The LaPorte Symphony
Exceptional Music Over the Years
Adapted and updated from the writings of Mary Utley, longtime program note annotator, writer and unofficial historian of the LaPorte County Symphony Orchestra.
"For a City of 22,000 to boast a symphony orchestra - especially one that is Healthy and solvent - is not exactly common." Those words appeared in a SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE article when the La Porte Symphony was six years old. Today it is a community integrated organization that is a vital part of the area's culture.
Named the La Porte Symphony because of its origin, in the 1980's it was renamed the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra in an effort to have a broader geographical expanse. Only about one-third of its musicians come from the La Porte county area; the rest travel from as far away as Illinois, Elkhart to the east, and includes a few from southern Michigan. Some season concerts are played in Michigan City while most are held in the La Porte Civic Auditorium. Many of the La Porte Symphony's people are home-grown or, at least, resident transplants. They could be anybody's neighbors: doctors, dentists, lawyers, homebuilders, teachers, housewives, retirees and students. The members of the governing board are people who recognize the LCSO as a cultural gem and community asset.
The LCSO was conceived in the winter of 1971 by a young La Porte music teacher, John Bennett, and came into being the following year, its nucleus being a sixteen-member chamber group already in existence. Its first performance featured the music of Rossini, Handel, Gershwin, and Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony." In those days, the board of directors' main topic of discussion might have been "Who will bring the cookies for the reception, and who will make the punch?"
How times have changed! The board of directors oversees the production staff and the administrative staff. The music director/conductor leads the production staff with help from the personnel manager, operations manager, and two librarians, while the administrative aspects are lead by the executive director with assistance from a communications coordinator and the bookkeeper.
Since its founding by John Bennett, the orchestra has had only seven music directors throughout the years. Several of its conductors have been members of neighboring orchestras; its current maestro, Philip Bauman, has had experience with the Battle Creek Symphony, Chicago Opera Theater, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and the Northwest Indiana Symphony among others.
Through the years, the LaPorte County Symphony Orchestra has played four world premiere pieces of music: one composed by guest conductor Zeal Fisher, commemorating its 20th season, a suite from the musical score of the motion picture "Prancer," filmed in the LaPorte area, home of its director; and an arrangement by LaPorte native Alan Barcus of Gershwin's "Summertime," featuring three vocalists, the LCSO and Tom Milo's Big Band and, most recently, a saxophone concerto written for the orchestra by professor John Perrine for the March 2009 classic concert.
In 1976 LCSO celebrated our country's bicentennial anniversary with a giant, sold-out concert that included the Walther League Chorus of St. John's Lutheran Church and the 100-member Maple City Drum and Bugle Corps.
In more recent years, the 2006 semi-staged performance of the Music Man cemented relationships with La Porte Little Theatre and Michigan City Footlight Players. With an incredible community chorus and many opportunities for featured small vocal groups, that community production will always be fondly remembered.
Many of the orchestra's concerts are held in the 3,000 seat Civic Auditorium, including an annual Boston Pops-type concert, complete with candlelight, decorated tables, and refreshments. There is also a remarkable day of Children's Concerts requiring the strategy and planning of a D-day invasion. A veritable armada of school buses surrounds the auditorium for each concert and unloads close to 8,000 youngsters for three performances in one day. To whet the appetite of school children, many orchestra members participate in docent programs, taking their instruments and talents into area schools to demonstrate what pleasures lie ahead.
The La Porte County Symphony Orchestra has never shied away from artistic challenges; rather, it has explored the entire gamut of musical literature. From live video feed so the children can see the performers on stage to a vocal competition that invites the entire state of Indiana, this symphony continues to instill the love of live symphonic music into the hearts of all ages.