The Dexter Community Orchestra

A History of Symphonic Excellence

At 3:00 PM on January 22, 2006, the baton dropped, and the Dexter Community Orchestra (DCO) made its debut by playing the first notes of the New World Symphony by Antonin Dvorak. The DCO was born, and the town of Dexter and the local communities would have a new musical group to enjoy for many years to come. The DCO is now celebrating its 14th season!

Since 2006, the DCO has played over 70 concerts and hundreds of orchestral works. There have been great successes including various musical collaborations, the Musical Taste of Dexter and the Petting Zoo and also unique challenges like dealing with the tornado of 2012 and the passing of several beloved musicians and conductors. Overall, the DCO has been a mutually enjoyable experience for both the musicians and the community.


The Dexter Community Orchestra was conceived in the summer of 2005 due to the creative genius of the founding conductor, the late Don Parrish. In the summer of 2004, Don applied for a conducting position with a local orchestra but was never contacted. So Don, never one to give up on his dreams, began planning for a community orchestra in Dexter along with a few other believers. He put an ad in the local newspaper to welcome all musicians to come to the first rehearsal of the Dexter Community Orchestra in September, 2005. He was quite surprised when over 50 people showed up, with many of them accomplished band and orchestra players. After the rehearsal, one person commented that “this is wonderful to be playing orchestral music.” Subsequently, the DCO was officially chartered as a musical group dedicated to cultural enrichment through symphonic music with the following objectives:
• To create and maintain a non-profit community orchestra
• To offer qualified instrumentalists from Dexter and surrounding communities an opportunity to perform symphonic music
• To foster music education for both youth and adult
• To contribute to the enhancement of performing arts in the Dexter community.

After the initial concert in 2006, word spread throughout Dexter as to the quality of the orchestra. The audience began to grow, and now the DCO has a faithful following with the Dexter community.


One of the core objectives of the DCO is to contribute to the enhancement of performing arts in the Dexter community. In support of that objective, the DCO has embarked on numerous collaborations. The DCO teamed up with the Washtenaw Community Orchestra Chorus for the Holiday concert in December, 2011.

For the December, 2012 Holiday concert, the DCO joined forces with the orchestras from the Dexter High School as well as the Washtenaw Orchestra Chorus. In the orchestra, DCO players were paired with a high school player. Feedback from the high school students was very positive, and the audience enjoyed the full sound of music and chorus.

Additionally, since its inception, the DCO has hosted numerous renowned local and national musicians.

Student Performances

Another core objective of the DCO is to foster music education for both youth and adult. In this regard, the DCO sponsors a youth competition each spring. Interested youth musicians perform before a small group of DCO musicians and the music director and a finalist is selected. This person then gets to perform with the DCO at the spring concert. Over the years, the DCO has been fortunate to host some incredibly talented young musicians across a variety of instruments including French horn, cello, violin, piano and clarinet.

Gazebo Concerts

Starting in June, 2007, the DCO was invited to play the inaugural concert at the gazebo in Monument Park to kick off the Summer Music Series offered by the Dexter Chamber of Commerce. From a humble start with a few audience members, the June DCO Pops concert has grown to be a do-not-miss event. It is typical to see many audience members waving American flags during the marches and singing along with the Broadway show tunes.

New Conductor

In 2008, as founding conductor Don Parrish prepared for retirement, a search was launched for a new music director of the DCO. The DCO Board of Directors decided to take a unique and innovative approach to finding the new director, and that was to let the orchestra members decide who they wanted to have as their new leader. A number of directors were invited to conduct a rehearsal, and from that group three finalists were selected. Over the course of the 2009-2010 concert season each director managed rehearsals and conducted one concert. At the end of the concert season, a vote was taken, and Anthony Elliott was selected as the new music director.


An unlikely event occurred on a Thursday in March, 2012, when the town of Dexter was hit by a violent tornado. There was much damage to homes and property. Coincidently, the DCO was scheduled to play a concert on the following Sunday. However, the usual concert venue, the Dexter High School, was not available as it was being used as a command center for disaster relief efforts. After some discussion, it was decided to move the concert to the Saline High School. After last minute arrangements, the concert went off without a hitch to a small but enthusiastic crowd of DCO faithful. It is noted that the DCO donated half of the donations received at the concert to the Dexter Tornado Relief Fund.

Chamber Series

As a means to further extend the reach of the DCO into the community, the DCO Chamber Concerts were initiated in April, 2012. The concerts are held on a periodic basis at the Dexter Library and feature various chamber music groups formed with members of the DCO and special guests. The intimate setting of the Library and the embracing nature of Chamber music played by talented musicians creates a very enjoyable experience for the audience. The recent Chamber concert in April, 2015 was a standing-room only event!

Dexter Daze Petting Zoo

To further the objective of music education for both youth and adult, the DCO sponsors a “Petting Zoo” as the Dexter Daze festival in August each year. The Petting Zoo is a booth where a variety of string instruments are available for children and teens to touch and try out the instruments. This gives them a chance to experience an instrument up close in a very friendly environment. Various DCO musicians are on hand to help the visitors with the instruments and assist them in playing a simple tune. Because of the Zoo sparking their interest in playing an instrument, the Dexter School System has reported an increase in students electing to play string instruments in school.

Musical Taste of Dexter

While the DCO performs its concerts for free, there are still costs associated with the group’s operation. There is rental cost for rehearsal space and for the concert venue. Often there is a license fee to rent orchestral music. Also, special guests of national stature are compensated for their appearance. As such, there is a need to raise funds through donations or other fund raising events. In the spring of 2013, a fund raiser called the Musical Taste of Dexter (MTOD) was envisioned and was held in September, 2013. The MTOD brings together local restaurants, bakeries, catering companies and local companies with chamber musicians for an afternoon of music and food tasting. The event has been an unqualified success and has achieved its goal of raising funds for the operation of the orchestra. It has become another do-not-miss event from the DCO.

Hill Auditorium

As part of the 10th season of DCO, arrangements were made to play the Holiday concert at the renowned Hill Auditorium on the campus of the University of Michigan. This was well received by many orchestra members who expressed that “the DCO has made the big time!” As with past Holiday performances, the December, 2015 concert was a collaboration with the DCO, the Dexter High School orchestras and the Washtenaw Orchestra Chorus. The concert was very successful and thoroughly enjoyed by the audience.

14th Season

Over the past 14 years, there have been so many great DCO concerts with a multitude of talented musicians and special guests. The DCO has been very well received by the Dexter community and has achieved its core objective to contribute to the enhancement of performing arts in the Dexter community. The DCO is most grateful for the enthusiastic support from the Dexter community and looks forward to another 14 years of providing more great symphonic music!