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Chelsea House Orchestra: On the Road Again (with Slideshow)

Photo by Crystal Hayduk. CHO Director Phillip Sylvester (center, red shirt) introduces the group’s graduating senior members: Maddie Dunlap, Brian Morgans, and Henry Surel.

Story and photos by Crystal Hayduk

Celtic music filled the air at the Alma Highland Festival Experience on May 28 when high school student members of the Chelsea House Orchestra (CHO) took their performance back on the road for the first time since the pandemic hiatus.

CHO, a fan favorite of the Alma crowd, has performed at the annual Alma Highland Festival and Games for many years. The COVID-19 pandemic halted the festival and other public events beginning in mid-March 2020. Due to the lengthy advance planning required, the full weekend event was canceled this year. However, as pandemic numbers declined in the spring, the planners decided to hold a one-day event to give the community a “festival flair experience in Scotland, U.S.A.” according to the event’s Facebook page.

The Alma audience bundled up against the unseasonably cold and windy weather to give CHO a warm reception. Attendees said it was a great performance and they are always happy to hear the young musicians. 

Maddie Dunlap, CHO’s elected representative of the Class of 2021, said, “Being able to perform (especially outside of Chelsea) brings so much excitement to the group. Since we haven’t had the opportunity to perform live at a festival since COVID began, it was so heartwarming to finally step on the stage once again. Traveling outside of our little town makes us feel like true rock stars, and the entire group was so thrilled to experience that feeling for the first time in a long time.

“One of the best things about Alma is the camaraderie, especially when we get to tell stories of past years at the festival. Being able to pass the torch with our CHO Alma traditions and give the underclassmen hope for future (more normal) experiences is the best feeling as a graduating senior. It gives the upperclassmen a happy satisfaction knowing that our CHO legacy will live on, and that the members in coming years will continue that even further.”

CHO is made up of string, wind, and percussion musicians who play Celtic and other folk music, which provides both students and listeners with an eclectic musical experience. In addition to performing regionally, CHO has also completed two international performance tours—to Scotland in 2016 and to China in spring of 2019.

The group was founded in 1996 by Jed Fritzemeier, who retired in 2019 after 34 years in music education. Phillip Sylvester, Chelsea High School’s (CHS) orchestra director, has been leading the group since then; he is currently assisted by Katie Rae Hayduk, a CHS graduate and former member of CHO.

CHO’s summer performance schedule currently includes Nardin Park in Farmington Hills on July 21, Williamston on July 22, and Chelsea’s Sounds and Sights on Aug. 12.

Follow CHO on the group’s Facebook page at

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