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Gainesville Symphony Orchestra to rise from the ashes
Musicians, director to perform without pay
Jim Toopes and Vanessa Hyatt are the two remaining board members tasked with rebuilding the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra on a shoestring budget. - photo by Michelle Boaen Jameson


Gainesville Symphony Orchestra

Patriotic Pops Concert

When: 6 p.m. July 3

Where: Brenau University Amphitheater, 810 Brenau Lane, Gainesville

How much: $20 adults, $18 seniors, $5 ages 8-17, ages 7 and younger free

More info: 770-532-5727,,

 Last year this time, it seemed as if all was well with the Gainesville Symphony Orchestra.

The group had settled into its new home on Candler Street, was gearing up for the annual Patriotic Pops Concert and was in the process of building a promising youth orchestra.

A few months later, an abrupt hush fell over Gainesville when the symphony was left without a seat in a "supporting the arts" game of musical chairs.

"We had a lot of things happen at once," said Vanessa Hyatt, GSO secretary.

"Of course, there was the bad economy that we all were battling. That combined with things like our largest donor passing away, and basically people just stopped giving."

In September, when the GSO announced it would suspend operations due to financial problems, members vowed to return to the local arts scene in time for the Patriotic Pops concert in July.

With renewed support, they will fulfill that promise at 7:30 p.m. July 3 at the Brenau University Amphitheater in Gainesville.

Retuning their instruments

"We took the best approach for us," said Jim Toopes, a member of the GSO board of directors. "We put ourself on hiatus to see if we could restructure and regroup."

"We gave ourselves a year to rebuild our board and do some fundraising," Hyatt added.

The remaining group was able to add a handful of new members to the working board, though it could still use a few more. A few small fundraisers, including a thrift sale, were held to raise money for the Pops concert.

Though members put in a lot of hard work to fulfill their promise to return, it was the support of the arts community that ultimately made it possible.

To earn support from sponsors, GSO board members regularly talked about the importance of having a thriving musical component in the arts community. They quickly found they were preaching to the choir, so to speak.

Members of the orchestra, and guest conductor Lauren Green, all agreed to donate time for the July concert.

"The idea actually came from a couple of players within the orchestra," Toopes said.

"Here we have players who are professional musicians who could have taken a paying gig somewhere else, but instead they chose to support us.

"It is enormously gratifying to see you’ve got a core group of musicians who are dedicated enough to try and save our symphony."

The call to support was an easy one for the musicians.

"Even though I’ve only been to Gainesville two or three times as a guest conductor, I wanted to do whatever I could to give the orchestra a chance to hang on," said Green, music director and conductor of the Bartlesville Symphony Orchestra in Oklahoma.

"Not just for my sake and for my love of conducting, but because Gainesville is a special town with so much going for it.

"It needs a symphony."

As a veteran conductor with more than 30 orchestral seasons under his belt, Green is very familiar with the struggles of regional symphonies. Last year, he saw musical powerhouses such as the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra in New York fold under financial strain and the 111-year-old Philadelphia Orchestra file for bankruptcy.

"It’s tricky," Green said. "On one hand, you see orchestras big and small disappearing. You also see some that find a way to repackage themselves or you see cities that go without a symphony for a while and then a new symphony appears.

"This happened in Tulsa and Oklahoma City over the last 20 years. Both of those symphonies went bankrupt, but eventually, a new one came to be — heads and shoulders above what they used to be financially and musically."

Not ready for curtain call

The Gainesville symphony’s regrouping efforts weren’t just limited to leadership and finances. The group also restructured the Pops concert to make it more appealing to families.

"If you go to virtually any symphony performance, you typically see people who are 60 and older," Toopes said. "We appreciate having them support us, but in order for orchestras to survive, you’ve got to have youth and families involved."

"That’s why we lowered our ticket prices this year and why children ages 7 and younger can come for free," Hyatt said.

Tickets for the concert — which is being held in honor and memory of the late Anne Gress, a longtime GSO supporter — are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $5 for children ages 8-17. Tables for eight are available for $200.

Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the gate.

Even if you can’t make it out to what the group describes as a fun, family- and picnic-friendly event, donations and tokens of support are always welcome.

To help younger crowds build an appreciation for symphonic music, the GSO also plans to relaunch its youth symphony. Starting with an audition for the youth strings group on Saturday.

"If you don’t have young people learning how to play and learning to appreciate the music, then your audience dies," Hyatt said.

Even with its recent struggles, the GSO’s leadership isn’t ready for a final curtain call.

"It’s worth fighting for," Hyatt added.

"The arts are so necessary," Green said. "I’m really proud of the way the orchestra has stepped up to the plate and agreed to do this for Gainesville. I hope it means a lot to the community and they in turn support the symphony.

"The symphony is one of those special entities that can bring the quality of life to a higher level and help us weather the bad times, as well as enjoy the good. We tend to focus on the nitty-gritty of life like earning a living and paving streets, but we also have to feed our souls."

After nearly a 10-month hiatus, the GSO board is hoping the July 3 concert is just the nourishment the community’s been missing.

"The big goal is to have our annual Christmas concert," Toopes said. "And we’d love to have an October symphonic concert.

"The key here is baby steps, but we think we’re on the right track now."

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