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Thankful for Music

"Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything." (Plato)

The Southwest Symphony Orchestra has been referred to as the cornerstone of the arts in southern Utah, and no wonder—for its conductor, its musicians, its leadership are unified by its mission: to inspire and enrich audiences through the transformative power of symphonic music, and to be the cultural heart of the community, sharing the beauty of music through educational and entertaining performances.

Maestro Lucas Darger says the strength of the Southwest Symphony is rooted in its volunteer musicians who donate time and energy every week to play music because they believe in not only giving back to their community, but they believe in music’s power. He says, “Great music changes lives and our musicians believe music can touch the heart and inspire the mind.”

“I am proud of our staff and musicians for persevering during the past year and finding creative solutions to difficult challenges,” says Alyce Stevens Gardner, board chair of the symphony. “Their positive attitudes were the hallmark of the 2020 season. The challenges were unique, but they were met with determination to rise above and rise victorious.”

As the symphony commences its 41st year, the following questions were posed to both Maestro Darger and Ms. Gardner about the symphony’s outlook:

1. What do you hope audiences discover in the symphony’s 2021-22 season?

The Maestro: I hope they rediscover how meaningful it is to have live, in-person arts and entertainment. You may watch anything on YouTube and stream music with the press of a button, but people are realizing they can't replace the feelings, emotions, and energy that come with a live concert. We have great concerts planned, including some that had to be rescheduled due to the coronavirus.

Our first concert this season was our Halloween Spooktacular, featuring the music of John Williams, one of the most influential film composers. The audience heard music from “Star Wars,” “E.T.,” “Jurassic Park,” “Indiana Jones,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Saving Private Ryan” and more. We'll present “Peter and the Wolf” in January. Our masterworks concert in March will highlight Demarre McGill, principal flute for the Seattle Symphony. We are bringing back the “Lamb of God” oratorio, and we have Caroline Campbell in April. Caroline is a fantastic violinist out of Los Angeles who will be performing Hollywood showpieces.

Ms. Gardner:  I hope audiences understand the innovative ways the symphony brings great symphonic music to our community. We work hard to make sure programming meets the needs of our audiences and preserves classical repertoire. We strengthen the arts in our community by collaborating with other performing arts organizations and providing music education programs. As a violinist and arts advocate, I believe music has the power to inspire, educate, unite and heal. Music sparks innovation, creativity, goodness and beauty. It helps us express our values, build bridges of understanding, and brings us together. We need that now more than ever.

2. How has the symphony grown this past year? 

Ms. Gardner: The symphony has grown in appreciation for performing live music. We realize how much we take that for granted when we don't have it. There is no substitute for live music.

The Maestro: We’ve faced challenges, but grown, the past year, both at the individual level and as an organization. We became nimbler as we reacted to an ever-changing landscape, and we were forged into a more cohesive group of musicians for the sake of the music. We appreciate each other and the opportunity to play together, and as a result, the orchestra sounds better now than we ever have. 

Another positive that has come out of the past year is the creation of the Crescendo Club. With everything uncertain at the beginning of last season, we couldn't distribute regular season tickets, thus we formed the Crescendo Club so patrons could get tickets to every concert, get priority access and premium seating, at a fraction of the regular price. It was so popular we've continued it this season. 

3. What size audiences do you project? What about social distancing and the wearing of masks?

The Maestro: It's difficult to project, but we anticipate smaller audiences. They'll be larger than last year, since we won't be limiting the audience like we did last season. We are encouraging masks, but we aren't requiring them. We'll continue to evaluate the situation.

Ms. Gardner:  Our top priority has always been to keep our musicians and patrons safe. We have tried to be respectful and careful during the coronavirus to protect our musicians and patrons with social distancing and mask wearing. We aim to fill as many seats as possible; however, for safety, we will continue to adhere to all local COVID recommendations.

4. How has Recreation Arts and Parks (RAP) tax impacted the Symphony?

Ms. Gardner: The RAP tax has been crucial to the sustainability of not only the Southwest Symphony, but many other arts organizations. It helps provide a solid financial base, provide music education for students and bring in some of the world's finest musicians to perform for our community. RAP tax funding helps keep ticket prices affordable and accessible. We hope the community continues to support this vital funding source.   

The Maestro: It is impossible to overstate how important the RAP tax has been for us and arts organizations in the area. This has allowed us to grow and flourish and to raise the level of our performances. When you look at the world-class guest artists we've brought to this community, when you look at how the symphony has grown both in size and artistry, and when you see the outreach programs with the Washington County School District, it really is money that is reinvested into our community with massive returns.

5. What do you want the community to know about the symphony?

The Maestro: I want them to know this is their symphony. We rehearse and perform right here in St George; we all live in the area. We care about this community and strive to present world-class performances to our audiences. I hope everyone comes to the symphony and sees what we are about, because we have something for everyone. We have not only our traditional masterworks programs, but we also know many may not appreciate classical music but would still love to attend our entertainment series to hear and see the John Williams concert or see Caroline Campbell. 

Ms. Gardner: For over 40 years, the Southwest Symphony has been an anchor arts organization in Washington County performing the finest symphonic music in the region. Proclaimed "The Guardian of the Arts" by St. George News, we are proud to serve our community. For the past three years, we have been awarded "Best of State" in the orchestra category. This recognition is a testament to the excellence we are working hard to achieve on all levels. The symphony has been working towards building a new community Performing Arts Center to benefit our entire region. It will be a jewel in the desert for the arts when it is completed. I feel fortunate to be part of the symphony and l look forward to another inspiring and engaging season.  

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