About the Shoals Sypmhony at UNA


The mission of the Shoals Symphony at UNA is to enhance the cultural life of all residents of the Shoals area through musical performances and educational programs.

The Shoals Symphony at UNA started in 1979 when Gerry Byars was asked by Betty Dardess to teach violin at the Tennessee Valley Art Center in Tuscumbia, Alabama. The program quickly evolved with addition of several new teachers. They taught students ranging in age from four years old to adult. A small children’s orchestra quickly developed into a thriving youth orchestra program.

In 1982 the adult string students moved to Sheffield’s Grace Episcopal Church and became The Tennessee Valley Community Orchestra. Musicians from Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Sheffield, surrounding towns of the Greater Shoals Area, and the four counties of Lauderdale, Colbert, Franklin and Cullman participated.

Two years (and four concerts) later, Ms. Dardess sought public funds to begin importing professional players for concerts, predominantly to expand the string sections. Professional conductor, Gary Parks, traveled from Huntsville as the first employed conductor in 1984.

The Shoals Symphony Orchestra (for By-Laws purposes The Association) was born in July 1985 when the former Tennessee Valley String School and Community Orchestra unified to begin pursuing its own funding, further development, additional sponsors and support groups.

In its infancy, 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. Over time, the choral programs have become independent, and the Peery Center for Orchestral Studies at UNA is undergoing a revision to form the UNA String Project for the educational outreach to the community. Since the summer of 2008, a Strings Camp has taken place at UNA offering 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, and thus emerged 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 Shoals Symphony Orchestra conducts drives for annual memberships, contributions, concert sponsors, and ticket sales. The Symphony is a 501©(3) organization and contributions are tax deductible.

What began as a group of local players creating music together, has evolved into a semi-professional regional Orchestra recognized as such by the Alabama State Council of The Arts. They continue to support the Shoals Symphony at UNA through annual grant support. The University of North Alabama has instituted orchestral performance awards for collegiate musicians that are accepted by audition, and a handful of music faculty and community musicians perform side-by-side with these students and professional musicians. The symphony is complemented by a significant number of local and imported professionals.

As we look to the future, the Shoals Symphony at UNA seeks to create an exciting symphonic experience for newer generations while bringing a refreshed energy to the traditions of the orchestral repertoire.

List of Past Conductors

  • Jessie Joiner
  • Gary Parks
  • Jeff Pennisen
  • Joseph Lee
  • Daniel Hornstein
  • Sergio Espinosa
  • Viljar Weimann