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About the Symphony
The mission of the Shoals Symphony Association is to enhance the cultural life of all residents of the Shoals area through musical performances and educational programs.
In 1979 Gerry Byars was asked by Betty Dardess to teach violin at the Tennessee Valley Art Center. Shortly she was joined by others at The Tennessee Valley String School. The school had students from four years old thru adult. A children’s orchestra came about which grew into a youth orchestra. There was also a Boy’s Choir. In 1982 the adults moved to Sheffield’s Grace Episcopal Church as The Tennessee Valley Community Orchestra. It was truly a community Orchestra in that musicians from all the quad cities, the surrounding towns of the Greater Shoals Area, and the four counties of Lauderdale, Colbert, Franklin and Cullman participated just for the opportunity of playing with a symphony orchestra.
Two years (and four concerts ) later Ms. Dardess sought public funds to begin importing professional players for concerts, mostly for the string sections. A professional conductor, Gary Parks, traveled from Huntsville after being employed in 1984.
In July 1985 the former Tennessee Valley String School and Community Orchestra incorporated as the Shoals Symphony Orchestra (for By-Laws purposes The Association) pursuing its own funding, further development, additional sponsors and support groups.
In the early days Association programs included the Symphony Orchestra, the Youth Orchestra, the Beginning Strings Orchestra, the Shoals Boy’s Choir, and the Shoals Symphony Chorus, as well as strings classes and a strings camp. Along the way some programs have become independent, several have ceased to exist. The Youth Symphony continues to receive Symphony Association support as part of the Peery Center at UNA. Beginning the summer of 2008 a Strings Camp has taken place at UNA with Symphony financial assistance for Scholarships.
On July 13, 2002, at a fundraiser and concert at the Frank Lloyd Wright House and Richards Center (Florence City School Board) the Symphony Association and the University Of North Alabama signed an affiliation agreement, thus forming the Shoals Symphony at UNA. The by-laws of the Association were amended to include a UNA appointee on the Association’s Board serving without term limitation as part of this agreement. Also, that person filling the full time University Conductor/String instructor faculty position would serve as the Symphony Association’s Music Director and Conductor. Office space and other operational necessities and services were included.
The Symphony Association conducts drives for memberships, contributions, concert sponsors, and ticket sales. Donor levels of giving are classified under TICKETS in this site. The Symphony is a 501©(3) organization and contributions are tax deductible.
What began as a group of local players wanting to make music together has grown and evolved into a semi-professional regional Orchestra recognized as such by the Alabama State Council of The Arts from whom is requested and usually received grant support to some degree. The University of North Alabama has instituted Orchestra Scholarships, with emphasis on strings, for students who perform in the Orchestra. At present, most of the brass and percussion, some woodwinds, and more strings each year are UNA scholarship students. There are, and have been in past years, a few highly talented and qualified high school students regularly from the Huntsville/Decatur area and increasing more now from local school programs such as the Florence City Schools strings program. There are local and imported professionals in significant number as well as capable local musicians who play for the joy of performing with a good symphonic orchestra , even with all the rehearsal required.
Estonian born Viljar Puu Weiman is Music Director and Conductor of the Orchestra and Assistant Professor in the Department Of Music at UNA. For 12 years he was Conductor of the Huntsville Opera Theatre and Assistant Conductor of The Huntsville Symphony Orchestra. He also conducted the Huntsville Youth Orchestra. He began the study of music at age 8 and finished Tallinn Music High School, studied violin and choral conducting at Tallinn Academy and completed his undergraduate work at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma after emigrating to Canada. He earned a master’s degree in Orchestral Conducting from the Cleveland Institute of Music. He has pursued further education in this country, Canada, and Europe and has guest conducted orchestras in Estonia, Czech Republic, Canada, as well as various orchestras in this country. He has become popular with local concert audiences for comment on and introduction of music from the podium.
Mr. Weimann speaks to and performs for clubs and organizations and can usually provide string ensembles from the Orchestra for occasions such as galas, receptions, meetings of various kinds, and so forth. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 256-765-4708.