Fort Smith Symphony Association (Fort Smith, AR)

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Young musician plays the xlylophone.

Lee Parham, percussionist with the Fort Smith Symphony, warms up for his performance at the 2005 Earquake concert.  Photo courtesy of Fort Smith Symphony

Founded in 1923, the Fort Smith Symphony (FSS) is the oldest orchestra in Arkansas and serves a metropolitan area of a quarter million people in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. The orchestra’s season includes nine concerts and an educational component designed to introduce students to classical music.  Education programs include Symphony in the Schools, which brings guest musicians and orchestra members to area elementary schools; Earquake concerts for sixth-grade students; and a Composer-in-Residence program, which brings a composer to the community each season for a week of classroom presentations.

In FY 2005, the Fort Smith Symphony Association received an NEA Challenge America grant of $10,000 to support the 2005 Earquake concerts. FSS held its Earquake concerts on February 28, 2005.  The two hour-long performances featured projections on two large screens showing the musicians and their instruments. The concert included works by Richard Strauss, Charles Gounod, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Johann Strauss. The final number on the program, Samarai, was written by Dr. Michael Schelle, the composer-in-residence.  More than 2,600 students and teachers from 18 area schools viewed the concert.

Prior to the performances, the orchestra produced and delivered study guides on the program and CDs containing some of the concert pieces to each of the Fort Smith Public Schools to prepare the students for the concert. A strong emphasis is placed on sixth-graders because they will be entering junior high school, which offers band, orchestra, and choral programs. The concerts and study guides help the students to be better informed about and develop an interest in classical music.