History of the Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra
The Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra was organized in 1987, performing its first concert on October 10th of that year. The symphony was founded in response to interest which spurred from a string music instruction program that began in the Pine Bluff Schools in 1980. The program was first offered for fifth through twelfth graders. As these students matured and their skills developed, they wanted an additional venue for performing and continued growth. Contemporaneously, their families and friends formed an audience who wanted to hear more music.
A dream takes wings
Ellen Stutchman, Ellen Nuckolls, and Jane Huffstetler were the instructors in the public schools, and also played in South Arkansas Symphony. They envisioned a symphony in Pine Bluff, and shared their dream with Carolyn Greenberg. These women recruited Diane Ayres as first board president, and the effort to organize a symphony began.
They recruited community leaders with an interest in seeing a symphony in Southeast Arkansas for the first board of directors. These leaders first met in the spring of 1987 and organized the initial fundraising, a ticket campaign, and volunteer support.
A strong 25 member Board of Directors with a six member Advisory Board continues to raise money to fund the symphony and set policy for managing the organization.
Local musicians committed
Several talented adults living in Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas were interested in playing with a symphony committed to the orchestra as a core of musicians who would play every concert. Alan Goldman and Karla Fournier were playing with the Arkansas Symphony. Christie Bonds had played with the Arkansas Symphony previously. Virginia Riggs, Donna Couch, Martha Sparrow, Ellen Stutchman, Ellen Nuckolls, Jane Huffstetler, Emily Cockrum, E.W. Brockman, Jerry Horn, Michael Bates, and Buddy Ross were other local musicians who played that first year.
Student musicians the first year were Ruth Greenberg, Phyllis Lee, Laura Lindsey, Heather Weger, Priscilla Yang, Perry Johnson, Gina Jones, Bradley Eubank and Fred Green.
Eric Knight, from New York, was hired as the first conductor. David Huffstetler served as music director until he moved from the area. Eric Knight became music director and served until 1993. Charles Jones Evans was hired as conductor/music director in 1993 and continues in that capacity,
The orchestra performed two concerts each year through 1989. In 1990, the orchestra began giving a free concert for fifth graders each year, and in 1994-95, a third subscription concert was added. The fourth subscription concert was added in 1997-98.
Music for kids
In addition to a four-concert season for the general public and the children’s concert, the orchestra continues a strong youth musician program. The symphony owns string instruments and loans them to students in the school orchestra for a nominal cost each year, so that any student can participate regardless of income.
In-school coaching is provided for students to work with a professional musician in a small group setting to develop skills and technique on their particular instrument. The orchestra sponsors the Pine Bluff Symphony Youth Orchestra for 7-12th grade musicians selected by audition.
Each summer the one-week Summer Orchestra Workshop is offered to area musicians in the sixth through twelfth grades. Some younger students who read music and some adults also participate in this workshop. Clinicians from across the nation are hired to expose the students to new and different teaching techniques and help them develop additional skills.
Throughout its history, the Pine Bluff Symphony has had a strong volunteer support group. The Notables were organized in 1987 when Audrey Baird, a consultant from American Symphony Orchestra League, came to Pine Bluff to help found the symphony. They help primarily with ticket sales, fundraising, office work, feeding musicians, and the children’s concert. In recent years their membership has grown to more than 150 gracious volunteers.