This is a brief history of the Tuscaloosa Symphony Guild.
Under the leadership of the second president, Kithy Fitts, the 1985-86 Guild developed Bylaws and set up standing committees, each with a chairperson. This structure made planning activities more organized and effective. The mission was
“to enhance promote and support the Tuscaloosa Symphony Association.”
The Guild continued the earlier activities and also paid for two TSO board members to attend an American Symphony Orchestra League fund raising workshop.
Elizabeth Hamner was the third president of the Guild, 1986-87. One of the first activities was a reception to welcome and honor new conductor Ransom Wilson, a native of Tuscaloosa. In addition to continued activities from the previous two years, the Guild designated two members to sit on the TSO Board, and sponsored a lecture by Dr. Fred Goossen on his Fourth Symphony, commissioned by the TSO.
The season began with a very successful “Promenade through Patton Place.” Four groups of TSO musicians entertained guests at four different homes. Over 180 season tickets were sold – a record high – and almost $7,500 was raised. A successful raffle for a beach vacation raised another $5,000. The Guild also organized pre-concert dinners at churches and restaurants. Cal Lewis and Sylvia Chwe won the Young Artist Competition.
“A Little Knight Music in Druid Court” kicked off the 1987-88 season, modeled on the successful event the previous year. Again members of the TSO and guest artists played and the price of admission was the purchase of a season ticket. Echo Aycock served as President. Tom Bagwell and Hillary Harp – now Hillary Rivas who is a member of the TSO – won the Young Artist Competition.
“Rhythms in Riverchase” began the 1988-89 season, based on the same successful model as the two previous years. However, because of rain, it was actually held at Christ Episcopal Church. Activities added to the previous ones included assisting with the “Pete Fountain Gala,” hosting and housing guest artists. Membership had grown to 194, under the Presidency of Claire Black.
“High Notes in the Hills” – the annual season ticket party – began the 1989-90 year, under the presidency of Beth Grant. Following the revised By Laws, Andra Wilson served the first two-year term as president from 1990-92. The Young Artist competition winners were Julie Giattini and Tabb Dendy.
During the 1991-92 year, education for young people was begun. Bettie Anne Cleino began the Musical Petting Zoo, modeled on a successful project begun by the Austin (Texas) Symphony Orchestra. The Petting Zoo provides instruments for children to play in an informal setting and information for their parents about opportunities for class and private lessons. The Petting Zoo is provided each year at Kentuck and in city and county elementary schools. Also “Education for the Enjoyment of Classical Music” was begun in the elementary schools. Guild members prepared lesson plans and guidelines for elementary teachers to use prior to and as a follow up to the youth concerts.
Elizabeth Hamner again served the Guild as president from 1992-94. The Guild hosted five post-concert receptions so that the guest conductors could be welcomed and greeted by audience members. The “Kick off the Season” party was successful in selling season tickets and increasing public awareness.
Rosemarie Childress served as president from 1994-97. Under her leadership, the Guild honored Elizabeth Hamner – its founder and two-time president – with an endowed scholarship. It is designated for an outstanding string instrument major in the University School of Music who is also a member of the TSO.
From 1997-2001, the Guild further developed and enhanced its projects and activities. Fund raiser gala parties continued and membership grew. Educational projects – the Children’s Concerts for 5th graders and the Musical Petting Zoo were expanded and improved. The Guild began providing refreshments for members of the orchestra between rehearsals. Presidents were Marcia Quarles (1997-99) and Jo Ann Cook (1999-01).
During the presidency of Pam DeWitt, 2001-03, the “Eat to the Beat” Lunch and Learn Series began. Interested patrons enjoyed having lunch at the University Club and learning about the next program to be played.
In 2004, during the presidency of Diane Salls, the Guild received the prestigious Silver Ribbon Award from the American Symphony Orchestra League at its national convention. Diane served as president from 2003-06. The Guild also gave a significant contribution to “Strings in Schools,” the program which began string instruction in the Tuscaloosa City Schools.
Under the leadership of Weldon and Delores Cole in 2007 and Gay Burrows in 2008, the Guild hosted successful “Haydn in the Hay” fundraisers to benefit the TSO, raising approximately $9,000 per event. The Guild also instituted receptions to honor the musicians after the first and last concerts of the season.
During the presidency of Kirsten Hicks, 2009-present time, the Guild instituted “Cheers ‘n Chat” pre-concert events. These events feature guest speakers who discuss aspects of the concert and offer wine and light fare to concertgoers. Donna Boles followed next as president, and today the Guild operates under the leadership of Dan Drill.