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Symphony Volunteer Association History

The genesis of today’s St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association has roots dating back to the St. Louis World’s Fair, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904.  Mrs. John T. Davis, Jr. was president of the Saint Louis Symphony Society.  Although women were not organized into an official body at that time, there was significant activity focused on raising money for the “Guarantee Fund” and increasing season ticket subscribers.

In 1923, a group of St. Louis women met at the home of Mrs. Charles M. Rice in order to plan for a group to support the Symphony.  Using the Women’s Association of the Philadelphia Orchestra as a model, rules were developed for a new organization called The Women’s Committee of the Saint Louis Symphony Society.  The original list of members numbered over 130 names and the first president, Mrs. Thomas G. Ratliffe, served for two years which has been the organization’s tradition still current through today.  A member’s requirements included the following: 1) subscriber to the Guarantee Fund, 2) season ticket subscriber, or 3) give service to the Orchestra.  Member dues were $2.00 and the ranks of this organization grew rapidly to include 465 by the end of 1927.  The Women’s Committee sought to increase its membership by appealing to over 20 other women’s organizations in St. Louis at that time.

From the 1927 Annual Report, the purpose of the Committee was “to advance the interests of the Orchestra, stimulate attendance at the concerts, to further the progress of the children’s concerts, and to act as a hospitality committee.”  Additionally, members organized a series of pre-symphony talks typically presented by guest conductors.

By the 1930s, the Committee had also sponsored young people’s concerts and implemented awards inspired by the concerts.  Social gatherings honoring Symphony soloists were held.  A new music scholarship was offered to the summer high school camp at Interlochen, MI.  In 1934, the women secured 1,332 new Symphony subscriptions and an additional 627 for the following year which was a feat reported on across the country within musical communities.  Mrs. Charles M. Rice became president in 1935 and The Junior Women’s Committee had been formed for younger women that arranged pre-concert lectures and parties for visiting artists.  By 1937, the Committee changed its name to The Women’s Association of the Saint Louis Symphony Society and sponsored weekly broadcasts of Symphony members on a local radio station.

Times changed over the years, and so did the membership of the Symphony volunteer group. As the end of the 20th century approached, it was clear that a new organization name was needed to reflect those changes. In 1991, the volunteer group became known as the St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association (SVA) with women and men being an integral part of the membership.

SVA efforts have always been focused around fundraising, and significant past projects made it possible to endow three Symphony chairs: Symphony Women’s Association Chair, Principal Trumpet (1975); Henry Loew Chair, Principal Double Bass (1983); and Symphony Women’s Association Chair, Principal Timpani (1992).  Between 2001 and 2004, the SVA raised over $500,000 toward the Taylor Family Challenge earning a place on the recognition plaque in Powell Hall. The longest-running SVA fundraiser, Gypsy Caravan, will be presented for the 45th consecutive year on Memorial Day 2017 and has contributed over $3.5 million to the St. Louis Symphony.

In recent years, the SVA added education projects as part of its volunteer activities. Picture the Music (1991) and Express the Music (1998) are annual creative art and writing competitions, respectively, that expose thousands of students to symphonic music. In 2002, Express the Music received the Sally B. Parker Gold Ribbon Award for Education from the Volunteer Council of the American Symphony Orchestra League (now the League of American Orchestras). In 2005, the SVA added Instrument Playground. This project gives grade school children hands-on exploration and experience with the four instrument families in schools and other community venues.

Today, the SVA continues to pursue significant goals for fundraising and education and looks forward to future growth of the SVA membership as part of the Friends of the Symphony. Through this integration, Friends of the Symphony are encouraged to join the SVA through their support of the St. Louis Symphony with an annual contribution and have the opportunity to participate in a variety of projects that support the mission of the Symphony: to enrich people’s lives through the power of music.

References:

  1. Symphony and Song
    The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
    The First Hundred Years:  1980-1980
    By Katherine Gladney Wells
    1980, The Countryman Press, pages 180-200

    An updated edition was published in 1993 by The Patrice Press with the same title/author as above but also included The Years 1980-1992 by Gayle R. McIntosh, pages 196-217.

  2. 1927 Annual Report of The Women’s Committee of the Saint Louis Symphony Society