The Winston-Salem Symphony at 75 “Bringing Music to Life” for Everyone

Throughout 2022, the Winston-Salem Symphony has been celebrating its 75th anniversary of bringing music to life in our community. Since the orchestra gave its very first concert in 1947, the Symphony has been an artistic and educational leader in Forsyth County. The Symphony’s formal education programs began in 1956 with a Youth Orchestra workshop. Today, the Symphony’s education programs reach thousands of students every year through four youth orchestra ensembles, in-school and after-school programs, and the P.L.A.Y. Music program that offers free string music instruction at Title 1 elementary schools. The orchestra’s concert performances are also designed to bring a spark of imagination and inspiration to the youngest audience members. So as the 75th  anniversary celebration continues through the holiday season, there are many great opportunities for children and families to experience the joy and excitement that the Winston-Salem Symphony brings to our community.

One of the Symphony’s most beloved holiday traditions for families is “A Carolina Christmas,” which has been entertaining the entire Triad for over a decade. This year marks the return of Cirque de la Symphonie, which will bring the audience’s favorite Christmas carols to life in unique and delightful ways through the magic of cirque. Each performance is perfectly choreographed to great orchestral arrangements of famous and traditional holiday masterpieces, including jugglers, aerialists, contortionists, strongmen, and some of the most original talents ever seen. Fusing the power and majesty of the live orchestra with the best of cirque artistry, Cirque de la Symphonie is the only company of its kind in the world that performs exclusively with symphony orchestras. And it wouldn’t be “A Carolina Christmas” without a visit from Santa Claus and a sing-along inviting the audience and orchestra to create music together. Guest Conductor Chelsea Tipton II leads the orchestra through the exciting program. The concerts take place the weekend after Thanksgiving on Saturday, November 26th, and Sunday, November 27th, at R.J. Reynolds Memorial Auditorium. 

Another holiday musical tradition is the Symphony’s annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. This season, former Winston-Salem Symphony Music Director Robert Moody returns to conduct this timeless work at Wake Forest University’s Wait Chapel on Tuesday, December 13th, at 7:30 p.m. “The Messiah is an extraordinarily moving piece of music. No Christmas season is complete without it,” says Moody, who started this Symphony tradition sixteen years ago. The cherished composition is widely regarded as one of music’s most powerful messages of faith. Since its first performance in 1742, audiences have loved this piece, making it one of the most celebrated oratorios of all time. If you have never felt the impact of the beautiful and dramatic “Hallelujah” chorus live in concert, this is a musical experience that you do not want to miss. The Winston-Salem Symphony Chorus, under the direction of Dr. Christopher Gillam, once again joins the orchestra for this Triad Christmas favorite. 

Outside of holiday entertainment, the Symphony will launch its fun and exciting three-concert “Ignite Family Series” this fall. These concerts provide an interactive experience that the entire family can enjoy while introducing the youngest audience members to the joy of live music. In addition to the concerts themselves, all “Ignite” performances feature a variety of pre-concert activities, including crafts, games, story times, and an instrument petting zoo that gives all kids a chance to make some sounds just like the musicians on stage.

“A live concert experience can be a defining moment for young minds, opening up a whole new world of music and imagination,” said E. Merritt Vale, Winston-Salem Symphony President & CEO. “The Symphony’s mission is to bring music to life, and these concerts aim to do that for the most junior members of our community. They not only encourage young people to appreciate music from a young age, but they are also fun and can provide a great afternoon of entertainment for the whole family.”   

The Seuss-filled Green Eggs & Ham: A Musical Setting By Robert Kapilow kicked off the series on Sunday, October 23rd, at SECCA’s McChesney Scott Dunn Auditorium. Rob Kapilow’s brilliant musical setting of this Dr. Suess favorite was a great fit for young listeners just discovering the joy of books. They were able to experience this time-honored classic jumping off the page and becoming music for a chamber orchestra and vocalist. Rob Kapilow’s brilliant musical setting of this Dr. Seuss favorite is sure to capture the imagination of all ages. The musical adventures continue at R.J. Reynolds Memorial Auditorium on Sunday, February 5, 2023, with “Worldwide Playlist: Dancing Around the Globe.” Check your boarding pass and join the full symphony orchestra for a journey to discover dance music and rhythms from the world over! Hear music from North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East—and learn about rhythms native to cultures from around the globe. This sensory-friendly experience will be fun for music lovers of all ages. “The Music of Star Wars: A Young Padawan’s Concert” wraps up the series on Sunday, May 7th, 2023, at R.J. Reynolds Memorial Auditorium. Kids are invited to put on their Jedi robes, grab a lightsaber, and help the Symphony defeat the dark side! Guest Conductor Christopher James Lees returns to our stage for this kid-friendly length concert celebrating the music of John Williams and the Star Wars saga.

The Winston-Salem Symphony also offers a wide range of opportunities to young people who want to step out of the audience and onto the stage to make music themselves as part of the Youth Orchestras and P.L.A.Y. Music programs. The current Youth Orchestras Program was originally founded in 1973 under the auspices of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Over the decades, the program grew and officially became a part of the Winston-Salem Symphony in 2007. 

Today, the Winston-Salem Symphony Youth Orchestras program has over 150 students across four different ensembles, ranging from first graders to high school seniors. The Youth Symphony is a full orchestra of the most advanced students who have a passion for music and stand out in their schools for their tremendous talent. The other full orchestra is the Youth Philharmonic, which gives intermediate-level students the experience of playing in a large orchestra. Both the Youth Symphony and Youth Philharmonic are led by conductor and esteemed music educator Margaret Rehder. Premiere Strings and Chamber Sinfonia are strings-only ensembles for the youngest musicians and are led by Dr. Ryane Dunnagan. Premiere Strings is for those who are new to playing in an ensemble with a conductor, and Chamber Sinfonia is for the young musicians with more advanced skills who are preparing for the full-orchestra experience. 

The program has recently grown from three to four ensembles, due to an influx of students who started playing violin in the Symphony’s P.L.A.Y. (Piedmont Learning Academy for Youth) Music Program.  P.L.A.Y. was founded because many of our area’s in-school music programs are under-funded and a survey of educators reported that existing programs reached at-risk students too late. P.L.A.Y. is now at three elementary schools, two of which are Title 1 schools, where participation is completely free of charge. Beyond teaching music, the program helps students excel academically and supports social and emotional growth that will lead to a lifetime of success. As a result, you will now see current and former P.L.A.Y. students in the ensembles of the Youth Orchestras Program. You can hear all four ensembles of the Youth Orchestra program in their Fall Extravaganza concert on Monday, November 14th, at 7:00 p.m. at the Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem. This annual performance is free and open to the public, and it is the first opportunity to hear what students have been working on since rehearsals started in September. 

For more information about the Symphony’s performance offerings and education programs, visit wssymphony.org. Subscriptions and single tickets for concerts are on sale now and can be purchased online at the Symphony’s website or by calling the Symphony Box Office at 336-464-0145.

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