Lee County Community Orchestra Association was incorporated in 1988 to provide this central area of North Carolina with a "hometown" performing orchestra to present public concerts of classical, semi-classical, and popular music. Originally sponsored by the Lee County Parks & Recreation Department, the Lee County Community Orchestra (LCCO) has grown to include a full complement of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion sections. Association members are people who provide financial assistance at four levels: donor, patron, sponsor or benefactor. The Lee County Arts Council has also provided support for LCCO through annual grass roots grants. For the first six years the Association's Board of Directors was composed chiefly of community people. Since then, orchestra musicians have provided the primary leadership for the Association.
Harlan Duenow served as the first music director of LCCO. Two conductors from Fayetteville, Jonathan Green and Martin Bellar, then directed LCCO for a few seasons each. After two transition years, one with guest conductors and one with a single-season director, the Association and LCCO enjoyed the stability of leadership brought by Dr. David Oertel, who led the orchestra for thirteen seasons. During Dr. Oertel's tenure, both the number of concerts and their quality increased. The Lee County Arts & Community Center became the main performance site. For nine years LCCO played each May at the Ole Mill Crank-up and also performed at Kiwanis Park, but now the outdoor performances take place at Depot Park. A set of Christmas concerts became a tradition, and guest soloists often added an extra dimension to the programs.
Tara Villa Keith became music director at the beginning of the 2009-2010 season. Hailing from Davidson, North Carolina, she is music director of the Davidson College Symphony Orchestra and is an associate professor of music. Since the beginning of her tenure with LCCO, the orchestra has seen an increase in the participation of high school students in the orchestra and continues to welcome musicians of all ages. LCCO has been thankful to use the Harper Family Center of First Presbyterian Church, Grace Chapel, and the McLeod Auditorium of Lee County High School as venues for some of our March concerts in order to feature our expanding ensemble as well as local and guest artists.
During its 25th Anniversary Season in 2012-2013, the orchestra performed a mix of repertoire played during its very first season. The season also included an entire concert of concertos featuring some of LCCO's finest musicians as soloists, as well as a concert of music selected exclusively by the audience. With the help of Kindermusik with Lauren Winkens and Buchanan's Music, LCCO held the first annual Instrument Petting Zoo in Depot Park before our first outdoor concert. Through the sale of LCCO commemorative bells crafted by North Cole Pottery, the orchestra raised money to cover the commission for a piece composed by Mark Petering, entitled Illumination. LCCO gave the world premiere of Illumination on October 19, 2013, and received a standing ovation.
In recent seasons LCCO has performed with a volunteer community choir, local theatre personality Peggy Taphorn, the Temple Teens, and the Sanford School of Classical Ballet. Prominent North Carolina soloists Jacquelyn Culpepper, soprano, Ilana Lubitsch, soprano, and Dan Boye, baritone, have performed with the orchestra, amongst other talented guest artists such as the piano duo of Mayumi Osada and Elisabeth Malcolm. In March 2018, trumpeter William D. Lawing gave the North American/Western Hemisphere premiere of Joe Wolfe's Trumpet Concerto, welcoming standing ovations, and in March 2019, tuba soloist Kevin Ward gave the North Carolina premiere of Brian Sadler's Journey for Tuba and Orchestra. LCCO has collaborated three times with Sanford's own FOG Blues Band, performing arrangements written by members of the orchestra. In 2019, LCCO performed with the Cliff Wheeler Band, a southern outlaw rock band that has been receiving national awards and accolades, and has been consistently hitting number one in numerous indie charts. LCCO's most highly attended guest artist concerts were those featuring celtic fiddler Jamie Laval in March 2016. Jamie visited and gave presentations for local elementary and middle school students, and also taught a fiddling master class for the LCCO musicians. LCCO was fortunate to give the world premieres of several of his arrangements.
In April 2016 & 2017, LCCO musicians performed solo and chamber works during the Sanford Arts and Vine Festival. The festival, in turn, gave generous donations to the orchestra that have helped to provide music purchases and more. During the 2016-2017 season, the orchestra was in such high demand that they were invited to participate in three extra performances: a holiday program with the Temple Teens, a fundraising event hosted by the CCCC Foundation, and an accompaniment of the fireworks during Sanford's first annual StreetFest (click here to watch a video). Most recently in 2018 & 2019, LCCO gave performances during El Refugio's International Culture Night in the Civic Center.
In the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, the orchestra was delighted to feature LCCO alumni as soloists: Hunter Cox, piano, and Emily Armstrong, mezzo-soprano. LCCO understands the importance of supporting young talent by providing them with an opportunity to perform with a full orchestra, and we look forward to featuring more alumni in future seasons.
The 2019-20 season welcomed two guest conductors, Vincent Povazsay and Wojciech Milewski, while Tara was on maternity leave. The season, however, came to an unexpected close due to the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in the cancellation of the March and May concerts. The season also marked the final one for Tara's tenure as music director. She was very sad and disappointed to leave the orchestra in this manner, but is forever grateful for having been a part of the LCCO family.
In keeping with the realities of COVID-19, Lee County Community Orchestra will not carry through with plans to salvage half the 2020-2021 season, but has cancelled the projected and much hoped for March and May concerts. LCCO will look ahead to an entirely new 2021-2022 season, with plenty of time to plan and prepare. Meanwhile, musicians continue to accept responsibility for keeping their skills sharp, whether as individuals or in small, socially distanced groups.
Although LCCO has not been able to resume regular rehearsals due to Covid restrictions (and all concerts cancelled), string players have been keeping their skills sharp. Thanks to Sanford Contractors owner Donnie Oldham, seven practice sessions on Tuesday evenings in October and November took place in the training room of the business at 628 Rocky Fork Church Road. Musicians in the violin, viola, cello and bass sections wore masks and stayed socially distanced as they rehearsed under the direction of volunteer director Jessica Simmons.
From their efforts came a recording of Christmas carols used for CCCC’s Cougar Express drive-thru holiday celebration on December 3 in the parking lot of the Dennis A. Wicker Civic & Conference Center. People greeting Santa from 5:30-7:00 pm listened to the music on their car radios tuned to the college station, WDCC 90.5 FM.
The 2020-2021 season simply will not happen. At first October and December concerts were cancelled and then March and May as well because of the reality of the lingering presence of COVID- 19 in Lee County.
Articles about LCCO
Sanford Herald Article on Karen Huey's Lifetime Achievement Award (February 2019): LCCO's beloved principal violist and secretary-manager wins a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Video with LCCO's performance at El Refugio's 2nd International Cultural Night (March 2018): LCCO was invited to perform during Sanford's International Cultural Night on March 1, 2018, directed by Jessica T. Simmons. To see the LCCO's segment, go to 10:30 in the video.
Sanford Herald Letter to the Editor (May 2013): Two audience members who attended our "Celebrating our Audience" concerts kindly wrote a letter to the editor of the Sanford Herald in praise of our performance. We are delighted to have such a supportive community!
Outreach NC Article (March 2012): An article about the LCCO, written by Carrie Frye, appeared in the March 2012 edition of Outreach NC with pictures taken by Mollie Tobias.
Article in the Lee County Star Tribune (June 2011): On June 14, 2011, an article about the LCCO appeared in the "Lee County Treasures" column of the Lee County Star Tribune, written by Lynn Sadler.