ASHLAND -- Approximately 50 years ago, an audience might have enjoyed some of the same classical tunes as they do today at one of the Ashland Symphony Orchestra's concerts.
Though much about the Ashland Symphony Orchestra has changed over the past five decades, the music -- powerful, passionate pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and others -- still resonates with audiences.
Executive director Martha Buckner recalls one recent show for children, where music composed in 1875 by Edward Grieg peaked the youngster's attention because it had been used in the 2016 movie "Trolls"
"We hadn't realized this, but we played "In the Hall of the Mountain King," and the kids came up to us afterwards. They were excited and told us it was from "Trolls," Buckner said. "We hadn't known that."
Further, she explained, it can be cost prohibitive to use pieces published after 1923, as they are not yet in the public domain.
The Ashland Symphony Orchestra was started in 1970 when former president of Ashland College Dr. Glenn Clayton hired founding music director and conductor, Harold Weller. Another smaller orchestra had existed briefly from 1925 into the 1940s and played intermittently, but that initiative was not led by what's now Ashland University.
The orchestra formed by Ashland College almost ended similarly.
"In the financial crisis of 1976, the University couldn't support the orchestra anymore," said current executive director Martha Buckner. "But fortunately, by then the orchestra had its own base of donors."
To support what it could, Ashland University offered in-kind donations to the orchestra. Still today, the Ashland Symphony Orchestra operates out of the University's Center for the Arts without paying rent or utilities for the space.
Initially a community orchestra, the group ultimately evolved into a fully professional orchestra.
"That means that they are paid per service. They get paid every time they sit in the seat," Buckner said.
This includes both rehearsals and shows. Sometimes only one rehearsal takes place before a show.
An Aging Audience
Orchestras everywhere are seeing their audience increasing in age, Buckner said.
"That changes their finances and mobility. They aren't always able to come anymore," she continued.
The Ashland Symphony Orchestra looks to break down barriers for its existing audience, but is also looking to attract more young people, too.
"One of the things we do is frequently is encourage our season ticket holders to give them to someone if they can't use their tickets," Buckner said. "We tell them to give it to someone you know, and they will likely become a ticket buyer. I've seen that without a doubt."
The Next 50 Years
Buckner is optimistic about the future of the Ashland Symphony Orchestra.
Currently, the organization is searching for a new music director after the orchestra's longtime leader, Arie Lipsky retired after 23.5 years.
A 12-member search committee, chaired by Jan Archer, is currently reviewing applications and is working on a timeline by which candidates will be chosen.
Those chosen will each craft and conduct a symphony program during the 2020-21 season.
With input from audiences, board members, and orchestra musicians playing under the candidates’ direction, the committee will make its recommendation to the ASO Board of Directors in May, 2021.