Launching a Cultural Contribution: History of LaGrange Symphony Orchestra
By Forrest Clark Johnson, III, County Historian, Troup County, Georgia
The LaGrange Symphony Orchestra gave its first concert on January 14, 1990. The idea originated in 1989 with Harry Kruger, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Symphony. He broached the subject with cellist and LaGrange College Professor, Dr. David Naglee. They enlisted the assistance of Dr. Walter Y. Murphy, then President of LaGrange College, whose enthusiastic response assured the success of the venture.
The three men, backed by college and community, decided to “give it a try” and sent out notices for auditions. The original name was LaGrange College-Community Orchestra. By the first concert, presented free as a gift to the community, there were 72 musicians from East Alabama and West Georgia, a Board of Directors, and several backers. They debuted at LaGrange College’s Price Theatre; the other two performances of season one were held at Berta Weathersbee Auditorium. The name change, to Lagrange Symphony Orchestra, occurred before the third concert. The second season began in October of 1990.
By founding LaGrange Symphony Orchestra, they launched a cultural contribution long needed in this area whose mission “ to enrich the community through music” has expanded each successive season of its twenty year history. The area covered by “community” has expanded along with support from and involvement in the community. Interaction with other Performing Arts groups strengthens their value to and visibility within the cultural life of LaGrange and environs. The creation of the LaGrange Symphony Guild in April of 1991 expanded community and financial support and led to annual Pops Concerts and “My Favorite Things” Luncheons and a bi-annual Garden Tour.
In 2001, Dr. Kruger retired and Dr. Patricio Cobos, internationally renowned musician and maestro, became the second Music Director and Conductor. Every season since he first “lifted the baton,” performance levels and professional reputation have increased significantly.
LaGrange Symphony Orchestra began free, annual Children’s Concerts in 1992, supported by Junior Service League and local schools. Each year, they give two free concerts (one in Georgia, one in Alabama) to over 3,500 public, private, and home schooled children. In 1995, they started the Music In Schools Program bringing small groups of performing artists into schools for music and discussions, reaching another 3,600 students.
Initiated in 1996, the Young Artists Competition is open to young artists from all over the South. A competition for best stringed instrument player in each local school, the Arco Awards, began in 2000. In 2003, the SCALA competition, open to area middle and high school students, was created. In 2007, LSO became parent organization of the LaGrange Youth Orchestra, from which conductor, Callie Knight Hammond, developed the LaGrange Youth String Ensemble in 2008. Hammond now conducts the Youth String Ensemble, for ages 7 to 15, and the Piccolo String Ensemble, a beginners’ group for ages 5 to 10. Lee Johnson is now Music Director and Conductor of the Youth Orchestra.
In 2007, LaGrange College named LaGrange Symphony Orchestra as their Orchestra-In-Residence, cementing their twenty year relationship and giving the orchestra a permanent home at Callaway Auditorium, whose multi-million dollar renovation was done with the symphony in mind. In 2010, the symphony and college again collaborated to create a symphonic-level choir at the college, the LaGrange Symphony Chorus, led by Deborah Ogle. The symphony will continue its long association with other area choral groups as well.
In 2015, the LSO welcomed Dr. Richard Prior as conductor and music director.
LaGrange Symphony Orchestra, Inc. is incorporated as a 501 c3 non-profit organization.