Symphony Orchestras

Updated: March 01, 2011

Symphony orchestras maintain a vital cultural presence in the Appalachian region.

Symphony orchestras maintain a vital cultural presence in the Appalachian region. With annual operating budgets ranging from more than ten million dollars (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) to less than thirty-five thousand dollars (the Allegheny Civic Symphony in Meadville, Pennsylvania), Appalachia’s orchestras can be divided roughly into the following categories: professional orchestras, volunteer/community orchestras, orchestras affiliated with educational institutions, and summer music festival orchestras. The following list, while far from exhaustive, identifies representative Appalachian orchestras from each category.

Professional orchestras in Appalachia include the Pitts- burgh Symphony, West Virginia Symphony (Charleston), Alabama Symphony (Birmingham), Maryland Symphony (Hagerstown), Binghamton Philharmonic (New York), Winston-Salem Piedmont Triad Symphony (North Carolina), Wheeling Symphony (West Virginia), Asheville Symphony (North Carolina), Knoxville Symphony (Tennessee), Kings- port Symphony (Tennessee), and Greenville Symphony (South Carolina). These professional orchestras generally operate on comparatively large budgets that enable them to procure world-renowned guest soloists. While professional orchestras tend to be located in larger metropolitan areas, the Wheeling Symphony, with a budget of more than one million dollars, serves a home city of approximately thirty thousand people.

Appalachian volunteer/community orchestras include the Nittany Valley Symphony (Pennsylvania) and the Ander- son Symphony (South Carolina). This type of orchestra is usually found in smaller communities; however, in larger cities with a professional orchestra in residence, a volunteer/ community orchestra can provide playing opportunities for nonprofessional musicians. Quite frequently, community orchestras are affiliated with educational institutions, especially colleges and universities.

Orchestras affiliated with educational institutions in Appalachia serve as training grounds for musicians, offering technical instruction and performance opportunities. Occasionally these orchestras incorporate musicians from the com- munity, as is true of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s New River Symphony. The Appalachian region boasts a large number of college and university orchestras, among them the Marshall University Symphony (Hunting- ton, West Virginia), Anderson College Symphony (Anderson, South Carolina), Westminster Orchestra (New Wilmington, Pennsylvania), Penn State Philharmonic (University Park, Pennsylvania), Marywood College Community Orchestra (Scranton, Pennsylvania), Wake Forest University Symphony (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), Millbrook Orchestra (Shepherdstown, West Virginia), Eastern Kentucky University Symphony (Richmond), and Carnegie Mellon Symphony (Pittsburgh). A variant of this type of orchestra can be found at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem; this institution’s orchestra attempts to prepare students at the high school level for professional careers in music performance.

Another type of educational orchestra in Appalachia is the summer music festival orchestra. For sixty years, Brevard Music Center (Brevard, North Carolina) has taught talented teenaged and young adult students through a rigorous seven- week summer program in which students play alongside faculty in the Brevard Festival Orchestra. The Sewanee Summer Music Center (Sewanee, Tennessee), which offers a five-week summer training program for advanced music students aged twelve to adult, emphasizes performance experience; selected students play alongside the faculty and staff in the Sewanee Festival Orchestra. In New York, the Chautauqua Institution, founded in 1874, features the Chautauqua Festival Orchestra.

A number of Appalachia’s symphony orchestras employ educational outreach programs to introduce and promote the symphonic repertoire as well as to encourage the study of music. Mainly targeting schoolchildren, many symphonies travel to present concerts in localities otherwise unrepresented by orchestras. Some orchestras, such as Symphony of the Mountains in Kingsport, Tennessee, mail videos and compact discs to schools across their states, sponsor youth orchestras, and offer scholarships. The Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Association (Tennessee) presents curriculum-related multi-arts performances for students, using small ensembles from the orchestra as well as other performing artists. The Lexington Philharmonic (Kentucky), though based outside of Appalachia, travels to Kentucky’s Appalachian region to perform in such towns as Pineville, Paintsville, Hazard, Prestonsburg, and Pikeville. Other orchestras, including the West Virginia Symphony, perform throughout their respective states. Whether playing in their own concert halls or traveling to play for those who would not otherwise hear them, Appalachia’s symphony orchestras add to the broad spectrum of musical experiences that enrich the region’s culture.

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Symphony Orchestras," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 23 Sep 2018 <>

APA Style

"Symphony Orchestras." (2018) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved September 23, 2018, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: