The Southeast Kansas Symphony Orchestra
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History of the Southeast Kansas Symphony


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McCray conducting the Orchestra and Choir, 1925

[note from back of photograph]

"The 1925 Elijah chorus. Conducting is Dr. Walter McCray.

Other participants in the Festival presentation include John J. Richards (first trumpet at extreme right of photograph), who was band master for Ringling Bros. Circus for many years; Rhetia Hesselberg (the University's violin teacher and concert mistress); and Gabriella Campbell (ninth from left in second row of women) who taught chorus at the University for many years. Marjorie Jackson is at the organ, lower left."


History of the Southeast Kansas Symphony Orchestra

"The Southeast Kansas Symphony Orchestra has developed from humble beginnings. Originally organized in 1915, establishing the "College Orchestra" was Professor Walter McCray's first project.

"Miss Winona McLatchey directed the orchestra for the first two years with aproximatley twelve musicians under her direction. Miss McLatchey was a graduate of the Washburn music department and had continued her studies at Columbia university.

"The next two years saw the orchestra double in size under the direction of Miss Gabriella Campbell, a music graduate from the Teachers college at Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

"Professor McCray began directing the Orchestra in 1920 and by March 1929 (when McCray Hall was dedicated) the number of musicians had risen to 35. The Orchestra played at college assemblies and special events and a number of the players also took part in the 'Festival Orchestra'. Rehearsals were held twice a week."

The Collegio, March 28, 1929. "McCray Organizes College Orchestra"


"The Festival Orchestra was organized in the fall of 1914 to accompany the Festival Chorus in the first presentation of Handel's Messiah. This organization now has a complete symphony instrumentation and the past year has appeared in all the leading cities of southeastern Kansas in a symphony program. It serves not only as a laboratory for our conducting and orchestration classes but gives the students an opportunity to play and study the best in music."

The Kanza, 1930. p. 186


"The first public appearance of the Normal School orchestra was on April 28, 1905. The men's glee club was organized in the Fall of 1905. The band was organized in October 1909. Bawden also notes the first school song was adopted January 23, 1904. Not "Gold and Crimson," but probably a fight song for athletics.

"The following is a photo of what is identified as the first school orchestra, 1905. The faculty leader is Edwin A. Shepardson, one of the original five members of the faculty. Shepardson had charge of the "academic" subjects in 1903. Later, he became head of the mathematics department.

"C. Guy Hoover, the first director of the music department, came to the school in September 1908."

One of the earliest Normal School musical groups - 1905

A History of the Kansas State Teachers College of Pittsburg, 1903-1941 / by William T. Bawden


The Festival Chorus

"The Festival Chorus was organized in October, 1914, and has appeared as a part of the Spring Music Festival every year, singing the choral works of the great masters. In the fifteen years of existence of the chorus more than twenty of the great choral works have been sung. This organization has been a great factor in developing and bringing to the student body the best in music, and not only the student body has profited by this organization but its influence has extended over this state and surrounding states."

The Kanza, 1930. p. 187


History of the Friends of the Southeast Kansas Symphony

The Friends of the SEK Symphony was founded in the Spring of 1983 as a support group whose main function was to raise funds to augment those supplied by the State, and to attract attention to the orchestra in various venues. The primary movers and shakers were Carolann Martin, the current director of the Orchestra, and Becky (Leota) Schwenke, who had joined the Orchestra (cello) upon coming to the area with her husband, the Rev. John Schwenke. Becky had been one of the founders and leaders of a similar group in the Chicago area where she and John lived prior to coming to Pittsburg (1970).

By June 9, a set of by-laws (approved by the membership and the University administration) had been adopted and the first slate of officers were put forward. Those nominated (and subsequently elected) were:

Mrs. Allen Apier and Mrs. David Lane, co-chairpersons of the advertising campaign, were reported in a June 9, 1983 letter to the membership, as already busy working.

In the invitation to join the Friends of the Southeast Kansas Symphony (Summer, 1983), the founders listed the purpose and goals of the group:

  1. To provide more outstanding and varied soloists to play with the symphony.
  2. To attract more member players from other communities by offering remuneration for their transportation.
  3. To provide more attractive programs.
  4. To stimulate interest by the distribution of a brochure giving information about the concert season and sustaining memberships.
  5. To provide more attractive posters to advertise concerts.
  6. To support the Mid-America Youth Symphony so that young musicians who are advancing in the string program of our public schools will have another outlet for their talents.

This list was expanded as it was transformed into the official PURPOSES set forth in the ARTICLES OF ASSOCIATION (By-laws). Article II, Paragraph 5, Line 3:

In the nearly 20 years since its founding, the Friends have consistently worked toward these goals through various fund raising projects, by creating scholarships, providing mileage to out-of-town playing members, creating advertisement, recruiting players, etc. Dr. Kenny McDougle (Timpani-percussion) is the current president, following the line of distinguished past- presidents--Mrs. Becky Schwenke, Dr. Russell Jones, and Dr. Paul Carlson.

Last Modified: Apr 15, 2006 - 22:20
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For more information, contact:
Stella Hastings (620)235-4469

© 2002 PSU Music Dept.