Nicole Ecklund, Sarah Jensen and Taylor McCoin practice during class Tuesday, Nov. 27. The McNary orchestra program is offering quartet performances in exchange for donations. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

The members of the McNary High School orchestra are hoping some local families are interested in a live performance in their home this holiday season.

To raise money for an excursion to Seattle, the group plans to send quartets out into the community to perform at holiday gatherings of every stripe in exchange for donations to the program.

“We’re not the same orchestra that we were last year and we’re getting up to the Salem-Keizer standard of music,” said junior Emily Wade, a violin and viola player.

In April, the orchestra will be traveling to the Emerald City for three days to compete in the Worldstrides Heritage Music Festival and take part in master’s classes and coaching at Seattle University.

Those interested in scheduling a performance should contact McNary orchestra director Damian Berdakin at

The trip is part of a revived structure implemented by Berdakin, who took the reins of the program this year. It’s given the participating musicians new purpose after cycling through five instructors in four years.

“I think a lot of people felt like the program wasn’t going anywhere and now we know it is,” said cellist Kathryn Collins. “And we’re doing better because of it.”

The last time the members got to take a trip outside the immediate area was four years ago and it was something of a one-day affair.

“It wasn’t a very enriching trip and it’s difficult to even go up and see the Portland Symphony with a friend or family,” said cellist Matthew Anderson. “It means a lot to us because most of us have been playing since the fourth grade.”

Members of the orchestra will also participate in winter concerts alongside members of the choirs and band Dec. 17 and 18 at McNary that will help raise money for the fine arts department more broadly.

It’s interesting how much credit students give to Berdakin for helping realign the program. Berdakin has an impressive resume that includes stints as a freelance musician, a opera conductor, an orchestral librarian and teacher in programs for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but he credits the changes with the students themselves.

“The world concert comes from the Latin ‘concertare,’ which means to bring into agreement. Everything that we do in orchestra music has to do with reaching agreement. It’s one of the few places in society where we get together to agree and the music is the laboratory where they get to do it away from the rest of society,” Berdakin said. “The kids think it’s me, but it’s them being good, responsible citizens because the best musician they can be is inside the best person they can be.”