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Roots of the Kalamazoo Symphony

A Prehistory of the KSO (1881–1921)


The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (KSO) officially began in 1921 under the shrewd leadership of business manager and president Leta G. Snow and director Chester Z. Bronson. But this was not Kalamazoo’s first symphony orchestra, nor was it Chester Bronson’s first time as conductor. Indeed Bronson and others made several attempts to form such an organization, though it was to Leta Snow’s great credit that the KSO would ultimately become a sustainable organization.

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Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

This then is by no means an attempt to rewrite the known history of the KSO, but rather a chance to explore the four decades prior to the orchestra’s official beginning. By taking a look back at these earlier organizations; the musicians who were involved and where they came from, the music they created, and the legacy they left, we gain a more complete understanding of how the current KSO came to be.

“It is hoped that out of the rather small, though ambitious, beginning, a symphony orchestra will be developed in this city.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 September 1921

Prelude I: Orchestral Music in Kalamazoo (1881)

When Professor N.P. Stanton arrived in Kalamazoo in April 1881, he encountered a community eager to explore the growing new art form known as orchestral music. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, popular composers such as Beethoven, Haydn, Berlioz, Verdi, Wagner, Mahler, Strauss, and others had begun to write music for a newer and larger combination of instruments; brass, woodwinds and especially strings, which required a high degree of knowledge and training. Stanton was well prepared. He had toured the state with Salomon Mazurette’s famous Detroit-based concert troupe during the 1870s, and spent two years as a respected music teacher at the Albion College Conservatory of Music. After establishing his residence in Parlor No.21 at the International Hotel on South Burdick Street, he immediately began to advertise his “Kalamazoo School of Orchestral Music” with classes for violin, clarinet, flute, viola, cello and double bass.

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The Index, 9 May 1881. Kalamazoo College Archives.

Kalamazoo’s First Concert Orchestra

Within a few weeks of his arrival, Stanton was offered a position as the musical director at Kalamazoo College, and had organized what was perhaps Kalamazoo’s first “proper” concert orchestra, that is to say, the first such organization dedicated to concert performances of orchestral music. The beginnings were humble indeed for the college orchestra. Fifteen of Stanton’s students who were “more or less familiar with their instruments” (Gazette) formed the core group, plus a few local professionals who were enlisted to fill in the bare spots. The first rehearsal was held on 7 May 1881, and the results were most encouraging.

“So much fame was acquired by the orchestra before it could successfully master one overture, that boys of the village crowded to the brow of College hill to listen to the plaintive tooting of horns and squeaking of violins, each wishing that he too might be able sometime to join the orchestra and play under the guidance of the director’s baton.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 November 1921

By June 1881, the orchestra had grown to more than 20 pieces. Rehearsals were held several times each week for a month or more in preparation for a feature performance during the college commencement exercises on June 22nd. A photograph of the orchestra (probably the one shown below) was taken in front of First Congregational Church later that afternoon.

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Kalamazoo College Orchestra, June 1881. Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 November 1921. Back row: Bert Sawyer, cornet; W.A. Tomlinson, flute; C.L. Davis, cornet; C.A. Fletcher, clarinet; C.H. Gleason, clarinet; John H. Everard, trombone; Frank H. Boyden, cello; Joseph Phillips, double bass. Front row: Prof. N.P. Stanton, violin and director; John Lounsbury, violin; Prof. Alexander Hadlock, violin; Goddie Rosenbaum, violin; Harry Pettie (seated) bells; Henry Haskell, violin; Arthur L. Pratt, violin; Prof. F.D. Haskell, violin; James McGraw, bass drum; Frank Fish, snare drum.

Kalamazoo College Orchestra (June 1881*)

Prof. N.P. Stanton; violinist and director W.A. Tomlinson, flute
Prof. Alexander Hadlock, first violin I.G. Chapin, flute
A.N. Kemis, first violin C.H. Gleason, clarinet
Godwald “Goddie” Rosenbaum, first violin Chas. A. Fletcher, clarinet
John Lounsbury, first violin W.J. “Bert” Sawyer, cornet
Prof. F.D. Haskell, second violin C.L. Davis, cornet
H.H. Barber, second violin John Henson “Heinz” Everard, trombone
Arthur L. Pratt, second violin G. Frank Fish, side drum
Alfred Jeffrys, second violin James McGraw (McGaw), large drum
Frank H. Boyden, violoncello Harry Pettie, chimes
Joseph F. Phillips, viola L.O.P. Hoyt, piano
Frank Beals, double bass
*Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 22 June 1881, p.4

“The concert by the college orchestra last evening at the Baptist church drew out a large audience, filling the house to overflowing. This full orchestra discourses excellent music and is appreciated by our people.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 December 1881

Expanded 40-Piece Orchestra

Kalamazoo Telegraph, 16 December 1881

At the close of his first 16-week term, Stanton assessed his accomplishments; 450 lessons given, 35 orchestra rehearsals, and six public performances, with 50 to 100 students expected for the following fall term. Not bad for a start.

In preparation for the coming concert season, Stanton reorganized his orchestra and expanded its membership to a full 40 pieces. A 75-minute public performance rehearsal was held at the Michigan Asylum for the Insane (Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital) on December 8, which “was received with manifest enjoyment by the 250 people who made up the audience” (Telegraph). A “Grand Concert”—the first major public concert of the new season—was held a week later at First Baptist Church featuring prominent guest performers.

Though Stanton’s orchestra and music school didn’t last long, perhaps only a year or two, they did help introduce local audiences to the concept of orchestral music, and undoubtedly piqued the interest of many a would-be local musician. Indeed several members of this first orchestra would later become involved with other organizations that ultimately led to the formation of today’s Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

“The Plainwell Independent says: ‘The entertainment given by the Kalamazoo college orchestra at the Baptist church last Friday evening was the best of its kind ever presented in this county.’”

Kalamazoo Telegraph, 30 December 1881

Selected Repertoire

In addition to knowing who played when and where, it is perhaps equally interesting to discover exactly what was being played during these early performances. Representative repertoire as performed by each orchestra (where known) is detailed on a separate page that is linked throughout this article.

Learn more:  Selected Repertoire (1881–1921) >

“…while they promenaded, Bronson’s full orchestra (of twelve pieces) discoursed sweet strains of the most classical music.”

Kalamazoo Telegraph, 27 October 1881

Kalamazoo Conservatory of Music

Stanton’s evangelical zeal for orchestral music and the resulting popularity of his music school evidently prompted Professor Stanley B. Morse to expand his class offerings at the Kalamazoo Conservatory of Music by employing specialized instructors, including one dedicated specifically to orchestral instruments. For the fall term, Morse himself would continue to provide piano, organ and vocal lessons as he had during previous years, but new for 1881 would be specialized instruction for solo cornet by W.F. Smith, “one of the best soloists in the west” (Gazette), guitar by Miss Isa Smith, and string and woodwind instruments (violin, viola, flute and clarinet) by William S. Bronson.

William S. Bronson (1854-1914)

Will Bronson was a respected local musician who was involved with a variety of early musical organizations throughout West Michigan. From 1876, he toured nationally as a minstrel musician and organized multiple regional dance orchestras, including the Kalamazoo-based Bronson & Lounsbury Quadrille Band and the Grand Rapids-based Wurzburg & Bronson Orchestra. Bronson served for several years as a member of the locally famous Constantine Band, and in July 1880, he was elected to lead Kalamazoo’s celebrated Peninsular Commandery Band, the community’s premiere military parade band at the time.

Learn more about William S. Bronson >

“Kalamazoo Orchestra”

During the fall of 1881, Will Bronson formed the twelve-piece Kalamazoo Orchestra*, said to be “as fine an orchestra as can be found in any city in the state” (Gazette). Locally, this was a welcomed departure from the typical four piece quadrille bands where brass instruments (cornet, trombone) often led. The larger string-based Kalamazoo Orchestra featured a sweeter, richer, more robust sound, which made the orchestra uniquely popular.

(*Not to be confused with the Kalamazoo College Orchestra that was formed the same year, although the two might have shared some members.)

The following spring, Will Bronson became the first director of the house orchestra at Kalamazoo’s newly opened Academy of Music. Bronson moved to Grand Rapids in 1882 after just a single season at the Academy of Music, yet he returned frequently, and for several years traveled between engagements in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, often assisting his brothers Chester Z. Bronson and Henry S. Bronson with various local musical programs.

“The new Opera House orchestra, which played their first engagement last night, supplies a long felt want here in the shape of music. It is composed of some of the best musicians in the city.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 April 1885

Chester Z. Bronson (1857-1926)

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C.Z. Bronson, The Billboard, 10 October 1903

Chester Z. “Chet” Bronson was another local kid who, like his older brother Will, quickly became immersed in the popular entertainment industry. While in his twenties during the late 1870s and early 1880s, Chester Bronson received formal training in Baltimore and Boston, and apprenticed on the road with numerous traveling minstrel shows.

Most notably, Bronson studied for a time in New York with Walter Damrosch, a renowned conductor and a key leader in the movement to popularize classical music in the United States. Clearly, this experience made a lasting impact on the young Chet Bronson, likely influencing the way he approached orchestral music throughout his career.

During the spring of 1885, Chet Bronson returned to Kalamazoo and organized a new orchestra at the Opera House on Portage Street. In addition to his brother Will, the new orchestra featured a noted German violinist named August Strehle, plus other members of the Kalamazoo Orchestra. Far more than a simple street band or quadrille orchestra, Bronson’s Orchestra featured a full assortment of stings and woodwinds, and claimed “orchestra music a specialty.”

Learn more about Chester Z. Bronson >

Bronson’s Orchestra (1885*)

William S. Bronson, leader, violin, clarinet Lawrence Noe, clarinet
Chester Z. Bronson, clarinet John Henson “Heinz” Everard, double bass
August Strehle, violin Nicholas Hodgeboom, bass
John Lounsbury, violin J.D. Woodbeck, cornet (Otsego)
Gus Ehlers, violin M.B. Walt
George H. Skinkle, violin
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 April 1885, p.3

 

Prelude II: Building an Orchestra

By the end of the decade, the Bronson brothers had become seasoned professional musicians. Will Bronson was regarded as “one of the best musicians in the state” (Gazette) and would receive national recognition as “one of the most talented, highly educated, and at the same time practical violin makers in the United States” (Grand Rapids Press). Meanwhile, his brother Chester was already cutting his musical teeth on the road with some of the most famous names in the business: P.T. Barnum, Patrick Gilmore, Ellis Brooks, and others. Together, the Bronson brothers created a foundation upon which many local orchestras would later build. As both a musician and a bandleader, Chester Bronson would, in fact, become a driving force behind numerous local musical organizations, including the Kalamazoo Federation of Musicians, the Kalamazoo Concert Band, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

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Advertisement for a dance in Mendon featuring the Kalamazoo Orchestra, March 1886. Private collection.

“Academy of Music Orchestra”

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Geo. B. Newell, c.1905

In 1889, Kalamazoo native George B. Newell took over as leader of the Academy of Music Orchestra and brought a new level of professionalism to the organization. Newell enlisted the finest local musicians he could find, including clarinetist Chet Bronson, with whom he shared leadership duties. Newell and Bronson were immediately recognized for their talents, and the theater management was commended by the press for “having such a fine orchestra… one of the best ever heard in an opera house” (Kalamazoo Telegraph).

Learn more about George and Frank Newell >

When Newell was called away in 1891 to lead a Grand Rapids orchestra, Chet Bronson formally reorganized the Academy of Music Orchestra and brought in a respected local music teacher named Eugene C. McElhany to conduct. In addition to providing musical services for performances at the Academy of Music, for years to come this new ten piece ensemble, said to “stand on a par with any such organization in the state” (Gazette), would add its own flair to a variety of local social and theatrical events, and its core members would figure prominently throughout the formative stages of the KSO.

Academy of Music Band (1891*)

Chester Z. Bronson, clarinet, business manager Fred W. Davis, cornet
Eugene C. McElhany, violin, conductor John Leak, tenor horn
Sam Born, alto horn, treasurer Hiram W. “Hi” Ballou, trombone
Wallace S. White, alto horn, booking J.F. Warner
George Pfeiffer, violin, prompter Fred C. Hayes
Fred Shoecraft, cornet Frank Newell, bass
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 December 1891, p.2

 

Charity Minstrels

Beginning in 1886, Kalamazoo musicians banded together each holiday season and staged a benefit minstrel show to help raise money for a local children’s charity. By 1890, the annual benefit had grown to become a series of public performances sponsored by local merchant and future mayor Sam Floz, with an orchestra — often led by William and/or Chester Bronson — that included a consistent roster of Kalamazoo’s finest musicians.

Sam Folz Minstrel Orchestra (1892*)

Otto Schultz, flute, director
Derance ‘Deal’ Richards, cornet
Fred W. Davis, cornet
Chester Z. Bronson, clarinet
Fred Miller, violin (voted “best violin player” at Kalamazoo County Fair, 1887)
Frank A. Newell, bass
Hardy Hardella, trombone
Joe Wilbur, drum
Burton Fischer, piano

*Kalamazoo Gazette, 5 January 1893, p.8

Folz Excelsior Minstrels

When Chet Bronson returned to Kalamazoo in December 1893 after more than a year on the road with John Philip Sousa’s famous band, he once again offered his services as musical director for the annual charity series. For the first performance, a December 27th program at the Academy of Music billed as the “Folz Excelsior Minstrels,” Bronson placed the orchestra under the leadership of a prominent Kalamazoo music and dance instructor named John Walter McLouth.

J. Walter McLouth

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J. Walter McLouth, c.1900. Courtesy Dave Sutherland, The Mandolin Archive.

As director of the Grand Opera House orchestra, J. Walter McLouth shared Bronson’s passion for orchestral music, and he seemed to be a natural choice to lead the charity series. A native of Ingham County, McLouth had previously led orchestras in Jackson and Adrian, and was once a member of the famous Boos Band of Jackson.

As a music instructor who specialized in string instruments (violin, mandolin, banjo and guitar), McLouth helped pioneer the concept of a mandolin orchestra, something new at the time, which featured mandolins, guitars, a ten string lute, and mandola. It was also during this same time that McLouth organized, outfitted, and led the Orpheus Mandolin Club and the Ideal Mandolin Orchestra, both of which included a then up-and-coming local instrument maker named Orville H. Gibson and his exquisitely handcrafted instruments.

Folz Excelsior Minstrel Orchestra (1893*)

J. Walter McLouth, violin, director
Gilmore L. Phillips, violin
Derance ‘Deal’ Richards, cornet
Fred W. Davis, cornet
Otto Schultz, flute
Hardy Hardella, trombone
Fred Brown, clarinet
Chester Z. Bronson, clarinet
Frank A. Newell, bass
Joe Wilbur, drum

*Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 December 1893, p.1. & Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 20 December 1893, p.4.

Kalamazoo’s Finest Musicians

Aside from McLouth, the Folz Excelsior Minstrel Orchestra included many other noteworthy local musicians. Derance ‘Deal’ Richards was a cornet player from Paulding, Ohio, who directed Wallace White’s Military Band and later, Kalamazoo’s famous Second Regiment Band. Fred W. Davis, also a cornet player, had been a member of Kalamazoo’s City Band since 1887 and was a founding member of Chester Bronson’s Academy of Music Band. Davis would later become secretary of Kalamazoo’s enormous thirty-piece Chamber of Commerce Band. Fred Brown played clarinet in the City Band and White’s Military Band, while Frank Newell played baritone horn, trombone, and double bass with just about every musical organization in the city, including the Academy of Music Band, White’s Military Band, the Chamber of Commerce Band, and Fischer’s Orchestra. Clarinetist Chet Bronson was already a seasoned professional musician by this time, having gained years of experience on the road with many of the biggest names in the entertainment business. Hardy Hardella was a trombonist in the Second Regiment Band and White’s Military Band, and would later become Chamber of Commerce Band manager and treasurer. Gilmore Phillips, certainly one of Kalamazoo’s most accomplished nineteenth century violinists, was held in high regard as an orchestra leader with a strong affinity for orchestral music. Otto Schultz played flute and piccolo with the Second Regiment Band, White’s Military Band, and the Academy of Music Orchestra, and Joe Wilbur was the drummer for the Second Regiment Band and White’s Military Band. Together with J.W. McLouth, these ten musicians would soon form the core of Kalamazoo’s first independent symphony orchestra.

Henry M. Marcus

For the second program in the 1893–94 holiday series—a January benefit for the needy at the Academy of Music, Bronson employed a somewhat expanded (“augmented”) version of the orchestra and this time placed it under the skilled leadership of Henry M. Marcus, an accomplished young violinist from Buffalo, New York.

The fifteen-piece Marcus-led orchestra, billed on this occasion as the “‘Augmented’ Academy of Music Orchestra,” included Schultz, Richards, Davis, Bronson, Newell, Wilbur, and McLouth from the previous Folz Minstrel Orchestra, plus others (John Lounsbury, Heinz Everard, Ed Desenberg, Oscar G. Clement, George Balcom, and Will Bronson, et al.) who were once members of Bronson’s previous bands. As the saying goes, “some old friends with a new name.” The program featured the “Northern Light” overture (Sheppergrill) and a violin solo, “Scene de Ballet” (De Orcut), performed by Marcus.

“The Academy of Music Orchestra will be augmented and led by Mr. Marcus on the occasion of this performance. The theatre will be handsomely decorated, and everything done to make the entertainment complete in every respect.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 December 1893

“Augmented” Academy of Music Orchestra (1893)

Henry M. Marcus, director John Henson “Heinz” Everard, bass
Chester Z. Bronson, clarinet Joe Wilbur, drum
Frank A. Newell, bass Edward B. Desenberg, piano
William S. Bronson, violin Oscar G. Clement, violin
J. Walter McLouth, violin John Lounsbury, violin
Otto Schultz, flute George Balcom, clarinet
Derance ‘Deal’ Richards, cornet
Fred W. Davis, French horn …and perhaps others.

 

First Movement, Pt I: Symphony Orchestra (1894)

While Kalamazoo had certainly seen its share of visiting orchestras by this time, and could easily lay claim to an abundance of performance and academic ensembles, dance bands, theater orchestras, orchestra clubs, and various other musical aggregations, the community had yet to host its own professional symphony orchestra.

“The orchestra could have been much improved and showed lack of rehearsal.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 December 1893

“A Grand Successful Entertainment”

After somewhat disappointing reviews of the December and January minstrel performances, the Marcus-led orchestra (same personnel as above) continued to rehearse in preparation for the third show in the annual series, a February benefit minstrel show to be put on by the Elks fraternal organization.

The February program would include a violin solo by Henry Marcus, a musical act by Edward Desenberg, a specialty act by Grace Tyson, a full military dress drill by members of the Michigan National Guard, a local mandolin orchestra featuring O.H. Gibson, a burlesque boxing match, and more, plus several selections by the new orchestra.

This time, the local press raved about the performance, calling it a “a grand successful entertainment” (Gazette). After weeks of dedicated rehearsal, the new orchestra, it seems, was finally coming together.

Elks’ Benefit Minstrel Orchestra (1894*)

Henry M. Marcus, director John Henson “Heinz” Everard, bass
Chester Z. Bronson, clarinet Joe Wilbur, drum
Frank A. Newell, bass Fred W. Davis, French horn
William S. Bronson, violin Oscar G. Clement, violin
J. Walter McLouth, violin John Lounsbury, violin
Otto Schultz, flute George Balcom, clarinet
Derance ‘Deal’ Richards, cornet
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 February 1894, p.1.

“Rehearsals have been in progress for several weeks under the direction of C.Z. Bronson, whose experience in matters of this kind makes him a valuable man for such a place.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 February 1894

“Kalamazoo Amateur Symphony Orchestra”

Building on the momentum of these initial performances, Chester Bronson and Henry Marcus began organizing the Kalamazoo Amateur Symphony Orchestra. This would be Kalamazoo’s first opportunity to host a non-academic musical organization of its size devoted solely to the production of orchestral and perhaps more “serious” classical music.

With H.C. Marcus directing, the “officially” organized 14-member orchestra held its first rehearsal on Sunday, 4 March 1894. Some members of the Academy of Music Orchestra dropped out due to other commitments, but many stayed and others soon joined.

“The Symphony Orchestra, the new Amateur organization, with C.Z. Bronson as director, played for the first time in public Monday evening. Such an orchestra supplies a long felt (need) in this city, and no doubt their efforts will be appreciated by the musical loving people of this city.”

Kalamazoo Telegraph, 2 May 1894

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C.Z. Bronson, c.1890 (Nazareth Archives)

“Symphony Club”

Though still very much an amateur organization, the new orchestra soon began to make public appearances. First billed as the “Symphony Club,” and later as the “Symphony Orchestra,” the group made its first public appearance in Kalamazoo on 30 April 1894 at the YMCA auditorium, where it performed “three excellent selections” (Gazette) as part of Miss Nettie Sheppard’s student dance recital — humble beginnings indeed for what would eventually become such a noble organization.

C.Z. Bronson: Director & Business Manager

By May 1894, the Symphony Orchestra had grown to 22 members, with offices and rehearsal space located at 125 West Main Street. With Chester Bronson now its director, this orchestra, although active for little more than a single season, could easily be considered the first seed for the current Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

It’s interesting to note that several members of this “original” 1894 Symphony Orchestra, including Director Bronson, were involved in subsequent orchestras, including the official incarnation of the KSO nearly thirty years later.

Kalamazoo Amateur Symphony Orchestra (May 1894*)

Chester Z. Bronson, director, manager Hiram C. Marcus, flute
Henry Marcus, first violin Fred Brown, clarinet
William S. Bronson, first violin Albert L. “Bert” Waldo, clarinet
Ed Taylor, first violin Derance “Deal” Richards, cornet
Justin B. Keyes, first violin Peter Closterman, cornet
J. Walter McLouth, first violin Will F. Shonk, French horn
Goddie Rosenbaum, first violin Fred W. Davis, French horn
Charles W. Fischer, second violin Hardy Hardella, trombone
Nat L. Rix, second violin Frank A. Newell, bass
Will Warren, second violin John Henson “Heinz” Everard, bass
Gilmore L. Phillips, viola Joe Wilbur, drum and tympani
Charles W. Knapp, violoncello John Vleiken, drum and tympani
Otto Schultz, flute
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 May 1894, p.4. & Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 2 May 1894, p.1.

“The symphony orchestra, initially 22 pieces, made its first appearance at the Academy and were enthusiastically received.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 May 1894

Concert Debut: “The Rivals”

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Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 May 1894

The 22-piece Symphony Orchestra made its concert debut on Wednesday, 16 May 1894, as part of a local production of The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan at the Academy of Music in Kalamazoo. The program featured several popular orchestral pieces and marches, including a section from Michael William Balfe’s opera, The Bohemian Girl, Ivanovici’s “Donauwellen” (“Waves of the Danube”) waltz, Andrew Hermann’s “Cocoanut Dance,” and Robert Browne Hall’s “American Cadet” march. Having recently toured with John Philip Sousa’s band, it’s interesting to note that Bronson chose Sousa’s newly penned “Liberty Bell” march as the Symphony Orchestra’s opening number.

Symphony Orchestra Dance Party

Immediately following the debut performance at the Academy of Music, a festive dance party was held across town at the Armory to celebrate the success of The Rivals. For the remainder of the evening, the Symphony Orchestra was transformed into an elegant dance orchestra, that provided music for what was called “a very brilliant affair” (Gazette).

“The Symphony Orchestra rendered two overtures during the performance and were uproariously applauded. Under the leadership of Mr. Bronson, the orchestra is coming to the front…”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 June 1894

First Movement, Pt II: Symphony Orchestra (1894)

At its meeting on 19 July 1894, the Symphony Orchestra elected officers and for the first time, became a professional organization. The roster included several additional members, including Chet Bronson’s younger brother, Henry S. Bronson, and several members of Wallace S. White’s Military Band. Honorary memberships were sold publicly to provide funding, and a public appeal went out to help secure additional instruments, hoping to make the new Symphony Orchestra “the finest orchestra in the state” (Gazette).

“A private party of about 40 couples had a very pleasant dancing party at the west pavilion at Lake View last night. The floor was canvassed and the pavilion was beautifully decorated with Chinese lanterns.

The music was furnished by the Symphony Orchestra. They showed that they are not only capable of playing concert music but dance music of a high order.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 June 1894

Symphony Orchestra Officers (July 1894*)

Chester Z. Bronson, Director, business manager
Goddie Rosenbaum, president
Justin B. Keyes, vice president
Fred Brown, secretary
Ed Taylor, treasurer
Derance “Deal” Richards, trustee
Otto Schultz, trustee

Symphony Orchestra Musicians (July 1894*)

Chester Z. Bronson, director, manager Hiram C. Marcus, flute
Henry Marcus, first violin Fred Brown, clarinet
William S. Bronson, first violin Albert L. “Bert” Waldo, clarinet
Ed Taylor, first violin Derance “Deal” Richards, cornet
Justin B. Keyes, first violin Peter Closterman, cornet
J. Walter McLouth, first violin Will F. Shonk, French horn
Goddie Rosenbaum, first violin Fred W. Davis, French horn
Charles W. Fischer, second violin Hardy Hardella, trombone
Nat L. Rix, second violin Frank A. Newell, bass
Will Warren, second violin John Henson “Heinz” Everard, bass
Gilmore L. Phillips, viola Joe Wilbur, drum and tympani
Charles W. Knapp, violoncello John Vleiken, drum and tympani
Otto Schultz, flute Charles Dukesherer (Dukeshire)
Henry S. Bronson William B. McLachlan
W.H. Wagner Carl Catherman
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 July 1894, p.1.

 

1894 Performances

Throughout the summer, the Symphony Orchestra performed wherever work could be found, including the Young Men’s Dancing Club of Professor McLachlan’s Dancing School at Turn Verein Hall, and fashionable private affairs such as the ones hosted by John Culver and Neal Nicholson at their dance pavilion near Woods Lake.

Aside from its dance engagements, the Symphony Orchestra made several additional concert appearances during 1894, including a “Grand Musical Festival” at Unitarian Church in June, a benefit minstrel show at the Academy of Music, and the grand opening ball at the historic Turn Verein Hall.

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Bronson’s Operatic Minstrels w/ Symphony Orchestra, handbill, c.1895. Author’s collection.

“The Symphony Orchestra will give a grand sacred concert at Lake View next Sunday afternoon and evening. Twenty five voices will assist in the choruses under the direction of C.Z. Bronson.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 August 1894

“Grand Sacred Concerts”

One of the highlights of the summer came in late August when the Symphony Orchestra, complete with a 25 member vocal chorus, staged “Grand Sacred Concerts” in the afternoon and evening at Kalamazoo’s Lake View Park at Woods Lake. Crowds of more than a thousand were on hand for each performance. The afternoon concert featured choral works and hymns by Mozart, Gounod, Handel and others, while the evening performance was perhaps a bit more lively, with many of the same popular pieces and marches that had been featured in “The Rivals” a few months earlier, including an encore of Sousa’s “Liberty Bell” march.

“The concert in the afternoon will consist of sacred music strictly, the work of such masters as Gounod, Handel, Haydn and Mozart. The evening’s program will be interspersed with lighter music although the great composers will not be forgotten.”

Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 25 August 1894

Selected Repertoire

Classical music was only just beginning to reach general audiences in the United States at the time, and public performances — especially in smaller communities — were often “tempered” with lighter, more popular works that were designed to hold the attention of those unfamiliar with more sophisticated repertoire. For this reason, we often see Sousa marches on the same program with works by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and others. While many of the classics have stood the test of time, other once-popular selections like “In the Clock Store” today remain all but forgotten.

Learn more: Selected Repertoire (1881–1921) >

“A merry party of about 100 couples of young people attended the dancing party of the Young Men’s Dancing club at the Armory last evening. The music was furnished by the Symphony orchestra and was greatly appreciated.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 November 1894

Final Performances

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Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 December 1894

On 24 September 1894, the Symphony Orchestra began regular Monday evening rehearsals for its second performance season. Despite Chester Bronson’s relentless public promotion, finding local work for such a large orchestra proved difficult and as a result, public appearances were rare. During November, the Symphony Orchestra furnished music for yet another dancing party hosted by Professor McLachlin’s Young Men’s Dancing Club, and in December, the Symphony Orchestra joined Bronson’s Second Regiment Band in a Grand Military Ball for the Michigan National Guard at the Armory.

Yet after several months of substantial improvement and even a certain degree of critical acclaim, by year’s end, the musicians were finding it difficult to make music and still make a living at it. On New Year’s Eve, the Symphony Orchestra provided music for some one hundred couples at the Armory in what was described as “a very pleasant affair” (Gazette). On New Year’s Day, 1895, the Symphony Orchestra made what was to be its final public appearance — a private party for a group of friends and local dignitaries hosted by Mrs. Arthur L. Pratt in her home on Stuart Avenue.

Coda: “Bronson’s Operatic Minstrels”

Under Bronson’s direction the Symphony Orchestra had rehearsed extensively throughout the month of December in preparation for a January benefit performance with Bronson’s Operatic Minstrels. Plans were that the orchestra would perform an overture from Chassaique’s “Falka,” a popular comic opera at the time. After twice being rescheduled, the event finally took place on 5th February 1895, though without the Symphony Orchestra, reportedly because “a number of the gentlemen included in the program [had] dropped out of the company owing to business engagements” (Gazette). Undoubtedly a casualty of inadequate financial support, the Symphony Orchestra had disbanded.

“The Philharmonic orchestra furnished the music free of charge last evening at the Academy. This is a new amateur organization consisting of well-known local musicians under the leadership of George Balcom.”

Kalamazoo Telegraph, 18 April 1894

Intermezzo: “The Philharmonic Orchestra” (1894)

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Gilmore L. Phillips

Picking up much where the Symphony Orchestra left off, a concert organization known as the Philharmonic Orchestra came about during the spring of 1894, though public appearances were rare until the Symphony Orchestra folded early the following year. Kalamazoo’s Philharmonic Orchestra originally featured many of the community’s prominent African American musicians. Once the Symphony Orchestra folded, several former members of that organization joined the Philharmonic Orchestra, as well.

“The Philharmonics”

The Philharmonic Orchestra began as a collaborative effort between the well-known Phillips Brothers’ Orchestra, led by virtuoso violinist Gilmore L. Phillips, and members of the Kalamazoo Harmonic Brass Band. Organized by Academy of Music Orchestra clarinetist George Balcom and initially directed by First Presbyterian Church organist George W. Klock, the Philharmonic Orchestra (evidently a clever concatenation of “Phillips” and “Harmonic”) appears to have originated from a series of performances in conjunction with a Royal Arcanum fraternal gathering in April 1894. By August, the Philharmonic Orchestra had organized permanently.

Learn more about the Phillips brothers >

“The Philharmonics have organized permanently for the purpose of producing the standard overtures, suites, and symphonies of the masters.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 August 1894

“Philharmonic Orchestra” Mark I (1894)

The Philharmonic Orchestra featured some the finest musical talent the community had to offer. Eugene C. McElhany, violinist and then-director of the Academy of Music Orchestra, and Oscar G. Clement, also a violinist and popular local orchestra leader, shared duties as orchestra concertmaster. Musician, actor, and Harmonic Brass Band manager Frank E. Wilson signed on to manage the Philharmonic Orchestra, while William Marchant from White’s Military Band, who was at the time leading an amateur orchestra at the YMCA (which undoubtedly included Philharmonic members), was enlisted as the Philharmonic Orchestra musical director and librarian.

Philharmonic Orchestra Members (July 1894*)

George W. Klock, conductor Hiram H. “Hi” Wilson**
Eugene C. McElhany, concertmaster Sylvester C. Phillips**
Oscar G. Clement, concertmaster Levi D. Bates**
Frank E. Wilson, manager** Joseph F. Phillips**
William H. Marchant, librarian P. Oliver H. “Ollie” Stafford**
Augustus T. Hedgbeth** Arthur Wilson**
William M. Stuart** Charles H. Hill**
Sylvester F. Liggins** John T. Pool**
Edward J. Harris** Jasper Boyd**
Gilmore L. Phillips** Charles O. Bailiff**
George H. Hill**
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 July 1894, p.5.
**Musicians believed to be African American

 

“McElhany’s Orchestra”

E.C. McElhany would eventually come to direct the Philharmonic Orchestra. In fact, many simply called it “McElhany’s Orchestra,” especially when the organization performed for social gatherings, although it was typically billed as the “Philharmonic Orchestra” for the more formal appearances.

While it might be tempting to view the Philharmonic Orchestra as a rival of Bronson’s Symphony Orchestra, that does not appear to be the case. Chet Bronson had worked closely with E.C. McElhany and the Phillips brothers for many years, as he did with several other Philharmonic members (Ollie Stafford and Frank Wilson, for example). Chet Bronson himself would later direct the Kalamazoo Harmonic Brass Band for a time.

“Philharmonic Orchestra” Mark II (1895)

After reorganizing in 1895 with significantly different membership, it became clear that the Philharmonic Orchestra did indeed constitute those “business engagements” that had enticed a number of musicians to abandon Chet Bronson’s Symphony Orchestra. So it follows that the first “proper” public performance by the Philharmonic Orchestra was to be a “grand concert” at the YMCA auditorium on 9 January 1895, just a week after the Symphony Orchestra made its New Year’s farewell.

The Philharmonic Orchestra had grown by this time to include more than twenty members, with several who were once part of the former Symphony Orchestra, along with its predecessor, the “augmented” Academy of Music Orchestra. Few members of the Harmonic Band remained after 1894, but those who stayed on included George Balcom, O.G. Clement, Joshua Phillips, and E.C. McElhany. Cornetist Sam Born from Bronson’s Second Regiment Band had joined the orchestra by this time, along with future KSO members Thomas Walton and Charles Wolff.

Philharmonic Orchestra (January 1895*)

Eugene C. McElhany, violin W. Dukeshire, flute
Oscar G. Clement, violin George Balcom, clarinet
Ed Taylor, violin Fred Brown, clarinet
Chas Wolff, violin Sam Born, cornet
John Lounsbury, viola C. Williams, cornet
Joshua Phillips, viola William H. Marchant, corno (horn)
Thomas Walton, cello A. Davis, bassoon,
Frank Newell, bass William Atwater, trombone
W.G. Linne, bass John Vlieken, tympani
Otto Schultz, flute C.H. Humphreys, clarinet (from Ellis Brooks’ Chicago 2nd Regiment Band; joined April 1895)
*Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 11 January 1895, p.4.

 

“The Philharmonic orchestra assures at all times the very best performance of concert or dance music attainable in Kalamazoo.”

Kalamazoo Telegraph, 31 July 1895

1895 Summer Concerts

The Philharmonic Orchestra grew to twenty-six pieces and performed numerous times throughout the summer of 1895 at Lake View Park, including the “Opening the Season” festivities in May, the annual Street Railway celebration in June, a fashionable promenade concert and dance on the Fourth of July, and weekly Sunday afternoon concerts until August.

“Prof. McElhany’s Orchestra last Sunday afternoon was greatly enjoyed by the patrons of Lake View. This was manifest by the usual requests for selections before given by this excellent organization. McElhany will introduce additional attractions frequently during the summer.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 31 July 1895

Selected Repertoire

Local press raved about the Philharmonic Orchestra, claiming it to be just the right combination of string and wind instruments for popular summertime concerts. The Kalamazoo Telegraph complimented McElhany for his repertoire, saying it included “the highest form of classic overtures of the class of Poet And Peasant, Caliph de Bagdad [sic], Semeremide [sic] and many others; selections from the popular operas, as Boccaccio, Wang, Tobasco [sic], Pirates of Penzance, Erminie, Panjandrum and others of such a pronounced popularity; and many ‘hits’ and light novelties as are required in the library of any enterprising musical organization.”

Learn more: Selected Repertoire (1881–1921) >

“The Philharmonic orchestra, under the direction of Prof. McElhaney, Prof. McLouth’s Mandolin club, the Morse Glee club and the Morse quartet, will assist in the benefit concert to be given at the First M.E. church for Prof. W.H. Marchant.”

Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 13 February 1896

“Philharmonic Orchestra” Mark III (1896)

Like the Symphony Orchestra before it, the Philharmonic Orchestra didn’t last. One of the Philharmonic’s final performances was a benefit concert at First Methodist Church on Wednesday, 19 February 1896, in honor of William Marchant, the orchestra’s librarian and musical director who was ill. In addition to its established membership, the orchestra for that event featured several additional local musicians who were close friends of Mr. Marchant. Surprisingly, rehearsals for the benefit performance were heard in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and elsewhere, thanks to a newly installed long distance telephone connection. For its portion of the program, the Philharmonic Orchestra performed an overture by François-Adrien Boieldieu, a suite of Strauss waltzes, and closed appropriately enough with a Sousa march. The event raised more than $100 for their ailing friend and band member.

Philharmonic Orchestra (1896*)

Eugene C. McElhany, director/conductor John Lounsbury
Oscar G. Clement, concertmaster George Balcom
William H. Marchant, librarian Joshua Phillips
C.S. Davis O.H. Humphrey
Ed Taylor Thomas Walton
Frank Newell Fred Brown
W.H. Warner William Shonk
W.G. Linne Joseph Allen
Charles L. Fischer Wallace S. White
E.W. Chapell Derance E. “Deal” Richards
Chas Wolff William Atwater
Otto Schultz John Henson “Heinz” Everard
John Engel John Vlieken
Chas. Dickenston
*Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 19 February 1896, p.8.

 

Final Performance

Sadly, Marchant passed away a few weeks later, and aside from a later benefit performance by the “Harmonica[sic] Orchestra” directed by Chester Bronson, no further references to the Philharmonic Orchestra as such are to be found. The Harmonic Brass Band did continue, however, as did the Phillips Brothers’ Orchestra, which remained popular well into the first decade of the twentieth century.

“Mr. Herweg Von Ende, the eminent violinist, has organized a festival orchestra consisting of four first violins, four second violins, two violas, two cellos, two bass, two lutes, two clarinets, two cornets, one trombone, one piccolo, one bassoon and drums. These gentlemen have all volunteered their services.”

Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 16 October 1896

Entr’acte: “Egypta” Festival Orchestra (1896)

Later in the year, a YWCA benefit presentation of William Dodd Chenery’s opera Egypta, The Wondrous Story of the Nile at the Academy of Music brought together many of the former members of the Symphony and Philharmonic orchestras for a one-time series of performances. Standing-room-only audiences were on hand for all three performances (28-30 October 1896), which included a rather impressive local orchestra “composed of the best musical talent of the city” (Gazette) under the direction of Mr. Chenery himself and M. Herwegh von Ende. Von Ende was a German violinist and music instructor who had recently moved to Kalamazoo with the assistance of Edward Desenberg. William Dodd Chenery was a playwright and composer from Springfield, Illinois.

Festival Orchestra Members (1896*)

M. Herwegh von Ende, conductor, violin soloist Goddie Rosenbaum, violin
Miss Simmons, bass M. Ross, second cornet
Justin B. Keys, concertmaster, violin Arthur L. Pratt, violin
Otto Schultz, flute John Leak, French horn
Miss Edith Forbes, violin Gilmore L. Phillips, viola
Chester Z. Bronson, clarinet Fred Redmond, French horn
Miss Dunnington, violin Joseph F. Phillips, viola
Fred Day, clarinet Hardy Hardella, trombone
Lewis H. Simons, violin M. Faust, cello
Albert L. “Bert” Waldo, bass clarinet M. Golden, trombone
Oscar G. Clement, violin W.J. Linne, bass
William Tyler, solo cornet John Vleiken, drums
Ed Taylor, violin Dr. Robertson, bass
M. Abbott, first cornet
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 October 1896, p.1.

“The Symphony orchestra under the direction of Charles Fischer, rendered some very pleasing selections at the meeting of the Sherwood lyceum Friday evening.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 February 1897

Incidental Music: “Symphony Orchestra” (1896)

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Fischer’s “Symphony Orchestra” c.1896.

Notices began to appear in December 1896 of a Kalamazoo-based “Symphony Orchestra,” but this time it seems it was a “symphony” only in name (though if not in spirit). As it turns out, this “Symphony Orchestra” was actually a small (seven-piece) dance orchestra organized by Charles and Burton Fischer.

At the age of 15, Charlie Fischer was already an accomplished violinist when he joined Chester Bronson’s 1894 Symphony Orchestra. His kid brother, Bertie, was just 10 when he performed as a member of the Sam Folz Minstrel Orchestra. While still in their teens, the boys formed a new dance band with a few of their friends and named it “Symphony Orchestra.” Before long, the group became known more recognizably as Fischer’s Orchestra, an early incarnation of what would eventually become Fischer’s world famous “Exposition” and “World’s Fair” orchestras.

Interestingly enough, at least three members of this early dance orchestra were associated with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra in its various forms over the years. Charles Fischer played second violin in the 1894 Symphony Orchestra and the 1896 Philharmonic Orchestra, first violin in the 1898 Mendelssohn Club Orchestra and the 1901 May Festival Orchestra, and served as concertmaster with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra in 1914 and 1916. Charlie also served a board member of the 1911 Kalamazoo Orchestral Association. Burton Fischer was a member of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra in 1914 and 1916. Harry B. Parker played flute in the 1901 May Festival Orchestra, as well as the 1910, 1911, 1914, 1915, 1916, and 1921 incarnations of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

Learn more about the Fischer brothers >

“Symphony Orchestra”

Charles L. Fischer, director, first violin Allen Hughes, first cornet
James C. Hatfield, second violin Arthur Slocum, second cornet
Carey Lull, second violin Ary Bradshaw, trombone
Harry B. Parker, flute Burton Fischer, piano

“The organization of a symphony orchestra is a local achievement which will doubtless conduce to the musical culture of Kalamazoo.”

Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 24 January 1898

Interlude One: “Mendelssohn Club Orchestra” (1898)

In January 1898, Edward B. Desenberg announced the formation of yet another new symphony orchestra in Kalamazoo dedicated to, as Desenberg put it, “the higher class of music” (Kalamazoo Telegraph). In truth, Kalamazoo’s previous symphonic orchestras had featured popular repertoire that, while certainly enjoyable to the local audiences, was actually closer to band music than it was to classical. With this new symphony orchestra, Desenberg promised to promote music that was decidedly more classical in nature, “such as the concerted works of the masters, including symphonic compositions” (Kalamazoo Telegraph).

An election of officers was held; Edward B. Desenberg became manager and conductor; Arthur P. Reams, a well-known local musician and music merchant, was elected treasurer; and Justin B. Keyes, former vice president of Kalamazoo’s 1894 Symphony Orchestra, was chosen as librarian.

By mid-February, rehearsals were underway in the practice rooms above the Reams Brothers’ Music Store on S. Burdick Street. New instruments were ordered, including some that had yet to be featured by a Kalamazoo orchestra, including an oboe, a bassoon, and tympani. The orchestra roster consisted of a by-now-familiar cross section of Kalamazoo’s most noted musicians, including some who were part of the 1894 Symphony Orchestra and the 1895 Philharmonic Orchestra, plus several others who were at the time part of the popular Chamber of Commerce Band. Still others would make their “symphony” debut with this project and would become involved with future incarnations of the KSO. All were said to be very enthusiastic about the new project.

Mendelssohn Club Orchestra (1898*)

Edward B. Desenberg, director William Atwater, trombone
Justin B. Keyes, first violin J. C. Faust, cello
Charles W. Fischer, first violin Fred Redmond, French horn
Luveian H. “Louis” Simons, first violin Otto Schultz, bassoon
W.H. Warner, first and second violin Jay Reams, flute
Gilmore L. Phillips, second violin Arthur Reams, clarinet
Arthur P. Reams, second violin Fred Day, clarinet
John Lounsbury, viola Chester Z. Bronson, clarinet
Joseph F. Phillips, viola Silvo Reams, oboe
Frank A. Newell, double bass Herman Salomon, piccolo
Gardie P. Simons, trombone John McDermott, snare drum, tympani
Hardy Hardella, trombone
(several others—perhaps seven or more—later joined, though names are unknown)
*Kalamazoo Saturday Telegraph, 26 February 1898, p.6.

 

“The Chimes of Normandy”

The new organization was billed as the Mendelssohn Club Orchestra when it made its public debut during a local production of The Chimes of Normandy (Les cloches de Corneville), a comic opera in three acts by Robert Planquette. Expectations were high when the production opened at the Academy of Music on 15 April 1898, with talented local actors, a 40-member vocal chorus, and the 30-member Mendelssohn Club Orchestra.

After the Friday evening opening production, the Kalamazoo Telegraph pronounced that it was “one of the best amateur presentations of comic opera ever given in Kalamazoo.” In addition to supplying instrumental backing for the play itself, the orchestra performed classical standards between acts; Wagner’s march from Tannhäuser, Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, Strauss’ “Blue Danube” waltz, and Sousa’s recently penned “Bride Elect” march. “Its work was very pleasing,” claimed the reporter from the Telegraph, “and gave promise of considerable achievements in the future.”

The Chimes of Normandy program was repeated two weeks later and again featured the new orchestra along with the St. Luke’s Church Choir. Both performances were said to be “fairly well attended” (Kalamazoo Telegraph). But despite the quality of the orchestra’s performance, audiences clearly favored the more recognizable selections by Strauss and Sousa over the more complex works by Wagner and Rossini. The Mendelssohn Club Orchestra made at least two additional appearances at the Ladies Library in April and May, but apparently did not last long after that.

Interlude Two: May Festival Orchestra (1901)

Though Kalamazoo was without an organized professional symphony orchestra during the years around the turn of the twentieth century, that’s not to say that all was quiet. In 1901, organizers of the annual May Festival put together a “picked orchestra” that, while not a permanent organization, did include a rather interesting roster of familiar names that certainly attests to the depth of musical talent in the city at the time.

grand-may-festival-1901-598.jpg
Kalamazoo Gazette-News, 5 May 1901.

May Festival Orchestra (1901*)

Prof. Dingley Brown, conductor Fred Day, clarinet
V. Van Clee, cello Goddie Rosenbaum, second violin
Edward L. Weinn, first violin W. McKinnie, clarinet
Arthur P. Reams, cello Effie Reams, second violin (Arthur Reams’ daughter)
Lewis H. Simons, first violin Sam Born, cornet
Frank Newell, bass Fred W. Davis, second violin
Charles L. Fischer, first violin G. Brooks, cornet
J. Allen, bass Ed Taylor, viola
Justin B. Keyes, first violin Gardie P. Simons, trombone
Jay Reams, flute John Lounsbury, viola
Edith Forbes, first violin Joe Wilbur, drums
Harry B. Parker, flute W. Hinschel, viola
William Tyler, second violin Levinus Born, drums
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 May 1901. p.3.

 

“The orchestra work was exceptionally fine and brought into play nearly all of the best talent in the city. It will be some time before a company of musicians will be together which will equal in ability the work of last evening.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 May 1901

“Meritorious Entertainment”

Led by St. Luke’s organist and choirmaster, Dingley Brown, the festival orchestra made just one public appearance: a Monday evening concert on 13 May 1901 at the Academy of Music, along with the Chamber of Commerce Band and a 100 member St. Luke’s Church Choir. Repertoire included Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore, Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah, and the public debut of an original piece, “Festival Overture,” by Conductor Brown.

Intermission (1901-1910)

With the community’s changing musical tastes and the growing popularity of ragtime, another decade would come to pass before anyone would again attempt to establish a full professional symphony orchestra in Kalamazoo.

Second Movement:

“Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra” (1910)

frederick-rogers-gazette-1903-10-04-p6-360
Frederick Rogers, Kalamazoo Gazette-News, 4 October 1903.

Frederic Rogers was an accomplished violinist, composer and music instructor who came to Kalamazoo in 1902 to succeed Dingley Brown as organist and choirmaster at St. Luke’s Church. Formally educated in London, Rogers had once directed choirs in England, Canada and throughout the United States, and would continue to lead visiting orchestras and choral groups during his local tenure.

Within months of his arrival in Kalamazoo, Rogers was serving as organist and choirmaster at First Presbyterian Church and the Michigan Asylum for the Insane, professor of violin at the Michigan Female Seminary, professor of chorus work at Kalamazoo College, and conductor of the Ladies Library Association Choral Union. By 1909, Rogers was directing the Academy of Musical Art in Kalamazoo, where he provided piano, violin, organ and voice lessons at his studios in the YMCA building. A year after that, he was directing the Kalamazoo Madrigal Society at First Presbyterian Church.

In December 1910, Rogers announced that a new symphony orchestra was being organized in Kalamazoo. By mid-month, the orchestra was complete and rehearsals were underway in Rogers’ studio at the YMCA, with plans for a concert debut in March.

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YMCA, January 1911. History Room postcard photo.

Fire at the YMCA

Just two days after Frederic Rogers’ initial sessions with the new orchestra, fire swept through Rogers’ studio space inside the YMCA building where they had been practicing. Rogers was forced to move the orchestra to new quarters in the Boudeman Building on South Street, where the group resumed weekly rehearsals. (Roger’s studio at the YMCA sustained additional damage from a second fire just a few days later, and the entire building was consumed by massive fire in early January.)

For the most part, this was truly a new orchestra. Few if any of its members were professional musicians (although several would later become so), and virtually none — aside from Ed Taylor and Otto Schultz who joined later the following year — had been involved with the earlier (1894) Symphony Orchestra. Several would, however, become involved with subsequent incarnations of the KSO.

Conspicuous in his absence from this new orchestra was former conductor Chester Bronson. While not directly involved with this orchestra undoubtedly due to its amateur status and his own relentless work commitments, Bronson did later advocate for the orchestra on behalf of the musicians’ union.

“The plans for the Symphony orchestra organized recently by Prof. Frederic Rogers are being most successfully carried out, each day bringing forth the approval of some musician. The orchestra now numbers 30 members who will meet this evening for the second rehearsal.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 December 1910

“The orchestra under the leadership of its organizer and director, Frederic Rodgers[sic], played wonderfully well last night, carefully, intelligently and with good expression and technique.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 March 1911

Orchestra Members (December 1910*)

Frederic Rogers, director William Wilkinson, second violin
Mr. Jesse W. Crandall, concertmaster, first violin Ethel Dore, violoncello
Mrs. Edwin A. Forbes Hacking, first violin C. Emerson Bigelow, violoncello
Frances Deming, first violin Mrs. L.B. Meyers, violoncello
Geraldine Dore (Gertrude Dorre), first violin John Weenink, violoncello
Arthur Fraser, first violin Charles Jannasch, bass
A.E. Hughes, first violin Mabel Schricker Tabb, harp
Glenn J. Pratt, first violin Harry B. Parker, flute
Alfred B. Stern, first violin Dr. E.D. Brooks, flute
Fred Strough, first violin Dr. Samuel J. Lewis, oboe, clarinet
Ernest J. Meyers, second violin Garrett Van Eck, clarinet
Lawrence Brooks, second violin H. Schricker, cornet
E.F. Chapman, second violin Jennie Snook, cornet
Bernice Schricker, second violin Charles Nichols, cornet
George Schricker, second violin Douglas Maynard, cornet
E. Helen Shepard, second violin Dingman De Smit, trombone
Henry J. Weenink, second violin Dean Swindell, trombone
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 15 December 1910, p.5.

 

Orchestra Members (March 1911*)

Frederic Rogers, director Sylvo Reams, viola
Mrs. Edwin A. Forbes Hacking, violin (principal) Ed Taylor, viola
Mr. Jesse W. Crandall, violin (principal) Ethel Dore, violoncello
Frances Deming, violin John Weenink, violoncello
Glenn J. Pratt, violin Mrs. H.B. Meyers (Mrs. L.B. Meyers), violoncello
Mrs. Walter Otis, violin C. Emerson Bigelow, violoncello
Fred Strough, violin Thomas Walton, bass
Gertrude Dorre, violin Charles Jannasch, bass
Alfred B. Stern, violin John (C.) Hollman, bass
A.E. Hughes, violin Otto Schultz, flute
Arthur Fraser, violin Harry B. Parker, flute
Henry J. Weenink (Moenink), violin Dr. Samuel J. Lewis, oboe, clarinet
Bernice Schricker, violin Garrett Van Eck, clarinet
William Wilkinson, violin F.A. Feruschild, bassoon
Lawrence Brooks, violin J.C. Schou, bassoon
E. Helen Shepard, violin Frank Kryle, horn
Ernest J. Meyers, violin Carl Beyer, horn
George Schricker, violin Jennie Snook, trumpet
E.F. Chapman, violin Charles Nichols, trumpet
Glenn Allen, violin Douglas Maynard, trumpet
E. Van Buskirk, viola D.H. Smith (Dingman De Smit), trombone
Mrs. John B. Martin, viola Dean Swindell, trombone
Christine Martin, tympani
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 March 1911, p.5.

“No money has been spared to bring the orchestra up to the plane worthy of the name Symphony orchestra that can possibly be done with a nucleus of amateur talent.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 March 1911

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Kalamazoo Gazette, 3 March 1911.

Debut Performance

After months of rehearsal, Rogers’ new Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra was ready to make its public debut; a combined performance with the Kalamazoo Madrigal Society at First Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 7, 1911. In addition to vocal and instrumental performances by members of the Madrigal Society, the orchestra would play three selections: Mendelssohn’s “War March” (from Athalia), Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E Flat, K. 543, and Rossini’s “Tancrède Overture.”

Selected Repertoire

With the great success of this first performance, members immediately formed the Kalamazoo Orchestral Association in an attempt to make the orchestra a permanent professional organization.

Learn more: Selected Repertoire (1894–1921) >

“Kalamazoo Orchestral Association” (1911*)

Edward B. Desenberg, president
Alfred B. Connable, vice president
Glenn J. Pratt, secretary and treasurer
Jesse W. Crandall, concertmaster and assistant director
Dr. Samuel J. Lewis, librarian
Sylvo Reams, board member
Alfred B. Stern, board member
Charles L. Fischer, board member

*Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 March 1911, p.6.

Frederic Rogers Departs

Rehearsals continued through April, with hopes of a second performance sometime in late May or early June. As it turns out, the orchestra would only succeed in making the one public appearance. In May, Rogers directed the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra during the Madrigal Society’s annual May Festival, then announced he was leaving Kalamazoo to assume a similar position in South Dakota.

“Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra of 35 professionals. Sounds fine. Will it materialize? And will Kalamazoo respond with proper support?”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 September 1911

Sunday Concerts Prohibited

While the Rogers led Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra had begun as an amateur organization, local union leaders Ed Desenberg and Chester Bronson petitioned the city council in September 1911 on behalf of the musicians union to repeal a longstanding local ordinance that prohibited organizations from charging admission for Sunday musical entertainment (religious and benefit performances were exempt). Bronson and Desenberg were hoping to organize and subsequently charge admission for a series of Sunday afternoon concerts in the fall featuring a “splendid orchestra of 35 professional musicians to be known as the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra” (Gazette) The council referred the request to the ordinance committee, but apparently to no avail. By all indications, the orchestra did indeed reform in the fall for the 1911–12 season, but it evidently found a new home in Battle Creek. Three more years would pass before another attempt was made to create a sustainable symphony orchestra in Kalamazoo.

Third Movement:

“Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra” (1914–1916)

During the early months of 1914, the local musicians’ union hosted a benefit concert at the Kalamazoo Armory to help raise money for its members’ illness and death benefit fund. Highlights of the event included a brand new 50-member band, and a newly formed 50-piece orchestra, both assembled specifically for this occasion. Samuel Born would lead the band while Charles L. Fischer would serve as orchestra concertmaster; Chester Bronson would direct both. More than 3,000 people crowded the Armory on a cold Sunday afternoon in February to support the musicians and enjoy what was originally intended as a one-off event.

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Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, c.1914. Baker Archive photo, as published in the Kalamazoo Telegraph, 18 April 1914.

“Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra Society”

Organizers were pleased with the turnout for the February performance, and were (once again) encouraged to make the orchestra a permanent affair. With support from the Kalamazoo Musicians Association, the Symphony Orchestra Society was established in March 1914, and the next incarnation of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra came to be.

“So successful was the grand concert given yesterday afternoon by the Musicians’ association of Kalamazoo that immediate action will undoubtedly be taken to cause a permanent symphony orchestra to be organized here.

Kalamazoo should be proud of such an association of musicians, and too much cannot be said in congratulations to the members for the excellent, refined and entertaining program given yesterday afternoon.”

Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press, 23 February 1914

Orchestra Officers (1914*)

Frederick F. Bowman, president
Frank A. Newell, vice president
Samuel Born, secretary
Emerson Bigelow, librarian
Chester Z. Bronson, conductor

*Kalamazoo Gazette, 10 March 1914, p.8.

Orchestra Members (1914*)

Charles Baker, violin Thomas Walton, bass
Czerl Corbin, violin Harry Parker, flute
Jesse Crandall, violin Roy McGrath, flute
Charles Fischer, violin Otto Schultz, flute
Don Heald, violin Charles Brocato, clarinet
William Rogers, violin Herman Salomon, clarinet
Charles Wolff, violin Ed. Eddman, clarinet
Glen Pratt, violin Joe Salomon, clarinet
John O’Donald, violin Sam Born, cornet
Justin B. Keyes, violin Flutell Bowman, cornet
Norvall Massey, violin William Reifsnyder, cornet
George Gould, violin Leo Chaffee, cornet
Albert E. Blanchard, viola D.H. Smith, trombone
Clovis D. Salisbury, viola Fred Bowman, trombone
Silvo Reams, viola Oscar Born, horn
DeForest Walton, viola George L. Trombley, horn
Edward Snuggs, cello Burton Fischer, piano
Emerson Bigelow, cello Lloyd Manley, tympani
Frank Newell, bass
*Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press, 14 February 1914, p.1,11.

 

Debut Performances

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C.Z. Bronson c.1914. Local History Room

The 36-six member orchestra made its “official” public debut (its second actual performance) on Sunday, 29 March 1914, at the newly constructed State Armory on East Water Street. Chester Bronson organized the event and directed the orchestra, while Professor Harper C. Maybee, head of the Western Normal School (WMU) Music Department, assisted with the vocal arrangements. Guest vocalists included Miss Hildur Levida Llndgren and former Sheehan Opera Company tenor T. Stanley Perry, with piano accompaniment by Glenn Aumond.

A standing-room-only crowd estimated between 4,000 and 5,000 packed the Armory for the Sunday afternoon program to see the 36-piece orchestra perform a variety of semi-classical and popular numbers, including the “Bower of Beauty” waltz suite by Ellis Brooks, Mozart’s Aria from The Marriage of Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro), and T. Stanley Perry’s vocal rendition of Thomas Moore’s “‘Tis the Last Rose of Summer.”

One additional performance on April 26th would round out the 1914 indoor concert season. That event featured Kalamazoo vocalists Mildred Hanson Hostetter and T. Stanley Perry, plus performances of Ed Desenberg’s “Intermezzo Mizzoula” and Ellis Brooks’ waltz suite “Floriana.”

Free Concert at Oakwood Park

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Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 May 1914

Ed Esterman, manager of Kalamazoo’s popular Oakwood amusement park, was impressed enough with the public response that he engaged the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, along with vocalist T. Stanley Perry, to be the star attraction for the park’s opening day festivities on Sunday, May 24th, and again during the Decoration Day (Memorial Day) holiday the following weekend.

More than 5,000 turned out on opening day to enjoy the park and to see the new symphony orchestra perform. Thousands more rode the streetcars to Oakwood Park over the holiday weekend to take in the free concerts in the shaded grove near the lake and attend a “high class dance” in the park pavilion featuring the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. 1914 was to become one of Oakwood Park’s most successful seasons.

Learn more about Oakwood Park >

Lincoln Chautauqua Tour (1914)

Following the orchestra’s significant local success, Chet Bronson took a scaled down version of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra on the road through Illinois and Wisconsin for a twelve week tour with the Lincoln Chautauqua. Chautauqua assemblies were massive events that drew large and enthusiastic audiences with a unique mix of music, with inspirational and educational lectures. The tour opened near Chicago on the 26th of June and continued until mid-September. Three weeks after the opening performance, the tour had proven successful enough that Bronson was able to secure a lucrative three year contract for the orchestra. Bronson later reported that “the season was a delightful one throughout and very successful in every way” (Gazette).

What’s in a name?

Interestingly, Kalamazooans were promised the 17-piece orchestra would “be advertised as the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra throughout the tour (Gazette), although it was ultimately billed as the “Brooks’ Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of C.Z. Bronson,” evidently intending to capitalize on the widespread popularity of Bronson’s recent tours with the Ellis Brooks Orchestra. Meanwhile, Charles and Burton Fischer took several of the remaining KSO members on tour with the Central Chautauqua (a different organization), billing themselves as “Fischer’s Exposition Orchestra.”

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“Brooks’ Symphony Orchestra,” C.Z. Bronson’s Chautauqua tour orchestra, summer 1914. Janesville Daily Gazette, Janesville, WI, 8 July 1914

Chautauqua Tour Members (1914*)

Chester Z. Bronson, conductor Flutell G. Bowman, trumpet
Clovis D. Salisbury, manager William Rogers, violin
Lester Mack, clarinet DeForest Walton, viola
C. Emerson Bigelow, cello Samuel Born, cornet
Thomas Walton, bass Glenn Aumond, piano
Jesse W. Crandall, violin Sid L. Shears, drums
Frank A. Newell, bass Oscar Born, horn
Ben. A. Marks, piccolo Ms. Frances Walton Crandall, soprano
Dave Smith, trombone
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 June 1914, p.1.
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Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 September 1914.

Winter Concert Series (1914-15)

After a successful tour with the Lincoln Chautauqua, the full orchestra reunited in the fall and began rehearsing for a series of concerts to be held in the larger new Masonic Temple on Rose Street.

During the December holiday season, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra was joined by a chorus of 200 from Western Normal School, under the direction or Prof. Harper C. Maybee, for a performance of Handel’s Messiah in the school gymnasium presented by the Kalamazoo Musical Association. The orchestra later added to the holiday tree-lighting festivities with a series of three Christmastime performances in Bronson Park.

Symphony Orchestra Members (1914*)

Chester Z. Bronson, conductor Harry Parker, flute
Jesse W. Crandall, violin George Balcom, clarinet
Henry Eich, violin Herman Salomon, clarinet
Charles Wolff, violin William Schulhammer, bassoon
William Rogers, violin Sam Born, cornet
Donald Heald, violin Flutell Bowman, cornet
Clell Pierre, violin G.L. Trombley, horn
William Warner, violin David H. Smith, trombone
D.D. Walton, viola Fred Bowman, trombone
Clovis L. Salisbury, viola Lloyd Manley, drums and timpani
C.E. Bigelow, cello Sid Shears, drums and timpani
Frank A. Newell, bass John Vleiken, drums and timpani
T. J. Walton, bass Don Warren, accompanist
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 November 1914, p.6.

 

A series of five monthly concerts at the Masonic followed, each of which featured guest appearances by then-well-known artists. For the February 1915 performance, Bronson brought his old friend Ellis Brooks in from Chicago to serve as guest conductor for a portion of the concert, which included a performance of one of Brooks’ popular compositions.

Learn more: Selected Repertoire (1881–1921) >

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Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, c.1915 Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press, 5 April 1915.

Orchestra Members (1915*)

Chester Z. Bronson, conductor George Balcom, clarinet
Jesse W. Crandall, violin Herman Salomon, clarinet
Henry Eich, violin William Schulhammer, bassoon
Charles Wolff, violin Mr. Ruckle, oboe
William Rogers, violin Sam Born, cornet
Donald Heald, violin Flutell Bowman, cornet
Charles Baker, violin George L. Trombley, French horn
Glenn Pratt, violin Mr. Dunham, French horn
Clell Pierre, violin Oscar Born, French horn
William Warner, violin John C. Pike, French horn
DeForest D. Walton, viola David H. Smith, trombone
Clovis L. Salisbury, viola Fred Bowman, trombone
C. Emerson Blgelow, cello Lloyd Manley, drums and tympani
Frank A. Newell, bass Sid Shears, drums and tympani
Thomas J. Walton, bass John Vleiken, drums and tympani
Harry Parker, flute Don Warren, accompanist
*Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press, 5 April 1915, p.3.

 

“An immense audience presented itself at the New Masonic Temple recently on the occasion of a concert by the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. On this occasion, Mr. C.Z. Bronson, conductor, presented the program in a manner which drew forth long and hearty applause.”

The Metronome, New York, April 1915

Lincoln Chautauqua Tour (1915)

With its first successful indoor concert season now behind, the orchestra undertook a series of performances with Harper Maybee’s Western Normal School chorus at the school’s first annual May Music Festival. Following a June performance in support of Western’s Greek Festival, Chester Bronson once again took a select group of performers back on the road for a second engagement with the Lincoln Chautauqua, visiting major cities throughout Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. At each stop on the 15-week tour, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (billed as “C.Z. Bronson and his Great Chautauqua Orchestra”) performed a 40-minute “prelude” before each afternoon lecture, then gave a full concert later the same evening featuring classical pieces and popular favorites.

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Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, billed as “C.Z. Bronson and his Great Chautauqua Orchestra,” c.1915 The Billboard, 11 September 1915.

The Kalamazoo-based orchestra had made “a favorable impression with the Chautauqua management” (Gazette) during its 1915 tour and was offered a contract for a third tour the following year. But the musicians returned home in September 1915 to dwindling local support and no plans for the foreseeable future. Chester Bronson advertised nationally that his “Great Chautauqua Orchestra” was available for work after September 20, but there’s no indication that a tour of any sort ever materialized.

Chester Bronson and Frank Newell had worked diligently to keep the fledgling Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra afloat. The Musicians’ Protective Association (local musicians’ union) petitioned the city council more than once to help fund the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, but the requests were denied citing lack of sufficient funding. Unlike the 1914 concerts in Kalamazoo where a “free will offering” was collected, the orchestra was able to charge admission for the 1915 winter series: 25¢ for each concert, or a $1.00 season ticket to all five performances. Attendance was good, but apparently not good enough to make such a large organization economically viable.

Coda: Final Performances (1916)

In its final billing as the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Chester Bronson and his organization gave one last “exceptionally pleasing concert” (Gazette) on 6 October 1915 before a crowd of 3,000 at the Kalamazoo Armory during a citywide “Prosperity Week” celebration. Union members, nearly all of whom had been involved with the KSO, came together one final time in April 1916 at a benefit performance for the musicians’ protective union. Without adequate financial support, however, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra was forced to disband.

Orchestra Members (1916*)

Charles L. Fischer & Herman Salomon, conductors John C. Pike, horn
Czerl Corbln, violin Burton E. Fischer, piano
Henry Eich, violin Ed Makins, piano
Charles L. Fischer, violin Don Warren, piano
Don Heald, violin Harry B. Parker, flute
Justin B. Keyes, violin E.W. Green, clarinet
Glenn J. Pratt, violin Herman Salomon, clarinet
J.H. Speer, violin Dave Smith, trombone
Charles Wolff, violin Leo Chaffee, cornet
Albert E. Blanchard, viola Ed Heald, cornet
Jesse Crandall, viola William Reifsynder, cornet
Edward Snuggs, cello H. Anstrum, drums
Tom Walton, bass Lloyd Manley, drums
Oscar Born, horn
*Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press, 15 April 1916, p.6. & Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 April 1916, p.6.

 

“Blanchard Symphony Orchestra” (1917)

Albert Edward Blanchard arrived in Kalamazoo in 1912 and quickly became acclimated to the local music circles. He was a key member of Fischer’s popular orchestra, a “Talking Machine Manager” at Fischer’s Music Shop, and an officer in the Musicians’ Protective Association. In 1914, Blanchard joined the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra as a viola player.

“Mr. Blanchard’s efforts have met with decided recognition and his organization has made many friends among Manager Spaeth’s audiences.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 May 1917

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Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 May 1917

In the absence of a community symphony orchestra, Blanchard put together his own 25-piece orchestra during the spring of 1917 and began giving performances of sacred music to go along with the pictures being shown on Sunday afternoons at the Fuller Theatre on Burdick Street. Although the list of musicians is unknown, Blanchard “selected the members with care from the best talent available… musicians with a good understanding of the requirements of this engagement” (Gazette).

The Blanchard Symphony Orchestra gathered “many remarks of praise” (Gazette) from theater patrons during its brief 6-week run. The orchestra was forced to conclude its concert series on 27 May 1917 to make way for an incoming summer stock theater engagement. Orchestra members then went their separate ways as Americans began to focus on their recent involvement in the first World War.

Overture: A New Beginning (1920)

With the war in Europe over and the arrival of a new decade, Chester Bronson was not yet ready to give up on forming a professional symphony orchestra in Kalamazoo. By October 1920, Bronson had formed a new 20-piece organization with, as Bronson himself described, “the ultimate aim being a symphony orchestra with a concert repertoire” (Gazette).

“Beginnings of what it is proposed to develop into a large symphony orchestra for Kalamazoo have been made in the organization of a symphonic orchestra of 20 pieces by C.Z. Bronson, well known local band leader and orchestra director.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 17 October 1920

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Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 November 1920

Expanding on the pattern established three years earlier by Albert Blanchard, Bronson’s new orchestra would provide two 30-minute musical programs every Monday evening before and after each film showing at the Fuller Theatre on Burdick Street. The repertoire was designed to be “light in character, and yet not of the jazzy popular type” and would not conflict with the music played by the (regular) Charles Wolff-directed Fuller Theatre Orchestra during the otherwise silent films.

“Fuller Symphonic Orchestra”

The newly formed Fuller Symphonic Orchestra (also called Fuller Symphony Orchestra) debuted on 17 October 1920 with the first in a series of Monday evening performances. Opening night included a selection of waltzes in tribute to Bronson’s long-time friend, Ellis Brooks, who was gravely ill at the time. As before, it was hoped that the popularity of the programs would eventually lead to a full-time professional symphony orchestra. This time, perhaps it might.

Fuller Symphonic Orchestra (1920*)

Chester Z. Bronson, director Charles Wolff, violin
Flutell G. Bowman, trumpet Albert E. Blanchard, viola
William Schullheimer, bassoon Edward Snuggs, trombone
Frank A. Newell, bass J. Vocelle
Glenn J. Pratt, violin John C. Pike, French horn
Henry J. Eich, violin Herbert Pfell
Justin B. Keyes, violin George P. Brown, clarinet
Albert L. Waldo, clarinet Frank Bailey
Dingman De Smit, trombone Edith Larkin, piano
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 31 October 1920, p.15

 

Selected Repertoire

Learn more: Selected Repertoire (1881–1921) >

“Kalamazoo Musical Society”

First incorporated in 1912, the Kalamazoo Musical Society was an independent organization formed to provide educational and entertaining musical programs for its members. For a small annual membership fee, society members were able to attend lectures, musical recitals and other related programs, which were typically held in the sponsoring members’ homes.

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Leta G. Snow. Musical America, 10 May 1933

Leta G. Snow (1880-1980)

Leta G. Snow was already a highly respected musician when she arrived in Kalamazoo with her family in 1918. She quickly became an active member of the Kalamazoo Musical Society, and frequently hosted meetings and musical programs in her home. Snow herself often performed elegant piano recitals for club members, while her active committee work soon helped to usher in more prominent soloists and ensembles. Membership in the Kalamazoo Musical Society soon swelled to nearly 500, making it necessary to hold meetings and performances in the ballroom of the newly rebuilt Burdick Hotel. In May 1920, Snow was elected president of the organization.

Re-elected for a second term in May 1921, Snow brought much admiration to the organization, and greatly increased public awareness of musical performance in general in Kalamazoo. Both as club president and secretary of the Michigan State Federation of Music Clubs, Snow was praised for her “leadership, vision, tenacity, ability, and courage” (Tiefenthal), and had become recognized as a highly influential member of local society. By September, concerts, programs and recitals were being planned for local schools, hospitals, clubs and other organizations, and soon there was talk among musicians throughout the community of a new professional symphony orchestra.

Fourth Movement:

“Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra” (1921)

“C.Z. Bronson will conduct. This musician’s name has always stood for the best in the musical interests of the city.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 November 1921

Chester Z. Bronson, Conductor

In May, 1921, Leta Snow called a meeting at her home with twenty-five leading local musicians, and together, the group laid the groundwork for this, the newest version of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. Snow assumed the role of orchestra president and business manager, while Chester Bronson, widely recognized for having “recently organized and directed the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra” (Gazette) six years earlier, cancelled his contract with the Wallace Circus to assist with the new organization. Bronson, who was highly respected among community members and (perhaps most importantly) among local musicians for his expertise, volunteered his time as conductor for the new orchestra, and brought along his extensive collection of orchestral and band music. Bronson “considered it a hobby which he enjoyed” (Tiefenthal).

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Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, c.1921, C.Z. Bronson conducting. Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra archives. Pictured: (partial list) Charles Brocato, first clarinet; Herman Salomon, second clarinet; George “Lem” Trombley, horn; Albert  E. Waldo, alto clarinet; William Boyce, bassoon; Bill Shumaker (William Schullheimer), bassoon; Clarence Reed, trombone; Henry Eich, concertmaster (first violin); Esther Rasmussen, first violin; Alvin Schaeffer, first violin; Lloyd Lohr, viola; Czerl Corbin, cello; Leta G. Snow (holding cello for absent person – Leta played piano, not cello); John Holman, first bass; Charles Jannasch, second bass; Fred Conine, percussion; C.Z. Bronson, conductor. (Members identified by Clark den Bleyker, a long time orchestra member, KSO personnel manager and librarian) Handwritten list c.1940s, Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

Musical Society Orchestra

The orchestra itself was made up of the community’s most prominent professional musicians, including many who were at the core of Chester Bronson’s recent orchestra. With Leta Snow as business manager and lead advocate, plus the donation of Bronson’s time and extensive collection of orchestral music, the community, it seems, would at long last have a sustainable symphony orchestra; one which still thrives to this day.

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra Officers (1921*)

Mrs. H. M. Snow: president, business manager
Edward B. Desenberg, vice president
Glenn J. Pratt, secretary and librarian
Justin B. Keyes, treasurer
Alfred B. Connable, board member
F. M. Hodge, board member
Charles Farrell, board member
Harry B. Parker, board member
Albert L. Waldo, board member
Christopher Henry Overly, board member

*Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 November 1921, p.14.

“The orchestra has been particularly fortunate in securing for their conductor C.Z. Bronson, who has wide experience with musical aggregations of this sort. He has played for years with Brooks Marine band, he was with Sousa and he has studied in New York with Walter Damrosch. He is exceedingly well informed musically as well as being a conductor of more than ordinary ability. Under his capable leadership splendid attainments are anticipated in the work of the orchestra.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 December 1921

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra Members (1921*)

Chester Z. Bronson, director Herman Salomon, clarinet
Henry J. Eich: Concertmaster, violin Ed Edelman, clarinet
Mrs. I. A. (Esther Dean) Rasmussen, violin George Balcom, clarinet
Glenn J. Pratt, violin George P. Brown, clarinet
Justin B. Keyes, violin Charles Brocato, clarinet, oboe
C. Shoefer (Alvin Schafer), violin William Schullheimer, bassoon
Edith M. Hacking, violin Harry B. Parker, flute
Mrs. Dana Burnett, violin Harry Schilling, flute
Charles Baker, violin George L. Trombley, French horn
Harold Cretsinger, violin Ralph Forner, French horn
Edward Cornhill, violin Flutell G. Bowman, trumpet
Stanley Brothers, violin Leo Chaffee, trumpet
Clarence J. (Harry) Reid, violin Robert Simon, trumpet
Theodosia Hadley, violin William Reifsnyder, trumpet
Nat L. Rix, violin Dingman De Smit, trombone
Christopher H. Overly, violin George Ebmeyer, trombone
Fern Baker Foley, violin E.L. Whitington, trombone
Herbert Janders, violin Leonard Proctor, trombone
Charles Wolff, violin Frank A. Newell, double bass
Laurence Burdick, violin Thomas Walton, double bass
J.H. Speer, violin Charles Jannasch, double bass
Josephine Rood, violin S.W. Bowen, brass bass
Mrs. M.J. Sherwood, violin John Hollman, bass
Lloyd Loar, viola Charles (Joe) Wilbur, drums,
Albert E. Blanchard, viola Frank Dukette, drums
Czerl Corbin, cello Fred Conine, tympani
Elsa Dukette, cello Charles W. Spring, tympani
Willis Burdick, cello Don Warren, piano
Albert L. Waldo, bass clarinet Mrs. Harry M. (Leta G.) Snow, piano
Lester Mack, bass clarinet
*Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 November 1921, p.14.

“Unquestionably the organization of the Kalamazoo Symphony orchestra, and the sponsoring of this work is one of the most notable activities which has thus far been undertaken by the Kalamazoo Musical society, and the movement by the Kalamazoo public is indicative of the fact that a real need is being met by the orchestra.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 25 December 1921

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Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, c.1921. Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 October 1939. Pictured (back row, left to right)— John Hollman, Charles Jannasch, Frank Dukette, Fred Conine; (middle row)— J.H. Speer (or Herbert Janders), Fern Baker Foley, H. Salomon, Charles Brocato, unidentified, Albert Waldo, William Schulheimer, Lloyd Loar, A.E. Blanchard, George Trombley, unidentified (probably Leonard Proctor); (front row)— Alvin Schafer, Theodosia Hadley, Edith Hacking, J.B. Keyes, Henry Eich, Esther Rasmussen, Czerl Corbin, Leta G. Snow, C.Z. Bronson, Elsa Dukette, N.L. Rix, Glenn Pratt, Christopher Overley, Clarence J. Reid, Flutell Bowman; (not pictured)— Ed Edelman, Harry B. Parker, Charles Wolff, Laurence Burdick, Willis Burdick, Josephine Rood, Mrs. M.J. Sherwood, Frank Newell.

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Harry B. Parker. Local History Room

“Come on over, we’ll practice here”

Organized and sponsored by Leta Snow and the Kalamazoo Musical Society, the orchestra project held its first rehearsal on Friday evening, 7 October 1921, at the Pythian building on Main Street. But available rehearsal space was difficult to find until Harry Parker, a local automobile dealer and member of the orchestra, generously offered the use of his brightly lit showroom on the corner of Main Street and Westnedge. “Come on over,” said Parker, “we’ll practice here” (Gazette).

With an old upright piano that “occasionally coughed and wheezed” and chairs borrowed from a nearby funeral home, the orchestra members began to build their repertoire while trying their best to disregard the crowds of onlookers that often gathered outside in the cold to watch. “It was slightly embarrassing to be practicing in a glass house,” Snow later admitted, “with half of the population pressing up against the huge plate glass windows during its nightly strolls.”

Performances Announced

Come November, an announcement was made that the new orchestra would make its public debut at the annual Christmas Festival sponsored by the Kalamazoo Choral Union. This would be followed by a series of Sunday afternoon concerts at the Armory beginning December 18th. All programs would feature semi-popular pieces that would appeal to the general public. Admission for each “regular” performance would be 25¢, or $1.00 for all five concerts in the series. Other free-of-charge performances were also planned.

“The audience was keen in its expectation, so that when Mr. Bronson came to the conductor’s stand, there was prolonged applause.”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 December 1921

Public Debut (1921)

The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra gave its first public performance at the Kalamazoo Armory on a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, 11 December 1921. Hundreds of local music lovers braved the damp weather to witness Harper C. Maybee’s presentation of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio, as performed by the 300-member Kalamazoo Choral Union chorus and accompanied by the newly formed 42-piece Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. In addition to the works by Maybee’s chorus, the enthusiastic audience was rewarded with a performance by the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra of Massenet’s “Phèdre” overture. Though the performance was rough and much more work needed to be done, this would serve as a small hint of what was to come.

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Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, c.1921. Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 June 1999. Local History Room

Winter Concert Series

One week later, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra made its official public debut on 18 December 1921 with the first full program in a series of concerts at the Masonic Temple in Kalamazoo. The program included a “splendid interpretation” (Gazette) of Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony plus other popular works, including the “Bower of Beauty” waltz by Ellis Brooks. According to the Gazette, the performance “was enjoyed by a large audience, which was extremely enthusiastic over the work of this new organization.”

The first season continued with four more performances at the Masonic Temple as part of the orchestra’s regular season. They also performed two additional free admission programs at the Masonic, designed to encourage participation in the Musical Society’s “Music Memory” contest. The orchestra also performed at least one out-of-town event with a concert in Three Rivers.

1921–22 Inaugural Season Performance Schedule

11 December 1921 Kalamazoo Armory with Kalamazoo Choral Union
18 December 1921 Masonic Temple, Kalamazoo
22 January 1922 Masonic Temple, Kalamazoo
19 February 1922 Masonic Temple, Kalamazoo
21 February 1922 High School Auditorium, Three Rivers
26 February 1922 Masonic Temple, Kalamazoo (free “Music Memory Contest” concert)
5 March 1922 Masonic Temple, Kalamazoo (free “Music Memory Contest” concert)
26 March 1922 Masonic Temple, Kalamazoo
16 April 1922 Masonic Temple, Kalamazoo
26 April 1922 Masonic Temple, Kalamazoo (free concert in honor of “Michigan State Federation of Music Clubs”)

 

Selected Repertoire

Learn more: Selected Repertoire (1881–1921) >

“Mrs. H. M. Snow, as president and business manager, has proven efficient. In addition to musical ability of a high order, Mrs. Snow has the vision and executive ability to conduct the launching of a new enterprise and to carry it through successfully, as well as to inspire confidence in the movement undertaken.”

Musical Courier, New York, 14 September 1922

Chester Z. Bronson conducted the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra until its third season when he was forced to retire due to ill health. Bronson passed away in 1926. Leta Snow retired in 1949 after 28 years with the orchestra. She lived to see her 100th birthday and witnessed nearly 60 seasons of the KSO.

“Today, the KSO makes symphonic music a part of everyday life, sharing lifelong musical experiences and learning throughout our community.”

—Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra Today

The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra continued to grow and mature, and today it is one of the largest professional orchestras in Michigan, performing dozens of concerts each season in front of thousands of people.

In 2021 the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 100th anniversary by launching a 100th Anniversary Campaign to help raise funds for future programming. For information about the orchestra and a brief history of the organization since 1921, please consult the KSO website.

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Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra image.

Continuing Research

Like many of our Local History essays, this article is by no means a definitive study but rather a continuing work-in-progress. If you have new information, corrections, or items to share, please contact the author or the Local History Room.

 

Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, 2010. Updates and corrections, November 2023.


Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Mr. Dave Sutherland, Kindersley, Saskatchewan, Canada, for providing additional information about J.W. McLouth.

Sources

Papers

“A History of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra”
Tiefenthal, Dwight. 9 August 1943
Typescript; noncirculating. (see History Room Subject File: Symphony Orchestra, Kalamazoo)


Articles

“The Symphony Orchestra”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 May 1894, p.4

“Symphony Orchestra”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 July 1894, p.1

“Some Real Band Music”
The Falls City Tribune (Falls City, NE), 27 May 1904

“Prominent Teachers and Players: J. W. McLouth”
The Crescendo (Boston, MA), undated, c.1913

“Conductor Bronson Has Long Career As Leading Musician”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1924

“Chester Z. Bronson Dies in 69th Year”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 28 September 1926

“Bronson Funeral Conducted by Elks”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 September 1926

“Maestro, please! Symphony’s founding in 1921 just part of our musical history”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 July 1976, page D-14


Websites

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra
The official Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra site.
Alice’s Archives: 50 Years of Kalamazoo Symphony Memorabilia
A blog about Kalamazoo Symphony memorabilia collected by the late Alice Mullen, principal keyboard with the KSO for nearly 40 years.


Local History Room Files

History Room Name File: Bronson, Chester Z.

History Room Subject File: Music.

History Room Subject File: Symphony Orchestra, Kal.


Learn More

Related reading from Kalamazoo Public Library’s Local History essays.
Phillips Brothers: Musicians of Distinction
Five talented brothers who formed one of Kalamazoo’s most popular late nineteenth century orchestras.
Charles L. and Burton E. Fischer
Kalamazoo’s world famous early 20th century bandleaders and musicians.
Chester Z. Bronson: Bandleader and Orchestra Director
Kalamazoo’s nationally famous bandleader and first director of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.


Comments

“…your article on the roots of the KSO is excellent. You provided enough context to make it both interesting and very useful to a researcher like myself. Also, you are the only person I know of that has gotten [O.H. Gibson]’s departure date from Kalamazoo correct.”
—Peggy B., Kalamazoo, July 2011

“I have recently delved into your articles on the history of the Kalamazoo Symphony in more detail. They are masterpieces indeed! What a lively music scene in turn-of-the-century Kalamazoo!”
—Pat M., Kalamazoo, April 2011

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