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One Lovely, Terrible Orchestra

A troupe of Fort Wayne musicians is playing “terrible” music to entertain the city and bring themselves a little happiness.

A group of roughly 30 former instrumentalists calling themselves the Fort Wayne Terrible Orchestra have been meeting for the last few years, blowing the rust off their musical skills and creating some good times.

“The purpose was, and is,” said Debra Graham, conductor of the group, “for those who haven’t played their instruments in a while to get a chance to play with others again, in a fun, non-judgmental setting!

“They have a place where they have no real pressure, and they gain fulfillment from the experience of a real orchestra setting,” she added.

The ensemble began about four years ago, Graham said, as a class with the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department. That grew into a group that regularly met at the First Missionary Baptist Church in the spring of 2020.

“After COVID-19 hit, we took a break, then just had a strings-only ensemble, then slowly added back winds and brass and percussion,” Graham noted.

Graham said the group currently plays a few times a year in various venues around the city. One member who said that experience has been a very rewarding one is Jeff Moss.

Moss said his journey with the Orchestra started when he took violin lessons after not having played for years.

“I always wanted to pick my instrument up again more seriously at this time in my life,” Moss said, “so I scheduled a private lesson with Emily Thompson, who has an MS in performing violin. During the lesson, Emily gave me a list of three things to work on, and so I went away to do so.

“A couple of months later, she sent me an email suggesting I approach Deb (Graham) about playing in her returning instrumentalist group. I did so, and here I am.”

He added the orchestra wouldn’t have been such a success without Graham’s leadership.

“Deb is very driven, and yet quite engaging as a conductor. Over the years, and as a kid, I dealt with conductors whose personalities were not as engaging as Deb’s.

“I think the FWTO (Fort Wayne Terrible Orchestra) would not be the success it was if it was not for her. She maintains a sufficient distance as to be effective with her demands for us, without becoming overbearing.

“This is important – at least to me – because, as I’ve pointed out to her, I’m here to have fun,” he continued. “If the music requires me to be ‘all business,’ then I have other things to do in my retirement.

“Deb gets that, and somehow motivates me and us to be our best with the time we’re willing to spend together,” said Moss, a 65-year-old design engineer.

Graham added that the group has been a haven for many of its members looking to find a way to cope with the ongoing COVID crisis.

“Many expressed how it has helped them through the pandemic, and is still helping them forget their problems for two hours. Playing an instrument is a unique mental and emotional experience that studies have shown can help psychological and emotional well being.”

The group currently meets at the First Missionary Church at 701 W. Rudisill Blvd. Their 10-week session was scheduled to start on Feb. 21. This session culminates with an informal concert on May 2, according to Graham.

Graham proudly said her group doesn’t just offer one positive, but several.

“It gives community, music, belonging, teamwork – orchestra gives so much.”

To learn more about the group, or to sign up yourself, visit the group’s Face book page or their website, at www.fwterribleorchestra.com

Michael Morrissey
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Michael Morrissey

Michael is a professional writer and journalist. He attended South Side High School and Northwestern University. He has written for newspapers in Michigan City, Indiana; Pekin, Illinois; and Bradenton, Florida. He also has written for and edited websites in Florida and San Francisco, California. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer