Preserving Living History at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
By Celeste T. Dickson

  The Atlanta Symphony Brass Quintet is in residence at Kennesaw State. Currently, 11 Atlanta Symphony musicians teach at KSU.  

Last spring, students in Dr. Tom Scott’s Oral History class delved into living history by interviewing musicians, conductors and others whose stories will shape how the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) will be remembered. Funded by a $5,000 grant from the Georgia Humanities Council, the collaborative project between Kennesaw State and the orchestra was designed to commemorate the ASO’s 60th anniversary. The relationship between Kennesaw State and the orchestra has been long-standing; 11 KSU music members are also members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

In preparation for their interviews, the students conducted research on their selected topics and toured Symphony Hall and the Woodruff Arts Center, guided by ASO historian Nick Jones. After the tour, they saw a live three-hour concert.

“I had never been exposed to that side of the cultural arts,” said recent KSU graduate Marie Stanton, who never attended a concert performance until the onsite tour. “I got to interview conductors and musicians,” she said. “I also got to learn what goes on behind the scenes.”

Todd Frary, a history education senior and long-time supporter of the orchestra, recalled the experience as tough and rewarding because of the subject matter he chose. “I felt fortunate to get the topic,” said Frary, who researched the 1962 Orly crash. “I got to talk to people who hadn’t talked about it in years,” he said. “I interviewed close friends, board members, musicians and members of the community.”

“The students in this class created primary resource materials that will be available to researchers perpetually,” said Dr. Scott. “This was a very timely project; the orchestra was formed after WWII, and we are fortunate to still have some people around from the beginning.”

Project originators, Dr. Jill Sauser, daughter-in-law of former ASO concertmaster Martin Sauser, and KSU history professor Dr. Catherine Lewis plan to use the transcribed interviews in a future book about the orchestra. “We…thought that an oral history project would aid in the research for that book,” said Dr. Lewis. “It was really nice to create a project that would so engage KSU’s students.”

The project culminated in the orchestra’s public presentation entitled “Atlanta Symphony: The First 25 Years,” held at the Woodruff Arts Center in October.

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