Many longtime residents of Union County have never heard of the Union Symphony. There’s an old saying, “A prophet has no honor in his own country.” That may be a bit of a stretch to apply, but it is certainly true that the Union Symphony and all of its programs have not yet received the same amount of local acclaim from the general public that they garner from musically-minded people in other locations.
Surrounding counties, including Mecklenburg, do not have enough programs to support all the talent in the greater Charlotte area. Many adult and youth musicians come to Union Symphony programs to train and practice, or to perform with other talented professional musicians and high-quality guest performers. In the youth programs alone, 30 percent of the students drive from Mecklenburg County, 15 percent come from South Carolina and 50 percent are from Union County. Over the years, ten different counties have been represented in Union Symphony programs.
Union Symphony incorporated in 2007 under the artistic direction of Dr. Kenney Potter of Wingate University. The next year, they began a Junior Guild to serve local youth. In 2009, they were able to form the Union Symphony Youth Orchestra, which became their largest educational outreach program.
Now, the Union Symphony operates not only their professional orchestra but also six educational programs for youth. These programs include the Union Symphony Youth Orchestra, Union Symphony Prelude Junior String Orchestra, Union Symphony Youth Chamber Players, Benton Heights After School Strings Program, Fred Ingold Memorial Music Festival and the Union Jazz ensemble, that serves both youth and adults.
In 2012, Union Symphony needed a new artistic director for the Symphony Orchestra. They did a nationwide search and found several good candidates. Each applicant guest-conducted a full concert that season, but Richard Rosenberg, a nationally-known conductor, was ultimately chosen. Richard was ready to turn the perception of the Orchestra from a “community orchestra” into a “professional orchestra.”
Kim Norwood, Executive Director, said, “During Richard’s first full season with us he assigned a piece to the musicians. The musicians started calling in, saying they were not ready for the piece. But Richard said, ‘They’re ready. Not only are they ready, it will bond them together to work on it.’ That was a turning point for us because we were still being viewed as a community orchestra.” According to Kim, “The concert where they performed this stretch-piece cemented the new direction we were going.” It was a turning point for the musicians and the organization.
But, Kim added, “We still need to build audience. Performance Hall events are hit and miss.” The orchestra performs at the Batte Center at least once every season. Their biggest spring concert saw 65 musicians on stage. Wingate also hosts the orchestra’s Wingate University Outdoor Pops concert. The Union Symphony also sends smaller groups of musicians out to perform for local churches and nonprofits, as a service to the community.
Last Christmas, after five years of trying to raise funding, the orchestra was able to play for the Union County Youth Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker. The partnership was such a success that the orchestra is going to try to maintain the funding needed to continue that performance as a yearly tradition. Opportunities like this are important to Union County Symphony. They want to musically enrich the lives of as many Union County residents as possible.
In the coming year, Union Symphony is concentrating on increasing their geographical reach. They are planning more performances in different municipalities. A step toward that goal came this past fall when they were able to hold a concert at Sardis Baptist Church in Indian Trail that featured a guest vocalist with the orchestra. But the biggest barrier to performing in other locations is usually space. “We are going to expand into more areas with small ensembles,” Kim said.
Union Symphony’s office is located at 210 North Main Street, Suite 109, Monroe. More information on the nonprofit and all their programs can also be found on their website, http://www.unionsymphony.org. Interested parties can also email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 704-283-2525.