The SC Orchestra Division History
Written by William H. Thomas
Writing during the Thanksgiving season prompts me to express gratitude for the women who were and are principally responsible for the beginning and a great deal of the growth and refinement of the Orchestra Division of the SCMEA. Which is not to say an examination of the list of presidents will not reveal “a few good men.”
To the best of my recollection it was the beginning of the 1960-61 school year that Peggy Gignilliat (Mrs. Charles) assembled some of the ASTA members in SC to organize the first (1961) All State Orchestra.
Peggy presided over a mature and robust strings program, South Carolina’s first, in Spartanburg—incidentally, poised for exploding expansion. Bill Thomas had started the state’s second schools’ string program in Anderson four years earlier and had just begun with the third in Greenville. Donn Mills, conductor of the Charleston Symphony, was encouraging private study there. John Bauer had just arrived at USC in Columbia and Jerrie Lucktenberg and Lucien DeGroote at Converse College in Spartanburg. Dr. and Mrs. Gordon Bobbett, Doris and Frank West, and the wonderful luthier Charles Smith were teaching and encouraging study in Florence. At Coker College in Hartsville Mrs. Alice Smith was doing her part. And an ASTA-MENC member at Winthrop, Emmett Gore, was teaching mostly instrumental classes chiefly for Music Education majors.
That meeting elected the first slate of officers of the SC String Teachers Association: Peggy T. Gignilliat, President; Jerrie Lucktenberg, Vice President; Donn Mills, Secretary; and Emmett Gore, Treasurer. The only activities of the new SCSTA that I recall for that first year were joint sponsorship with SCMEA of the All State Orchestra in February 1961 and endorsement of the new Blythe Shoals String Camp (now at Furman) at Camp Parker in Greenville County in June following. The Band Division of SCMEA appointed Gilbert Carp All State Orchestra Chairman to assist SCSTA in securing the winds, brass, and percussion needed for the orchestra’s repertoire.
After several years of SCSTA-Band Division cooperating with the All State Orchestra, on the good advice of the Band Division SCSTA members also became SCMEA String Division members 1966-68 under the administration of Richard Maag of Furman, and then successively Orchestra Division in 1968 with Daniel Boda of Furman, Joseph Fischer of Limestone, and Nancy Kredel (a violinist in the first All-State Orchestra) of the Charleston Schools. These presidents 1966-1972 were SCSTA presidents of the String/Orchestra Division of SCMEA. The SCMEA-SCSTA joint sponsoring of the All-State Orchestra became a sole sponsorship of the SCMEA in 1972 with the president Patricio Cobos of Winthrop, a reflection of the growth of strings programs in the schools of South Carolina and the waxing of Orchestra Division of SCMEA membership and a waning of SCSTA membership, real as well as proportional.
As string study flourished eventually in every major population center in South Carolina, the support and enrichment services of the Orchestra Division grew. To the one day first All State full orchestra were added string ensembles in which less experienced players could function effectively over two, and finally, three days. Then Eastern and Western Regional Full Orchestras and string orchestras were scheduled separately from the All-State weekend. Ultimately the separation developed into the present Junior and Senior All State Orchestras and String Orchestras format, replacing the regional orchestras.
However, other regional started and continue with adjudication of solo and small ensembles, as well as of large ensembles. The auditions for the first All State Orchestra nearly killed Jack Bauer: he conscientiously heard all the violins back to back! Half sick at the beginning, I think he took his bed for a week at the end. So the efficient system Oliver Roosevelt and Paul Buyer developed of regional taping and central adjudication has made evaluation of hundreds of string players both feasible and fair. Auditions to choose soloists with the orchestra are still live and central, however.
No examination of the Orchestra Division can fail to recognize that the maturing of the organization owes much to the leadership of Pamela Telejohn Hayes. Without taking anything from the contributions of others I believe her timely influence moved us toward and into excellence in every area of activity of the organization. The richness the In Service Sessions have become she and Jean Clarke foreshadowed by inviting string teachers from over the state to a two day seminar with Paul Rowland in Charleston soon after she came to our state more than twenty-five years ago. A national influence now, we count our blessings that she has chosen to remain here in South Carolina.
I am grateful for the assistance of Mary Ada Poole for advice and clarification of some memories. As Peggy Gignilliat’s student teacher (and hitherto undocumented drafted member of the skinny viola section of the first All State Orchestra) she and I are among the few who were at the beginning and through most of the rest.
Thanks to the current president, Laurie Gittinger for providing her files.
Written by William H. Thomas, 1998
As I sit outside of Furman University at the 2008 Cello Choir sponsored by SCASTA, I am able to type Bill Thomas’s handwritten history of the SC Orchestra Division into a computer word file to be preserved for future generations of orchestra teachers and students. I am grateful for this history and also proud to be part of such an austere group of musicians and music educators. The Orchestra Division of SCMEA has come a long way in the past forty-eight odd years and I appreciate Bill’s foresight to compose and archive its history, as well as the list of presidents over the years.
I would like to add events and changes that have occurred since 1998, yet I can’t help but feel somewhat less of an artist than Bill Thomas, because my addition will not be written in the beautiful manuscript handwriting that is here by my side. I guess the dawn of the computer age has taken its toll on many things, some good and some bad, and the art of handwritten notes and letters will more than likely be lost after this generation passes. I will leave that for someone else to judge.
Catherine Crowe presided over the Orchestra Division after Laurie Gittinger; she led us into the new millennium with style and grace. Johanna Pollock and Susan Baier stayed the course through the young 21st century and improved upon the Eastern/Western Regional Orchestras by dividing the state into four regions.
The numbers of string students across the state has exploded in the past ten years and the new organization of the state into the four regions has made it possible for more students than ever to participate in ensembles of excellence. In 2003, under the administration of Johanna Pollock, live auditions for Region Orchestra became policy, leaving the auditions for All State Orchestra as taped. Each of these regions now hosts their own Region Orchestra weekends, Concert Festivals, and Solo & Ensemble Festivals. Paul Buyer is still instrumental in organizing auditions and in 2002, Johanna Pollock gave him permission to begin the first Orchestra Division web site.
In 2007, the All State auditions went from taped to live at USC, organized by Paul Buyer and Chris Selby; hosted by Gail Barnes. The All State Orchestra weekend was re-configured that same year to include three honor ensembles; Junior All State Orchestra, grades 6-8; Senior All State Orchestra, grades 9-10; and Senior Honors All State Orchestra, grades 11-12. This new organization has given more students the opportunity to perform in All State Orchestra than ever before.
Sharon Doyle continues her service to the Orchestra Division by acting as treasurer and keeping us up to date on legislation that is being discussed and voted on in the State House. Chris Selby has provided outstanding leadership during the changes in the All State audition process and new All State orchestra configuration. He will go on to represent the Orchestra division as President-Elect of the South Carolina Music Educators Association in 2009 and successively as president of SCMEA in 2011.
The universities in South Carolina have been instrumental in helping the state string teachers create and maintain strong school programs by offering seminars, workshops, and support. Honorable mention should go to Gail Barnes and Bob Jesselson of USC, Tom Joiner of Furman, Andrew Levin of Clemson, and Kenneth Law of Converse College.
Thanks go to Johanna Pollock for helping me with my memories.
Respectfully submitted by Sarah Fitzgerald, September 13, 2008