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CRA111 -- Northwest Indiana Symphony Records


2.25 Linear Feet
May 1992
Revised October 1998
Inventory Written By: Scott Bocock


Several individuals donated records of the Northwest Indiana Symphony to the Calumet Regional Archives: Mrs. Violet Wray on September 3, 1982; Mrs. Frances Monfort on October 20, 1983; Mrs. Edith Root on October 16, 1989; and Mr. Robert G. Dalby has donated Symphony programs for the years from 1985 to the present.

Property rights in the records are held by the Calumet Regional Archives. Literary rights are dedicated to the public. There are no restrictions to access to the collection.

Linear feet of shelf space: 2.25
No. of containers: 4
Calumet Regional Archives Collection 111
Processed by: Scott Bocock
Date: May 1992

Scope and Content

The Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra Records document the history of this orchestra from 1933 to 1992. The collection contains historical background materials, minutes, correspondence, and programs.

The by-laws of the Gary Symphony consist of twelve articles, detailing information such as name and location of the symphony, objects and purposes of the organization, membership meetings, directors, and the executive committee. By-laws also contain data on officers, compensation, contributions, dues and membership certificates, resignations, and amendments.

Minutes, 1948-1977, include planning for programs and proposals for programs. They also highlight decisions for certain performers to play at concerts. Financial reports include treasurer's reports, proposed budgets, and proposals for fund raisers. Secretary's reports detail the reading of the minutes from previous meetings. Minutes also illustrate decisions and discussion of executive board meetings and programs for monthly meetings. Decisions were made on by-laws, nominations of committees, officers and board members. Other discussions and decisions include management, nature and structure of a symphony orchestra. Information is revealed on people who performed with the orchestra and on new and incoming orchestra personnel, members, officers and board members.

Correspondence (1947-1981), deals with the symphony asking contributors to give donations or approval of fund-raisers. This includes letters of reply from contributors to the symphony. Other forms of correspondence are reminders to members of up coming concerts and meetings. Many are also reminders to let the orchestra personnel know when the next rehearsal took place. Correspondence provides invitations to receptions and concerts. Letters asking women to organize the women's association of the symphony are also highlighted in this series. Other letters are revealed that let members know of new managers to the symphony and also congratulations were sent to people who became future board members and officers. One of the most interesting parts of the correspondence is a letter sent by Irwin Fischer, applying for position of conductor to the Gary Symphony.

The Women's Association of the Northwest Indiana Symphony Society newsletters, (1983-1988) offer articles about the concert season, special performers and news notes. Articles provide commentaries by the presidents and the music conductor of the seasons contained by these newsletters. On each newsletter is a list of the executive committee from 1982-83 issues to the 1983-84 issue. Each of these newsletters supplies a calendar highlighting events associated with the Women's Association. In this file also is one newsletter from the Northwest Indiana Symphony dated fall 1988, volume two, issue two. This contains various articles that deals with the fall 1988 season and includes a calendar highlighting events.

A major series in the collection comprises of programs of the concerts from 1941-1992, and includes the program, conductor, soloist or guest artist, musical scores and its composer. Background information on the soloist or guest artist and musical scores are also provided in the programs. The Gary Symphony Orchestra is listed in each program and includes the concert master, officers, executive committee, directors, orchestra committee, symphony members and the orchestra personnel. A list of contributors and various advertisements are also furnished in each program. In file folder twenty-one is a program of the Northwest Indiana Opera Inc., presenting La Boheme. Revealed in this program is a cast of characters, conductor, set designer, costume designer and a lighting designer. The chorus is also provided, which includes the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra. The Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra is included in the Northwest Indiana Opera Theater Orchestra. Background and a synopsis of the opera is provided in this program. Future productions, various advertisements and a list of contributors are also supplied in the program.

Photographs are furnished in this collection and comprise of photos that are identified and dated, identified and don't have dates and unidentified and have no dates. A majority of the photographs are of musical personalities who have performed with the symphony or well known individuals who performed with the symphony ballet. Also documented in the collection are photographs of symphony conductors, orchestra personnel, symphony and ballet rehearsals, choirs and a photo of the Munster Conservatory of Music.

Researchers should note that historical background on the Symphony is located in Box 1, File folder 1.

Historical Sketch

Historical Sketch

In September of 1941, Arthur Zack, a cello teacher from Chicago moved to Gary to organize an orchestra. A meeting was held in the office of Mayor Ernest Schaible, where Zack met Mildred Wirt, director of auditoriums for the Gary Schools and M.C. Snyder, school superintendent of music. Wirt and Snyder along with many others believed that the idea of a local orchestra wouldn't last very long. After a meeting between Mrs. Wirt and local leaders, however, it was decided that the project would be supported.

To encourage musicians to attend the first rehearsal, Zack placed an ad in the Gary Post Tribune. Twenty-six musicians appeared at the first rehearsal, but the next rehearsal resulted in sixty individuals attending. Many of these early rehearsals were performed in the YMCA building. Although many musicians were gained through advertisements, Frances Monfort was appointed as recruiter of musicians.

The first concert was performed on Dec. 7, 1941 at 8:30 p.m. at Seaman Hall. Jennie Gaudio (Wilkinson) was made mistress of the orchestra and Frances Monfort was principal cello, secretary to the first board of directors, and on some projects, acted as orchestra manager. Anne Mac Isaac was asked to be soloist. The program included the Corelli Christmas Concerto Grosso, a symphony by Haydn, an overture by Boieldieu, two woodland sketches by Mac Dowell, Strauss' Emperor Waltzes and Three Dances from Smetana's The Bartered Bride. Miss Mac Isaac performed an aria by Glueck and three songs accompanied by pianist Helen Leefelt. A few of the musicians were paid and came from Chicago, but most were volunteers.

Unfortunately, word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was soon received and this influenced Zack to begin the concert with the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner". According to cellist Violet Hayes Wray, "It was the most emotional rendition of the national anthem in which I had ever taken part".

Fortunately, this concert became very successful and proved that Gary and its surrounding communities could support an orchestra. Financially, the concert well also thanks to a gift of $503.95 from Elizabeth Scheddell. To finish the 1941-42 season, three more concerts were performed.

Meanwhile, the roots of the orchestra's organizations were being formed. Sydney Lighthill, a local real estate and insurance broker along with Mrs. William A. Wirt contacted seventy-five of Gary's outstanding city leaders to become directors of the orchestra. At the first board meeting, Rabbi Garry J. August was elected the first president. In the next season, E.N. Ripley, insurance broker, took over the Presidency and with Mr. Paul Howard, Librarian of the Gary Public Libraries, organized a campaign and sold their first season subscription tickets. By 1943, $2000 had been raised to support the 1943-44 season.

The greatness of this organization was due to the loyalty and dedication of the members of the orchestra. The management of Dr. H. Bratton, President; W.P. Cottingham, Mrs. R.T. Griffith, Mrs. W.A. Wirt, R.F. Gordon, Vice Presidents; W.S. Goedcke, Treasurer; Frances Monfort, Mrs. D.R. Wray, Secretaries; M. Dreyfus, W.W. Mathews, A.P. Greene, E.N. Ripley, P.H. West, Mrs. H.B. Snyder, Mrs. W. Wilkinson, Mrs. C.R. Black, Elizabeth Scheddell, Norma Largura, Elmo V. Roessler and others.

In 1943, Arthur Zack, resigned as conductor and went to devote himself to the Rockford, Illinois Orchestra. However in his four years as conductor and founder, he made a great contribution to Gary. His energetic enthusiasm and leadership helped to forge the Gary Symphony Orchestra.

During its existence, the Gary Symphony Orchestra performed at various locations. From 1941 to 1953, the main home of the orchestra was Seaman Hall of City Methodist Church in Gary. During these years other concerts were performed at Froebel High School, Horace Mann High School and Memorial Auditorium all in Gary. In 1954, the orchestra moved its home base to Memorial Auditorium and remained here until 1960, but then moved back to Seaman Hall for one season. At this time at least one concert was performed at the Gary Center of Indiana University Northwest. Concerts were moved in 1961 to Indiana University Northwest on a regular basis, but some were performed at Seaman Hall and at Gavit High School in Hammond. Concerts were held at Indiana University Northwest Memorial Auditorium and Gary West Side High School from 1966 to 1971.

After a brief hiatus in 1972, Gary Symphony members formed the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, holding concerts at area high-schools. These schools included Hammond Morton High School, Munster High School, Merrillville High School, West Side, Wirt High School, Highland High School, Crown Point High School and Valparaiso High School.

The first performance at the Star Plaza Theater in Merrillville was a cabaret pops concert in September 1981. In November of the following year, the first concert was performed at the Star Plaza Theater. In 1983, the orchestra established the Star Plaza Theater as its home concert hall. Concerts have also been performed at the Crown Point Community Building, Southlake Mall, the Resurrection Chapel of Valparaiso University and the new center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster. Outdoor locations of performances have been held at Munster Park, John Woods Mill Park in Hobart, Marquette Park, Main Square Park in Highland, Whiting Park , the grounds of Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in Dyer and Southlake Mall. Performances outside Northwest Indiana included South Bend and Indianapolis, for Indianapolis Ballet Theater.

Many well-known musicians and performers from around the world have been involved with the orchestra, such as Benny Goodman, Arthur Fiedler, Van Cliburn, Peter Nero, and William Marshall.

During the 1990-91 season, the orchestra celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. This was done by performing a concert commemorating the first concert of the Gary Symphony at Seaman Hall. It was performed on April 20, 1991. The Opus 50 Rhapsody in Gold Gala was the social highlight of the celebration. There was also a commemorative pin on sale at the time. During this time, the orchestra also received letters congratulating the group on the anniversary and for becoming a major cultural force in the community from President and Mrs. Bush and Governor Evan Bayh.

Box File Description
1 1 Historical Background
2 By-laws
3-9 Minutes, (1948-1977)
10 Correspondence (1947-1981)
11 Newsletters (1983-1988)
12 Gary Philharmonic Orchestra Programs, Seasons 1-2 (1933-1934)
13 Programs, Seasons 1-7 (1941-42-1947-48)
14 Programs, Seasons 8-10 (1948-49-1950-51)
15 Programs, Seasons 11-13 (1951-52-1953-54)
16 Programs, Seasons 13-18 (1953-54-1958-59)
17 Programs, Seasons 20-35 (1960-61-1975-76)
18 Programs, (1978-79-1979-80)
19 Program, Northwest Indiana Opera Inc., Friday, September 26, 1980 and Saturday, September 27, 1980
20-29 Programs, 1980-1988 Seasons

Box File Description
2 1-14 Programs, 1987-97 Seasons

Box File Description
3 1 Programs, 1997-1998
2 Program, Gary Music Festival - Aug. 20, 1949
3 Program, Gary Municipal Chorus Tuesday April 19, 1949
4 Membership (Subscribers)
5 Committees
6 Docent Program (1980-89)
7 Orchestra Personnel
8 Equipment 1948-49
9 Women's Association of the N.W. Indiana Symphony Society 1978 - 1979, 1979 - 1980
3 10 Gary Jaycees, 1954-55
  10a Roster, Youth Orchestra, 1985-1986
11 Newspaper articles, 1945-1990
12 Newspaper articles, n.d.

Box File Description
4 20 Slides, (2), Unidentified, n.d.
21 Posters, (4), Gary Symphony Orchestra, 1948, 1949-50

Organization Chart 1950-51

Subject Tracings

  • Calumet Region (Indiana)
  • Community Organizations -- Indiana -- Calumet Region
  • Music -- Indiana -- Calumet Region
  • Orchestras -- Indiana -- Calumet Region