It was the summer of 1967, Gail and Harry Adams had just returned from two weeks of rest and relaxation in Michigan. While they were “debriefing” at Connor’s Café on Main Street, they talked about how much they missed being involved with an orchestra and why couldn’t a city like Danville have an orchestra? After all, it had as much talent and resources as other cities with which they had been involved. Writing on restaurant napkins, the couple began to make a list of musicians in the area who might be interested in a performing group. The count was close to 30, not yet enough, but the idea was contagious.
After compiling a roster of players, Gail and Harry set about the next task. Harry was at that time teaching music at Danville Junior College. President Mary Miller was always looking for new directions for the College to take. They met and convinced her that the community needed an orchestra for the performance of symphonic literature. They had a nucleus of players, and a plan with which to start. Would she lead the charge for support? She was quite enthusiastic. Mrs. Miller said, “I will see to it that we have an orchestra.” The College would provide rehearsal space; buy music stands, a set of timpani and a bassoon. It also would give college credit to students who participated.
In the beginning there was little money, even for necessities such as music, which they had to borrow. Everyone involved worked strictly for the joy of being able to make music, even the conductor. Gail and Harry wore many hats such as stage manager, librarian, personnel manager, press release and program notes writer, as well as fundraiser. It was exhausting and frustrating. Small contributions from friends, donations-in-kind from businesses, and an “angel” who happened just when the financial picture looked bleakest, kept the orchestra afloat.
It was December of 1967 when the orchestra, now named Danville Junior College Symphony at Mary’s insistence, made its debut with 53 players. The membership included a photographer, a land surveyor, several small businessmen, a DJC instructor, a secretary, a newspaperman, music teachers, housewives, and junior college and high school students, all with one common interest…to play in an orchestra. The group hung together and survived the first season (two whole concerts!) to the surprise of many.
In launching the second season in 1968, the symphony had two goals: increase the player roster and expand the concert season. A solid financial support base was necessary to accomplish this. The orchestra began holding meetings with interested supporters. They got more ideas than concrete action that second season but were not deterred.
The orchestra scheduled its performances that season at the DJC Educational Complex Auditorium, newly acquired from the Veteran’s Administration Hospital. (The first season’s performances had been held at the DHS Auditorium). The orchestra performed two concerts with soloists, and also presented Handel’s Messiah. By the third season the orchestra had an advisory board comprised of early interested and subsequently long-time supporters, J.K. Holmes, Sybil Mervis, Charles Handley and Dr. William Shaffer, to name a few.
By then the Orchestra not only had financial backing from the College, but also from the City of Danville (through a Parks and Recreation fund). They also received funding from the Music Performance Trust Fund of the American Federation of Musicians and the Illinois Arts Council, and their first grant application had been submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts. As the financial base and support grew they were able to bring in the players they needed, pay local players’ expenses, hire professional soloists and expand the season further. They moved permanently to Danville High School Auditorium to rehearse and perform.
From those humble beginnings and thanks to continued support along the way, the DSO sits today enjoying its 47th season in the community. Our regular season has expanded to include four concerts at Danville High School. We also perform two concerts for area school children in May which allow upwards of 2500 students to experience an orchestra performance that never have done so.
Beyond this the DSO works to sponsor master classes with local junior high schools as an after-school program. Members of the orchestra spend their time with young students to teach them their craft in conjunction with music education already presented in the school.
DACC has also developed a partnership bringing “Classics in the Classroom” to DHS. This addition to the advanced history class shows students the evolution of music from Europe to America today.
The DSO has broadened its scope since those first concerts with borrowed music. We’ve had the pleasure to host Doc Severinsen, Yo Yo Ma, the Von Trapp children, among many others.