Among Hendersonville’s news-making cultural attractions is its symphony orchestra — such a phenomenon, given its unlikely setting, that it headed the list in USA Today’s “Retirement Living” column three years ago as one of the chief reasons to settle in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Since its first concert in December 1971, the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra has not only mounted an annual musical program but concentrated on educating young musicians by establishing an “Academy of Strings” in 1973 and, a decade later, the Hendersonville Symphony Youth Orchestra.
Now, 33 years on, the Youth Orchestra is some 80 players strong and is a major focus of this month’s Black and White Ball fundraiser, organized by the Symphony League, the HSO’s fundraising arm. The event helps provide tuition for young musicians in many of the Symphony’s training programs — scholarships to help offset the cost of private lessons and instrument purchases for students who would otherwise be unable to afford them.
“Hendersonville is a relatively small city, classical-music-wise, and we don’t have colleges or universities offering music programs in our city,” says Eric Scheider, who joined the Symphony six years ago as manager and now serves as conductor for the Youth Orchestra. “Access to private lessons and exposure to professional music is more limited here than in larger cities, so I think our programs are really important for the students in our community.” Those programs include not only training but performance experience in one of the youth group’s ensembles or with the full orchestra, and a Young Artist Competition.
The Black and White Ball at Kenmure Country Club is the Symphony League’s biggest fundraiser. “This is our seventh year, and it’s become a popular social event of the early summer,” says Galen Reuther, the League’s vice-president and one of the event’s organizers. “But we need to fill every seat to produce the necessary support.” Last year, the League provided nearly a quarter of the Symphony’s overall budget through events like the Ball, and, this August, its first-ever benefit golf tournament, the Woodwind Classic, also at Kenmure.
Members of the youth symphony range in age from about 10 to college age, most from Henderson County. An entry-level string Prelude Ensemble is for those students with at least a half-year’s experience on their string instrument of choice; other groups within the orchestra require auditions for membership, like the Coda Ensemble for the most advanced students aiming for a professional career. “These students have an opportunity to perform side by side with the professional orchestra in one of our education concerts,” Scheider explains. “A number of our former members in the HSYO do perform with the Hendersonville Symphony, but usually after going off and receiving one or more degrees in music and obtaining some professional experience.”
Monica Garren, a high school senior and violinist who has been involved with the Youth Orchestra for six years, has spent the last two of them as a member of the Coda Ensemble and plans to pursue a professional career. “From day one, I grew copious amounts on my instrument,” Monica says of her time with the orchestra. “Playing with the HYSO has deepened my love for music, as well as given me the experience I need to pursue music in college.”
While the Youth Symphony’s musicians may still be on a steep learning curve, their repertoire, presented at individual and combined concerts throughout the year, is challenging for even well-seasoned players. Earlier this spring, the orchestra took on a full program of music by 20th-century composer Aaron Copland, well known for “Appalachian Spring.” Among other works, they tackled his “Outdoor Overture” — a long and technically complex piece marked by frequent tempo and stylistic changes. And this month, the orchestra will power through an early Mozart opera buffa, “Bastien und Bastienne,” complete with a chorus. “It’s a silly little comedy he wrote early on, but which has some lovely music,” explains Scheider. “This is the first high-school operatic production with orchestra that I know about in our region, and both the orchestra and the singers worked hard to be solid in their own roles and fit into the large puzzle of the complete production.”
Challenges for the HSYO aren’t only musical, but also organizational. While string players are numerous, and often come to the orchestra through long-established ensembles that act as training grounds, it’s harder to fill out the orchestra’s brass and woodwind sections, for which such smaller training groups have been less common, since those players have busy schedules with marching bands in the fall.
“So this year, we’re developing a wind-ensemble workshop and a summer band to meet the need and build a bridge with band programs in the schools,” says Scheider. “Our challenge is to make sure that students in our community have access to affordable and high-quality instruction, so they can head off to college and beyond, prepared.”
The Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra’s Black and White Ball takes place Saturday, May 21, at Kenmure Country Club in Flat Rock, with dinner, dancing and a live auction led by Henderson County Commissioner Tommy Thompson as auctioneer. Black tie is optional. For reservations, call Galen Reuther at 828-698-9380 or Bill Elder at 828-230-8448. To learn more about the Hendersonville Symphony and check out a calendar of upcoming concerts, visit hendersonvillesymphonyorchestra.org