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Mendon Resident Hits a High Note Taking Part in BSO Program

Ellis O'Donnell poses with her nephew and niece Jack and Zoe O'Donnell during her concert at Symphony Hall. Contributed photo

Nearly a month later, one can still hear the excitement in Mendon resident Ellis O'Donnell's voice as she speaks about her recent participation in the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Onstage Symphony Program.

The BSO's program brought together 100 amateur musicians from around the state who were led through three days of rehearsals with Conductor Thomas Wilkins which then culminated with a concert on January 14 in Symphony Hall. "It was a fabulous, fabulous experience," exclaimed the 64-year-old flutist. "It really exceeded my expectations."

The musicians were selected through a lottery system after an application was submitted noting their years of experience, groups played with, and why they wanted to participate. "I saw something about it on Facebook and filled out the application immediately," said the flutist.

O'Donnell began playing her instrument when she was 10-years-old in the basement boiler room of the then Clough Elementary School saying "I just fell in love with the sounds of the flute." Growing up, she performed with the Milford Area Youth Orchestra conducted by Boots Mussulli and played at the Boston Globe and Newport Jazz Festivals. She also played with the Worcester Youth Symphony and continued to perform throughout her college years. These days, in addition to her work in computer software, she teaches flute at her home, and still plays concerts and at weddings and funerals. "It's a constant companion for me," she says of her music. "I love that there's always music to play and room to improve."

And what was it like to play for BSO Conductor Thomas Wilkins? "He was such an extraordinary human being," she said. "He brought out the absolute best in everybody." The musicians were given their music in advance to practice prior to rehearsals beginning. "Because of that, I wasn't really nervous," she said. "I was more excited than anything."

O'Donnell recalled a fond memory of her first rehearsal with Wilkins saying, "We were working on our first piece together as a full orchestra. After we finished, I thought I played pretty well. He walked toward me, put his hands on my music stand and then bends over and plants a kiss on my forehead and said 'Make sure you have fun with this.' I'll never forget that."

Part of the goal of the BSO's Symphony Program is to introduce new audiences to classical music and Symphony Hall. "My guests at the concert proved what a success that idea is," said O'Donnell, who had a number of family members, friends, and co-workers attend the free concert. "It was such a special treat for me to have my niece and nephew see and hear me in such a wonderful performance."


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