In 1961 a small group of Meridian citizens met to discuss the possibility of forming a chamber music group. Interest was high among local musicians, so much in fact that the original idea quickly blossomed into a symphony orchestra. Dorothy Lerner, a founding member of the orchestra, played a vital role in the development of the orchestra in Meridian. Mrs. Lerner approached Vernon Raines, then a professor at Livingston State College in Alabama, about leading the newly-formed orchestra as its music director and conductor. Vernon Raines became Meridian Symphony Orchestra’s first conductor and remained in the role for 30 years.
The Meridian Symphony Orchestra made its debut on April 1, 1962 at the Meridian Junior College. The performance drew praise from its attendees. Stanley Dearman, staff writer for The Meridian Star said, “The most significant musical event in the Meridian area in many years was the premiere performance Sunday of the Meridian Symphony Orchestra.” He concluded by saying, “Meridian can now take its place among towns that have come of age.” The concert was also said to have been a financial success, netting some $300. The proceeds were used to launch MSO’s first season in the fall of 1963.
In 1965 MSO booked its first international soloist mezzo-soprano Elena Nikolaidi, the Greek protégé of Bruno Walter. Emma McCain, one of Meridian Symphony’s biggest and most loyal supporters established a generous endowment allowing the orchestra to feature many accomplished musicians throughout the years.
In its 50-year history, the orchestra performed in various locations across town, including Meridian High School Auditorium and Meridian Community College stage. Exciting new ventures, like the establishment of a strings program in the public schools, and the development of the Meridian Symphony Chorus allowed the orchestra to deepen its connection with the community.
Today the Meridian Symphony Orchestra under the leadership and direction of Dr. Claire Fox Hillard, performs annually at the MSU Riley Center. You can visit the viola sheet music archive also. This year marks Maestro Hillard’s 20th year with the orchestra. Meridian Symphony’s administrative office is located in the former Phil Hardin Foundation house. With a generous grant from the Phil Hardin Foundation, Meridian Symphony Association, Inc. was able to establish a strings program, offering violin lessons for children and adults, with plans to add woodwind and brass instruction in the near future. With a newly redefined mission and added focus on education, Meridian Symphony uses all available resources to expose young people to the arts through educational outreach programs. The annual children’s concert LinkUP!, a product of a recent partnership with Carnegie Hall, introduces fourth-grade students in our community to the wonderful world of symphonic music.
The 2010-2011 Season, “A Season of Celebration”, marks the 50th anniversary of the Meridian Symphony Orchestra, now a vibrant artistic presence in Meridian. This year the orchestra pays tribute to all “pioneers” of the organization. Their early work and vision inspired the efforts of the Meridian Symphony’s current supporters and volunteers who make this celebration possible.