Norman Nelson, founder of the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra, died Friday at the age of 86. (Jack Most photo)

Sooke remembers Norman Nelson

Founder of Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra dies at 86

One of Sooke’s most beloved citizens has died.

Norman Nelson died early Friday morning after a long illness. He was 86.

Nelson founded the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sooke Harmony Project.

Orchestra members described Nelson to be like an oak tree, as he firmly stood before them and “conducted with such power.”

“The orchestra is just one of his many branches, and each person he has influenced is like one of his leaves. Things will be very different without him, but we will take what we learned from him and carry it on with us,” said Trevor MacHattie, a member of the orchestra since 2006.

“I’ll miss his sense of humour, his optimism, but most of all I’ll miss a good friend.”

Nelson founded the orchestra in 1997 and led a group of 14 musicians through their first symphony concert in June 1998.

Now, the orchestra has more than 60 members, and 12 of the original 14 musicians still perform with it today.

“He was a brilliant musician with a magical, electric personality and an incredible ear,” said Lee Anderson, who has been a violinist with the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra since it first began.

“He just radiated passion, and encouraged everyone to play and love music the way he did.”

Bob Whittet, a friend of Nelson’s and past president of the orchestra, said Nelson and his wife Jenny have created a legacy in Sooke by starting up the orchestra and devoting so much time to it over the last 20 years.

“He drew people in, and has touched everyone around him,” said Whittet. “I think people are blown away when they hear music from the orchestra, especially in a small town like Sooke. I certainly am, and I think that’s why I’ve stayed on the board for all these years.”

RELATED: Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra celebrates 20th anniversary

Another one of Nelson’s “branches,” is The Harmony Project, which is intended to help develop young musicians.

“The Harmony Project impacts lives and has helped kids find their passion and purpose,” said Brent Straughan, a friend of Nelson’s who volunteers with The Harmony Project and plays violin in the orchestra.

Music helped Nelson find his purpose, as he began learning the violin at the age of 10. Five years later, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London where he studied privately and learned from professional musicians.

He then joined the London Symphony Orchestra as an assistant concertmaster, and later held the same position with the Royal Philharmonic. When he moved to Canada, he taught music in both Edmonton and Vancouver.

“He had a lifetime of experience before coming to Sooke, and when teaching us, he would break down each song bar by bar until it sounded right,” Straughan said.

“He was the best musician I have ever met, but he was never judgmental, and he had this marvellous ability to work with even the most inexperienced people.”

Nelson played with professional musicians in orchestras in London many times, but told the Sooke News Mirror last year, that he preferred to work with amateur musicians like he did in Sooke because of their enthusiasm and lack of politics.

“Amateur musicians are what keep us all going. They love playing music, that’s all there is to it,” he said.

Nelson added he enjoyed working with the Sooke Philharmonic because all of the members are very nice and comfortable people.

Sonja Dewit, who has played cello for the Sooke Philharmonic since it first started, said Nelson built a small community out of the orchestra.

“We aren’t just a collection of people who play together sometimes, we are all like a family, and it’s because of him,” Dewit said. “He was so generous with his time, and brought everyone together. And we will give it everything we’ve got to keep the orchestra going in Norman’s memory.”

A Facebook page has been created where people can share their memories of Nelson, as well as find old photos and stories about his life.

A public celebration of Nelson’s life will be held March 10 at the Sooke Community Hall beginning at 3:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome as the Philharmonic Orchestra, chorus, along with former members and students of Nelson’s will be performing.

The upcoming Emily Carr String Quartet concert happening in Sooke on Feb. 28 will also dedicated to Nelson.

RELATED: Emily Carr Quartet to perform in Sooke

Just Posted

Victoria Women’s Expo showcases the latest trends

Over 100 vendors feature lots of beauty, health, food, jewelry products and more

Songhees Wellness Centre event immersed in indigenous cuisine and culture

Camosun and Songhees cook together for reconciliation while fundraising for student scholarship fund at March 23 event

‘Killer’ teaches boxing basics

Step-by-step moves can be practised at home

Roses – for beauty and bees

For decades I’ve envied my sister’s ability to grow stunning roses. She… Continue reading

VIDEO: B.C. Mounties reunite veteran with lost military medals

RCMP say Zora Singh Tatla, who served in the army in India for 28 years, is the righful owner

Women’s Expo seeks to empower women this weekend

Victoria Women’s Expo set for Saturday and Sunday at Pearkes Recreation Centre

Federal government seeks public feedback on pedestrian safety

What safety measures do you think need to improved for pedestrians and cyclists?

Experts urging caution as rabbits die by the hundreds in B.C. city

Province of B.C. confirms more positive tests for rabbit haemorrhagic disease

Canucks snap scoreless streak but fall short in 5-3 loss to Sharks

Swiss forward Timo Meier nets two, including the game-winner, to lead San Jose

4 facts to ring in St. Patrick’s Day

What do you really know about the Irish celebration?

Search continues for 10-year-old Montreal boy missing since Monday

Montreal police said they are exploring every possibility in search for Ariel Jeffrey Kouakou

Airline passenger-rights bill claws back protections for travellers: Advocate

Bill C-49 would double tarmac delays, scrap compensation for flights affected by mechanical failures

UPDATED: ‘New wave’ of anti-pipeline protests return to Trans Mountain facility

About 100 demonstrators with Protect the Inlet marched to the Burnaby terminal Saturday

Most Read