Conductor Comments

John 3


Our staff has obviously spent a great deal of time researching the archives as they prepared this year’s program book.   It has been a great experience for me to learn more about the early history of our orchestra.   Frequently 50th Anniversaries are called Golden Jubilees and I am embracing that celebratory term.   We do have many reasons to celebrate.   The Western Piedmont Symphony is an orchestra with a golden history, not just in terms of monetary support.   The volunteers and musicians that have sustained this orchestra from 1964 to present is a list that any organization would envy.    To survive in a relatively small “market” takes prudent planning and management, a degree of luck, and a great deal of dedication.

First of all let me take a moment to thank my predecessors.   I never met Albert Chafoo, but I know it takes an extraordinary individual to found one orchestra.  Maestro Chafoo founded three: Asheville, Hickory/Western Piedmont and Salisbury/Rowan County.   In music, that is clearly the stuff of legend.    Martin Bellar, the second conductor of the orchestra is coming back to celebrate with us in November.   His legacy involves the growth of the orchestra from a purely volunteer ensemble to an orchestra of primarily vocational musicians and he was a founder/builder too.  In 1972 he organized the Western Piedmont Youth Symphony, and laid the groundwork for a string program in the Hickory City Schools that would be led so effectively by James Dellinger from Appalachian State University.   Martin also hired an assistant conductor Richard Hughey who would succeed him and would provide the leadership that would turn the Western Piedmont Symphony into a fully-professional orchestra.  He also created the first orchestra-sponsored string quartet.

I also celebrate the legacy of Mr. T.R. Kramer, whose courage and vision led to the founding of the orchestra.   His young son-in-law became our first Executive Director, though we had to share Charles Jeffers with his first love, the Hickory Community Theatre.   Marian and Joe Belk came from Charlotte , made Hickory their musical home and provided musical and administrative leadership for many years.   Richard Norment III, our principal trumpet player, was also an important musical leader and a trusted advisor and friend of this orchestra. Martha “Marty” Will served as Concertmaster for many of those early years and was still a “force” when I came around in 1991.   In the late 90’s she shared the stage with her daughter Lisa and her granddaughter Jennifer.  Marty played with us into her early 80’s, and it meant a lot to me to have that intergenerational thread running through our history.   Violinist Leroy Sellers began his career with the orchestra in the second season making our orchestra one of the first integrated ensembles in North Carolina and the South.  Leroy was an important part of the history of this orchestra and an important and highly valued counselor to me for many years.   We also honor musicians like Phil Barringer who have continued to play with this orchestra with some brief timeouts for college and career.

This is a community and region with a rich and diverse musical tradition of church music anchored by our Lutheran brothers and sisters and Lenoir-Rhyne University, traditional American string music and luthiers to create those instruments, great school bands led by the legacy of Lenoir High School and Captain Harper, and of course a fine symphony orchestra that is the envy of many larger cities and towns because of our musicians’ dedication and quality.

Certainly we face significant challenges of funding and inadequate facilities.  Competition from a variety of sophisticated technological advances that encourages less personal interaction has affected not only the arts, but the very social fabric of human interaction.  Music and the arts, however, are still one of the anchors of our broader community and we must not lose the vision of those who gave us the leadership to make that possible today.   We realize that future of live music is inextricably linked to the presence of live audiences, though we welcome our new  audience via recording, live-streaming and other media.   Those of you who are taking the time to read these words have as much to do with our survival and success as you pass down your love of music to your children and grandchildren.  We thank you and ask you to continue to encourage your friends and family to discover the musical wonders that we offer.    Together, let us work and play together to offer our future generations even greater reasons to celebrate our 100th anniversary in 2064!




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