It was 1976 and there were few arts organizations in Surrey – at the time considered a mere suburb of Vancouver.
But Lucille Lewis had a vision. Budding young musicians, she thought, needed an orchestra of their own where they could learn and perform and grow.
After all, Vancouver had established a youth symphony 40 years earlier.
And so the Surrey Symphony Society was born. With just 17 members at the outset, the group quickly blossomed, much like the booming city around it.
Hundreds of kids and teens toting their violins and cellos and French horns have played with the group over the past three-and-a-half decades.
There are now three orchestras – the junior strings, intermediate strings and Surrey Youth Orchestra – comprised of about 125 talented youth.
But this year is bitter sweet for Lewis. While the symphony is celebrating 35 years, she’s counting this as her last.
Lewis, the founding president of the society and youth orchestra conductor, is retiring.
And while she has come now to terms with leaving, she wasn’t so at ease with the notion when she first gave her notice last year.
“Originally I had a lot of mixed feelings about it,” she says.
Now, she admits she’s quite excited about further pursuing her tennis game – which she only took up eight years ago – and spending time at her new vacation home in California.
She’s leaving the symphony society in good hands and hopes that as Surrey heads toward being the largest city in B.C., the society might one day outshine Vancouver’s youth symphony and become the first choice for young musicians provincewide.
In the meantime, however, she has no doubt her biggest reward has been the connections she’s made with hundreds of students over the years.
“Now and again you’ll run into somebody or, out of the blue, you’ll get a note from one of the kids and you feel like ‘oh my gosh – what we’re doing here really does matter,’ ” she says.
A reception honouring Lewis’s contribution to youth and music will be held in conjunction with the society’s 35th anniversary concert on May 14 at the Bell Performing Arts Centre.
Anyone, including alumni of the orchestra, is invited to attend.
“I would love to see as many former students as can come,” Lewis says. “I’d love that.”
Tickets ($17.50 for adults and $10.50 for seniors, students and alumni) are available by calling 604-572-9225 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.