ALBANY — The Albany Symphony Orchestra has a long history of entertaining local audiences with classic, quality music. Over the years, a single idea has grown into an established, nationally-recognized organization that has delighted Albany citizens for 50 years.
Like most orchestras, the ASO began as the vision of a small group of those who wanted something more. Desiring to find a way to share their love of music with Albany citizens, these individuals believed in the potential for an orchestra to be established, and on May 18, 1965, the Albany Symphonette presented its first concert at Porterfield United Methodist Church, conducted by E.L. Ziegler.
“It developed naturally,” said current Conductor Claire Fox Hillard. “A group of volunteers sought to bring in musicians and a conductor who could make something great for Albany.”
In 1967, under the direction of conductor and professor Edward A. Tarratus, the ASO formed a partnership with Darton State College. This relationship continues to this day, as both institutions seek to enhance cultural and performing arts in the surrounding region.
It was also under the leadership of Tarratus that the Albany Symphony Association was incorporated as a nonprofit organization, and the Albany Symphony Guild was utilized as the “working arm” of the association with 172 charter members.
Tarratus remained with the ASO until 1979, when Florida State University professor Charles DeLaney was appointed as the music director and conductor. For the next nine years, DeLaney faithfully commuted to Albany for rehearsals and performances.
Finally, in 1987, the Albany Symphony Association voted to hire a resident music director and conductor. Hillard was appointed to the job in 1988, and remains with the orchestra to this day. During his tenure, Hillard has brought a variety of ambitious and artistic creations to the ASO, entertaining audiences with a vast array of musical styles, community concerts and youth symphonies, to name a few.
Under Hillard’s leadership, the Albany Symphony Association has received statewide recognition from the Georgia Association of Arts Agencies, and the orchestra has received multiple recognition for its work as well.
The symphony has also found a permanent home in the Albany Municipal Auditorium. Until 1990, concerts by the ASO were held in the Albany High School Auditorium. After renovations to the historic Municipal Auditorium, the orchestra unveiled its new concert hall at a Gala Concert with Albany native Ray Charles.
An idea that was born 50 years ago in the minds of Albany citizens has now grown into a full-fledged orchestral arrangement of talented individuals from the surrounding area. Today’s orchestra involves about 80 regular players from areas within a 90-mile radius, including Valdosta and Tallahassee.
“We have been extremely fortunate to have people in this community who support the ASO,” Hillard said. “We exist because we want to make music come alive for others.
“It’s sort of like football – watching a game on television just isn’t the same as seeing it live. Likewise, listening to music on a CD just isn’t the same as hearing it performed right in front of you. Our musicians are very talented, and we enjoy being a part of community celebrations.
“The original founders wanted the orchestra to become an integral part of the community, and it has done that,” Hillard said.
A single dream a group of musicians once shared has evolved into 50 years of great music and service for the Albany community – proof that it does pay off to give hopes a try. Through the hard work and support of countless volunteers, musicians and community members, Albany can now proudly boast of year-round gift great music and entertainment, belonging to everyone.
As Hillard puts it, “I like to say that instead of the ‘Albany Symphony,’ it’s called ‘Albany’s Symphony.’”