Lake Charles Symphony
A Rich History
A significant contribution to the cultural history of Lake Charles was made on November 11, 1958 – when seventy musicians took their places on stage at McNeese State College for the premiere performance of what is today the Lake Charles Symphony Orchestra. With its usual zest and thoroughness, the Junior League had played a major role in the unfolding events leading to this momentous occasion.
There had always been an interest in music in southwest Louisiana, and before the League’s involvement, there were successful efforts with orchestras, including the Kushner Orchestra and the Levingston Orchestra. According to the late Dr. Francis Bulber, it was as early as 1938 that an organization called the Lake Charles Civic Symphony came into being. This early orchestra grew out of an effort by Louisiana State University to encourage musical activity and it was one of eight community organizations formed in towns mainly along the Old Spanish Trail. The orchestra performed for five seasons on into World War II, but was forced to suspend its concerts after the war, either directly or indirectly, cut the musical personnel in half. Although the Lake Charles Symphony ceased operations with the 1942-43 season, the Symphony Association continued to function and brought to Lake Charles performances by out-of-town orchestras.
In the fall of 1954, four faculty members joined the Music Department of McNeese State College. Two of these were destined to become conductors of the Lake Charles Civic Symphony Orchestra: B. Warren Signor and Dr. George R. Marshall. The time had arrived to rebuild the symphony.
The Lake Charles Junior Welfare League, as it was known then, undertook the responsibility of rebuilding the orchestra – and what a job they did with it! An in-depth study was begun in 1957 by a special committee chaired by Jane Barham. The committee studied all aspects of an orchestra: operations, availability of musicians, financing, and community interest. The committee report was made early in 1958. At the April, 1958, meeting with Anita Tritico as President, the League’s membership voted unanimously to undertake the symphony project. In August of that same year, a non-profit corporation was formed with Dr. Maurice Kushner as Chairman of the Board. The Articles of Incorporation and By Laws were approved. A Women’s Auxiliary, with Mrs. J. Aubrey Bonham as President, was established and committees were identified. Warren Signor was named Conductor and the selection of musical personnel was begun. The first performance of the newly reorganized Lake Charles Civic Symphony was held on November 11, 1958, with pianist George Sandor as soloist. Many persons from the community and especially from McNeese contributed to the development of this project. Dr. Ralph Squires, Dean of the McNeese Department of Fine Arts, and Signor provided invaluable professional guidance.
The Lake Charles Symphony realized the importance of the youth in the area from the beginning, and free children’s concerts were given from the first season on. Financial support for the youth concerts came from the Junior League until 1968, when the Symphony Auxiliary assumed the project. A Concerto Auditions Project was started by the League in 1961 and later became an Auxiliary project. Auditions were open to the seventh through twelfth grade students and the winners were invited to perform as soloists at the spring youth concert. Reviving this project in 1999, the Lake Charles Symphony now sponsors a Concerto Competition for high school students and features the winners at its annual Family Concert in April. The youth concerts, begun by the League so many years ago, have evolved into the now-popular Free Family Concert held each spring. Today, the emphasis is on introducing classical music to children at a younger age in a positive family atmosphere.
In addition to the family concert, the Symphony promotes Arts-in-Education throughout the five-parish area with programs such as “Let’s Visit a Symphony Neighborhood,” “What Are Those People Doing Up There?” and “Meet the Composer.” A significant feature of the Symphony’s vision has always been its collaborative projects with other arts organizations. In recent years, the Symphony has joined forces with the Louisiana Choral Foundation, Lake Charles Ballet Society, Lake Charles Civic Ballet, Dance Theatre Southwest, Lake Charles Little Theatre, and others to bring the best in musical entertainment to this community.
During the Symphony’s 55-year history, the conductor’s baton has been held by six distinguished men: B. Warren Signor, Dr. George Ruffin Marshall, Don Wilder, James MacInnes, and William Kushner, who held the position for more than thirty years. Our current conductor is Bohuslav Rattay, who is beginning his third year.
Today, with the strong foundation provided by the Junior League and the continued support of this community, the Lake Charles Symphony is committed to enhancing the cultural life of Southwest Louisiana through performances of the highest quality. The Symphony performs in the Rosa Hart Theatre of the Lake Charles Civic Center, which seats 2,000 people.
The Symphony’s business office is located in the newly renovated Central School Arts and Humanities Center.