Musical Matrons: Women and the Early History of the Amarillo Symphony

Date

2024-03-07

Authors

Hieb, Kimberly

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Abstract

Founded in 1924, the Amarillo Symphony was first a pet project of the Amarillo Philharmonic Club, a vibrant and active group of women who regularly produced concerts and performed music at teas, luncheons, and other events locally. The first conductor of the Amarillo Philharmonic, as it was first called, was local piano teacher, Grace Hamilton, and the group's first performers were all women drawn from club membership. In fact, women have graced the stage as performers with the Amarillo Symphony since its very inception both as orchestra members and guest artists. Women composers, especially Texas Panhandle native Radie Britain, championed and were celebrated by the Amarillo Symphony. Women's activities with the Amarillo symphony did not stop there: the key benefactors of the institution over its one-hundred year long history were women. May Peterson Thompson, a metropolitan opera star who married Amarillo hotel businessman E.O. Thompson, was a key supporter of the institution in its early days, it was the women of the Amarillo Symphony Guild who rescued the institution from financial failing in the 1970s with a heroic fundraiser, and it was Sybil B. Harrington who established the endowment that gives the symphony relative financial peace of mind today. The Amarillo Symphony, unlike many other American symphonies, was formed and fueled by the work of women in the opening decades of the twentieth century. The organization was born out of a women's music club, women served as the organization's earliest performers, both in the orchestra and as guest artists, and key women were responsible for financially supporting the organization throughout its early history. The research presented in this poster charts this particularly rich facet of the history of the orchestra, which remains a bastion of culture on the High Plains. This poster introduces the integral role that women played in the establishment and early activities of the Amarillo Symphony. The poster highlights four categories of women who were involved in the Symphony from its earliest days including the clubwomen who founded the orchestra, as well as female performers, composers, and benefactors, and briefly summarizes their contributions and involvement with the Amarillo Symphony in its earliest days.

Description

There are essentially no publications on this particular topic. Books have been written about symphonies in the largest U.S. Cities such as New York and Chicago and regarding orchestras in several smaller American cities including Kansas City and Honolulu. Some research regarding women's music clubs has been published, but there is no existing scholarship regarding the role of women in American symphony life in the first half of the twentieth century. My goal is to present the Amarillo Symphony as a case study demonstrating the integral role women played in supporting American symphonic orchestras in the 20th century. The data for this project has been collected from documents in the Amarillo Symphony archives, the Amarillo Public Library, and the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum. Documents include Amarillo Symphony Guild yearbooks, Amarillo Symphony programs, newspaper clippings from the local papers, and other documents.

Keywords

2024 Faculty and Student Research Poster Session and Research Fair, West Texas A&M University, College of Fine Arts and Humanities, Poster, Women's music clubs, Symphonic orchestras

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