The lights in Carnegie Music Hall go dim and an audience becomes silent. David Koes, a Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science alum, lifts his hands over his cello, preparing to perform for the first time in the historical venue with his fellow members of the All University Orchestra (AUO).
It's a proud moment for Koes, who founded the AUO while he was still an undergrad in 1998. At the time, it was extremely difficult for non-music majors to play in an orchestra at Carnegie Mellon. Now, 10 years later, AUO boasts more than 70 members representing all of the seven colleges in the university — including 45 different majors, both undergraduate and graduate.
According to AUO Director Maria Sensi Sellner, many students who come to Carnegie Mellon have a musical background but choose their careers in a number of other disciplines.
"AUO gives these students the opportunity to continue music-making as a part of their lives," Sellner said. "The students are tremendously excited and committed."
Koes explains why he founded the group, which meets weekly on Sundays from 7:30 to 10 p.m.
"Even though I chose to pursue a career in computer science, I liked playing the cello and I wanted to continue playing," said Koes. "And I find that playing in an ensemble is even more satisfying than playing alone."
Apparently, he isn't the only one. One year, Koes canceled a rehearsal during Spring Carnival. He thought everyone would be too busy with other obligations — but some members showed up anyway.
"They came to me saying, 'I need this time every week. It's my outlet. I need it even more during the stressful weeks.'"
Sellner adds that membership in the orchestra is open without audition, although many perform at a very high level — allowing the ensemble to focus on serious symphonic repertoire.
In the past few years, for example, they have performed Brahms' "Symphony No. 2," Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture," and Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
They have also performed with guest soloists from the School of Music, including the Repertory Chorus.