By Taylor Aube
Music is a powerful medium that can touch the hearts and minds of everyone- no matter their race, religion or gender. Celebrating the history of music and continuing the excellence of art is the role many symphonies play in their communities. The Cape Fear region is home to the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, whose mission is “to educate, to entertain and to inspire.” Christine Kastner, the CEO of the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, was kind enough to speak to CityView about the values and visions this magical group of musicians bring to our community.
The Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra is the oldest arts agency in Fayetteville. It was founded in 1956 by a group of community volunteers and began as a community orchestra, but is now a regional professional orchestra. The orchestra puts on five major concerts a season: two chamber concerts at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a fall concert series at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden and a free Memorial weekend concert in Festival Park. Kastner explained her vision for the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, “as part of our strategic planning process, the board, the staff and the musicians worked together to develop a vision for FSO to become the leading musical resource for our region of North Carolina through concerts, education programs and community outreach.” The symphony truly goes above and beyond to bring a unique piece of culture to the Cumberland County area.
It may seem that today’s youth have lost touch with classical music. Tablets and iPods have taken the place of violins and flutes. Music lessons have become a nuisance to teenagers and an average high schooler probably hasn’t heard of Chopin, but can easily sing every song on the radio. The key word here is seem. Although the style of symphonic music is discounted among the younger generation, the FSO is sealing that gap and creating more opportunities for the youth to both learn and play instruments. Kastner said, “In the area of music education, we work in the Head Start program, with Cumberland County third graders and in the middle schools and high schools mentoring band and orchestra students. We started a youth orchestra in the fall of 2014 and will be setting up an instrument lending library over the summer. We also provide a summer camp for rising eighth graders through college level musicians. This is not a general band or orchestra camp, but rather is an in-depth camp which provides individualized instruction, master classes and small and large ensemble work.” The amount of community outreach is impeccable not only because it teaches children essential artistic expression, but it also gives them the skills and confidence to try new things, such as a trombone or a cello, things they would otherwise not have access to. Kastner added, “Every year we perform Peter and the Wolf for Cumberland County third graders. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years now, so many children in our county grew up with this as their first symphonic experience.”
Along with stimulating children, the FSO creates opportunities for local musicians to excel. Sarah Busman, principal flutist, enjoys her colleagues and fellow artists both on and off the stage. She explained, “I have the best colleagues in the FSO. They are amazing musicians and they always inspire me to play at the highest level. Moreover, they are a group of people who are at the same time very professional and down-to-earth while allowing our rehearsals and concerts to be a supportive and fun place to make music!” Her favorite part about the music community in Cumberland County is the community outreach aspect of the organization. Describing one of her favorite memories, Busman elaborated, “I had the opportunity to travel to many elementary schools in the fall with three of my FSO colleagues, Nate Leyland, Julia Atkins and Larry Wells. We told the third-grade students at these schools the story of Peter and the Wolf and introduced and played instruments from every family in the orchestra in preparation for a larger concert that happened in November. To meet so many fascinated and engaged young people and talk with their inspiring teachers makes me proud of the work that Cumberland County is doing in music education.”
Another example of local excellence is conductor Fouad Fakhouri who has thrived in the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra for over 10 years. Kastner explained, “Fakhouri was hired in 2004 with the purpose of moving the orchestra from a community orchestra to a professional one and he has achieved that goal. This is his last season after 11 years leading FSO.” As a result of Fakhouri’s departure, the FSO has put on a music director search, a two-year process to find a new conductor led by a Transition Committee of nine voting members. Kastner explained the laborious process, “We received 273 applications and we reviewed resumes, cover letters, conducting videos and performed interviews to come up with our top five finalists. The finalists of the search will be announced in late April.
Becoming a conductor of an orchestra is no easy feat. Most conductors have at least a masters of music and some amount of professional conducting experience before they are even considered for an orchestra. A few musicians who have been part of the orchestra for most of Maestro Fakhouri’s tenure are serving on the transition committee to help in the search for a new conductor. Kastner elaborated on these talented musicians, “Many of our musicians teach at local colleges and universities including Fayetteville State University, Methodist University, UNC Greensboro and UNC Pembroke.”
When attending a show put on by the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, one can expect a variety of things. For starters, the power of the instruments and the fluidity of the musicians can only impose an emotional reaction from the ears, eyes, brain and heart. The percussion becomes stronger than the heartbeat and the woodwinds caress the eardrums with the sweetest whispers of fantasy. Attending a symphonic show is an existential experience. According to John Lambert of Classical Voice of North Carolina, “[The Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra] was a bracing and inspiring performance, one that will likely live long in the memory. If we were amazed to the point of being almost speechless, it was due to the fact that we had not previously realized what treasures there are in Fayetteville.”
A lot of hard and dedicated work goes in to preparing an orchestra for its events and shows. Kastner breaks down the process: “We get the music to musicians three weeks before a concert so that they can work on learning their music before our first rehearsal. During the concert week, we generally rehearse three or four times prior to a concert. Each rehearsal lasts about two hours and 45 minutes.” For those interested in joining the FSO, auditions are held in the spring every year for the following season. Open positions are posted on the website and sent to area universities and other sources. The auditions are “blind” which means the musician performs on the other side of a panel from the judges so that the musician’s identity is a secret and the person is judged solely on their performing ability.
To find more information on the magic of the Fayetteville Sympony Orchestra, visit their website, www.fayettevillesymphony.org or follow them on social media through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.