latchis Theatre at noon today for lunch and music. All are invited to join the Orchestra for "A Magic Garden," a special lunchtime performance to benefit Senior Meals, on Thursday.
Not available for lunch? No problem. The program will be performed on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., at Green Mountain Union High School in Chester.
A diverse collection of musical gems, the program celebrates local composers, young musicians and the work of programs like Senior Meals which help the older folks in our communities.
"A Magic Garden" includes the premieres of works by two local composers, Jeff Stamler and Dan Seiden; performances by the Orchestra's 2014 Youth Concerto Competition co-winners, Alexander Yakub, violin, and Nathaniel Steele, cello; Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, featuring violinist Peggy Spencer and oboist Jessica Moreau; and Ravel's Mother Goose Suite.
The first part of Monday's rehearsal was given over to Seiden's "Blues for Orchestra," which will be performed by his students from Putney Central School, other students from the Green Street School, and the Windham Orchestra.
A musician from New York City, Seiden led rock bands in the 1990s, playing clubs such as CBGB and the Wetlands. He has written songs for and played with Lisa Loeb and Jewell, and he admitted to being both nervous and very excited about having the Windham Orchestra play his piece.
Seiden and the young musicians are a tough act to follow, but the two Youth Concerto Competition winners were the next to work with the orchestra on Monday, and they proved up to the task.
"This is just ridiculous, the quality that we're dealing with," exclaimed Keelan.
The Windham Orchestra's 28th Annual Concerto Competition, for young musicians, was held in February. Emerging from the competitive field were co-winners cellist Nathaniel Steele, 14, who attends high-school in Deerfield, Mass.; and violinist Alexander "Sasha" Yakub, 17, who attends high-school in Amherst, Mass. Nate will perform Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto No. 1, Allegro Molto. Alexander will perform Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.
"It's absolutely wonderful," said Yakub on his chance to play with the Windham Orchestra. "It's really nice to be able to contribute to local things like this."
"I just feel honored to play with the orchestra," said Steele. "I love playing with the orchestra. It's a whole new experience for me."
The orchestra also introduces local resident Jeff Stamler as its featured Citizen Composer with the premiere of his "Bossa Nova."
In this arrangement and orchestration of Stamler's work, originally composed on guitar, Keelan has harnessed symphonic instrumentation in exploration of bossa nova's harmonic potential.
Growing up in a family steeped in music -- his second cousin is piano virtuoso Abbey Simon -- Stamler studied guitar and played in pop music groups through the years.
An attorney, he moved to Brattleboro in 2000, and renovated a home on Western Avenue where he lives with his daughters, Allie and Lindsay.
Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 is being played by Peggy Spencer, violin, and Jessica Moreaux, oboe. French composer Ravel's enchanting Mother Goose Suite (Ma mère l'oye) completes the program.
Today's noon performance, at the Latchis Theatre is a benefit concert to support the Brattleboro Senior Meals and Meals-On-Wheels programs. Concert-goers are invited to bring their lunch. Tickets for the concert are $10.
For Saturday's 7:30 p.m. concert in Chester, the orchestra invites audience members to name their ticket price, choosing anywhere from $5 to $65 for admission (open seating). All proceeds help to support the orchestra.
Advance tickets are available by calling the Brattleboro Music Center at 802-257-4523 or at bmcvt.org.
For more information about the orchestra visit windhamorchestra.org.