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TACO: Local orchestra has appetite for imperfection


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Members of the Los Altos-based Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra put their spin on classical music at a rehearsal. Despite the modesty implied in the title, the group comprises serious musicians who enjoy playing together.

The Los Altos-based Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra (TACO) comprises a group of musicians who meet monthly to play the classics.

In addition to regular gatherings, where musicians of all ages and skill levels sight-read through arrangements of well-known symphonies, baroque numbers, show tunes and other popular music, the orchestra members have opportunities to perform at other special events.

The orchestra joined music education students at San Jose State University in concert last month, and in August, three musicians from TACO will travel to Scotland to join the original Really Terrible Orchestra in concert at the summer Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

For a low-pressure orchestra that prides itself on its lack of perfectionism and requires little practice, performance is out of character. However, occasional performance opportunities are meant to share the easy-going nature of making music with TACO, according to TACO founder and conductor Cathy Humphers Smith.

“It’s never perfect – and it’s not meant to be,” Smith said. “In TACO, music making is fun, sometimes familiar and always joyful.”

Sharing the stage

Students in the Music Educator’s Workshop Ensemble at San Jose State study second instruments with the goal of becoming music teachers. Every spring, they produce a concert to demonstrate their competency on their second instruments. The ensemble invited TACO musicians to participate in this year’s event, held April 24.

“For TACO musicians, it represents a chance to show students that playing music is a joy that can stay with you throughout your life, even if you don’t become a professional musician and even if you don’t play in a regularly performing group,” Smith said. “It’s also an opportunity for TACO musicians to challenge themselves to perform with the TACO mindset of joyful music making.”

TACO in Scotland

TACO is one of five “Terrible” orchestras in the United States. The original Really Terrible Orchestra of Scotland, founded by author Alexander McCall Smith, inspired the loosely connected American offspring. In mid-August, the five U.S. orchestras will send 15 musicians to represent their home orchestras and perform in concert with the original Real Terrible Orchestra at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The original Real Terrible Orchestra specializes in humorous musical experiences by the “musically disadvantaged and tonally challenged,” according to its founders.

Despite being able to play relatively well, the musicians cherish and embrace the idea that “bad is good and dreadful is better,” Smith said. Comprising adults who are dusting off instruments after years of storage in closets and others learning to play musical instruments as part of their bucket lists, the Real Terrible Orchestra spearheads a movement to ensure that music-making is accessible to all, despite lack of training or practice, she added.

Three members of the woodwind section of the local Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra will travel to Scotland for the performance, scheduled Aug. 23 in Edinburgh’s Canongate Church.

Membership information

TACO, a course offered through the Los Altos Recreation Department, meets 2-5 p.m. the last Sunday of each month at the Los Altos Youth Center, 1 San Antonio Road.

TACO is under the fiscal sponsorship of the Los Altos Community Foundation and receives grants and donations that help fund its music library and special projects.

For membership details and more information, visit tacosv.com.

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