Rollins graduate leaves musical mark on community

March 12, 2015 Features

CaptureIt is a bright Sunday in Leesburg on February 15. At half-past 2 p.m., excited members of the Hawthorne at Leesburg Retirement Community begin to flock into Dan Gorden Hall for a special debut concert. 18 musicians dressed in black tie take the stage, one of which is the founder of the orchestra. Yaniv Cohen’s slim build walks across the stage with the calm collectiveness of a professional. He takes his seat and runs a hand through his brown curls. Moments later, the conductor takes the stage and the applause is silenced by the sound of the first down stroke as each instrument begins to sing. In 2013 Cohen graduated from Rollins College with two degrees: Music—focusing on viola performance—and English Literature. Now, less than two years later, he is founder of the Florida Metropolitan Orchestra, an orchestra he put together while organizing and opening his own violin shop in Melbourne. “Truth be told, I always wanted to do chamber music. I wanted to be in a string quartet,” said Cohen, “but I didn’t have the opportunity to really focus on that because the players were never available or weren’t up to the caliber that I would expect. This orchestra is the avenue by which I begin to realize this ambition.” But Cohen’s accomplishments did not happen overnight. Music aside, Cohen’s love for literature helped hone his business sense. “I really enjoyed writing about economic socialization and feminism, but particularly focused on the written materials of different arts organizations,” said Cohen. “I decided to study the rhetoric of the different orchestras’ promotional materials, how they asked for money, and how they approach the audience.” Cohen made sure he was performing as much as possible outside of college to gain experience. Even after graduation, Cohen continues to play at weddings and other events, but to stay active in the music business, it all comes down to who you know and how you present yourself. “Most people see a 24-year-old, let alone one with just a bachelor’s degree, and they think ‘what is this kid doing?’” said Cohen. “The way in which I’ve coped with that is to be ultra-professional. Everything I do has to be that much better.” His violin shop began four years ago under the guiding eye of master luthier Saul Cornell in the interest of finding another vocation that could move forward with his performing. Cohen attended the Violin Craftsmanship Institute in New Hampshire and worked for Atlantic Strings in addition to his training with Cornell. “There are some instruments I’ve put 40 hours of labor into, and a couple that just needed a sound adjustment and a fresh set of strings,” said Cohen. Cohen’s day job supports his orchestra. Cohen wakes up at 6:45 a.m. every morning, downs a cup of coffee and a banana, and teaches general music, strings, and choir at the Palm Bay Academy in Melbourne until 3 p.m. “I’m what you call a freelance violist,” said Cohen. “We [the musicians in Florida] always joke around that we’re part of the I-95 symphony because we’re constantly driving all over Florida from one gig to the next, and it’s really the same large group of people doing the playing.” Even with his day job and a busy violin shop, the budget for the Florida Metropolitan Orchestra’s debut concert remained modest. Because of this, the program was limited to a string orchestra for this concert. He asked Dr. Laszlo Marosi to be the conductor for this event. Cohen hopes to keep the Florida Metropolitan Orchestra running, especially during the summer when a lot of musicians need more work. However, he has to be careful when plowing full steam ahead with his new orchestra. “We already have so many different orchestras in Florida,” said Cohen. “The question is how to navigate the politics of those orchestras, because I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. So I again looked at all their materials, looked at their audiences, and said ‘I need to find a niche.’” He found one in the inner communities of retirement homes and churches. “In working exclusively with retirement communities and churches, we are avoiding taking donors from any other established groups,” he said. “We are also providing a service for people who would otherwise not have access to these kinds of performances.” There are two opera singers on the program: mezzo-soprano Jenna Doulong and baritone D’Vonte Chapman. Doulong graduated from Rollins in 2013 and Chapman is currently a senior. “This is a very professional experience in comparison to just performing at school,” said Doulong. “The energy I got from the audience was different, and yet very positive. What made it magical was that an entire room of strangers was captivated by the orchestra and I.” But where does Cohen go from here? “I don’t think I was ever meant to be just a performer,” said Cohen. “I need to create, to build, and I hope that the existing arts organizations realize I can do that for them too.

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