Symphoria will kick off its 10th season this month.
Family Times recently talked to Executive Director Pamela Murchison about the orchestra’s history, its youth programs, and the impact it has had on Central New York during the last decade.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
1. Can you start by telling me a little about the history behind Symphoria?
Symphoria is the successor organization to the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. In 2011, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra filed for bankruptcy, and the musicians just kept planning and playing concerts. That work eventually evolved in 2012 to the official start of Symphoria, the orchestra of Central New York.
We’re one of only two orchestras in the United States that are a cooperative, so the musicians have a real vested interest in the organization. They serve as full voting members of the board and are really involved in all aspects of the organization. Several of them work on staff. And we are really transparent. Unless it’s some sort of HR or contractual issue, everybody pretty much knows everything, which has been a really great method for us to use.
2. What kind of impact do you think you have had on the community over the past 10 years?
Symphoria performs excellent concerts, with a focus on programming that’s really relevant to Central New York. I think through all of the different concerts that we do, and through our different educational programming, we really are bringing people together through music. We try to be the best orchestra we can be for this region.
We did a benefit concert for Ukrainian refugees in April. With such a large Ukrainian community in Central New York, I think there were a lot of people that either saw themselves on stage or felt like they could participate in something that was really affecting people, like friends and neighbors in our community. That’s just one example of the sorts of things we like to do…We just try to find ways that might be surprising to some people thinking that we mostly play music by dead white men. We try to be very current and put things on the stage over the course of the season that reflect what’s going on in our community today.
3. What are some other examples of past shows?
In 2019, we did a concert titled, Ellis Island: The Dream of America. It’s a new original piece of music that has footage of people who came through Ellis Island. And there are speaking parts, so we worked with students in the Syracuse University Drama Department and the leaders at Syracuse Stage to put on the event. A local costume designer dressed the actors in period-appropriate clothing. Syracuse is a sanctuary city. We have a lot of new Americans and refugees who have settled here. We reached out to the InterFaith Works’ Spirit of America to invite new Americans to come and participate. Again, something that was really rich for our community.
We have a series of kids concerts every year that combine music with different educational experiences. We did one in April of 2022 that celebrated the heritage and culture of the Haudenosaunee nation. We’ve worked with Nick Ziobro and Julia Goodwin, who are well-respected, well-traveled, Broadway-style singers from Central New York.
You can know nothing about music and love the concerts, or you can dig deeper and nerd out with us because we love it all.
4. You also offer school programs and youth orchestras?
We have Saturday morning kids’ programs, and those are often transformed into school day events, where Symphoria will either go to a school district or the school district will take a field trip and come to us at Inspiration Hall on James Street (where we often perform). And those are great. We’re expanding the footprint of those programs. We have some good, longstanding relationships and are certainly open to doing more, and really engaging with elementary school students in particular through live symphonic music so they have some reference whenever they can pick an orchestra or band instrument – and then hopefully eventually join the Symphoria youth orchestra, which rehearses every Sunday afternoon. It’s an audition-only organization for kids from all across the region. We have families from Utica, from Cortland, from Oswego, from the six-county area, who come in and they get to refine their performance skills and their musical skills – and they get to hang out with kids from all across the region. So, it’s a really great musical activity, a really great social activity. Auditions are ongoing throughout the year. Even though we focus auditions in the summer, families can reach out any time, and if there is an opening, then we will work something out to see if the youth orchestra is a good fit.
We also have a brand-new residency in the Syracuse City School District for third grade. It’s a program that uses music to support literacy development, but also tries to encourage students on the south and west sides of Syracuse to choose a string instrument in the fourth grade, when the school provides instruction, so that we can try to get more students from schools we’re not working with to participate in these orchestra programs down the line.
5. What do you see in the future for Symphoria?
Lots of great music and great opportunities to bring the community together. I think that over the past several years, our programming committee and our education and outreach committee have worked so hard to understand what the community needs and wants from us. We have a lot of non-profit and government organizations that we work with and invite to concerts: 100 Black Men of Syracuse, InterFaith Works, North Side Learning Center. What do our clients need from us? Are we the best people to provide it? So, working a true partnership.
The community can expect to see our series concerts: masterworks, casual, pops, kids, spark. Special events, like Nutcracker Twist. And then just more and more events that hopefully awareness will build, so we can share that story and help people under-stand that what we do is for everybody, and we want to know what we can do to make the community feel more welcome at our events.
6. Is there anything else you would like Family Times readers to know about Symphoria?
All tickets to our series concerts, kids under 18 attend for free. Special events, that does not apply…And just keep checking into the website to see other special events as they come up.
For more information, visit experiencesymphoria.org.
Sept. 17: Opening night
Sept. 30: A Tribute to Richard Smallwood
Oct. 1: Out of This World
Oct. 8: Voices of Independence
Oct. 29: Superheroes
Nov. 5: Concert for Peace
Nov. 20: A Little Afternoon Music
Dec. 17: Holiday Pops
Jan. 15: Expressions of Nature
Jan. 21: Journey of Rediscovery
Jan. 28: Musical Origins
Feb. 4: Nat King Cole Songbook
Feb. 11: Romantic Entanglements
March 5: Onward
March 11: American Voices
March 18: Fantasia of Dance
March 25: The Great
April 15: Mahler’s Second: Onward Symphoria
April 22: Good Vibrations
April 30: Symphoria in the Spotlight
May 13: Queens of Soul