Editorial: A symphony with purpose

Published 11:33 am Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Salisbury Symphony Orchestra kicked off its 50th season of making music for the people of Rowan County and beyond on Saturday night. That’s cause for both celebration and a quick history lesson.

How many people know that this highbrow endeavor began as a joint project between historically black Livingstone College and predominantly white Catawba College? Livingstone President Samuel Duncan first came up with the idea and  reached out to Catawba President Donald C. Dearborn in 1966 to establish a symphony. The colleges and the Salisbury City School System hired Albert Chaffoo to organize the orchestra and teach at the colleges. The first concert was presented on Nov. 6, 1967, in Keppel Auditorium at Catawba. Chaffoo stayed with the organization 15 years.

Things have changed through the decades, but every year the schedule includes a performance by the North Carolina Symphony. The Salisbury orchestra is now a professional orchestra, pulling in 45 to 90 musicians from Rowan and the surrounding region to perform four concerts on the Catawba and Livingstone campuses each year. The orchestra’s repertoire ranges from early classical works to recent pops selections. A holiday addition — and now tradition — has been “The Nutcracker,” a timeless ballet presented in conjunction with Piedmont Dance Theater. (Mark your calendars for Dec. 17 and 18.)

Music Director David Hagy, with the Salisbury Symphony since the summer of 1988, has been a driving force behind the group’s success. Though classical music has a snobbish reputation, the Salisbury Symphony and Hagy have worked hard to make their music as accessible as possible, drawing in people who might not know Beethoven from Bach, but they like what they hear. The incorporation of children’s choruses in some performances exposes them and their families to the classics. And then there’s Pops at the Post, an outdoor concert held downtown each June, with the orchestra performing under the open shed behind the Salisbury Post. Admission is free; you can’t get much more open than that.

The Salisbury Symphony is a point of pride for Salisburians, who know that few communities our size are able to sustain such a priceless resource. That has been made possible by generous benefactors,  ingenious people behind the scenes and, of course, talented musicians. The only musicians who get rich in this country are rock stars and recording artists, Hagy has said. That may be so, but the Salisbury Symphony Orchestra has been enriching the lives of people in Salisbury and Rowan for 50 years. We thank and applaud them all.