SSO: Our Vision and History

The Sewanee Symphony Orchestra (SSO) was founded in 1987 to assemble a symphony orchestra within a liberal arts community. The SSO has grown to the point where, today, it is able to present a full range of the symphonic repertory and include a wide variety of musical styles and genres. As a key component of the liberal arts environment, the orchestra not only collaborates with other music ensembles but also often participates in campus-wide interdisciplinary projects.

Our orchestra is a vivid reflection of our community. While the majority of orchestra consist of undergraduate and graduate students, it is common for students see their chemistry teacher playing the bassoon, the Dean of the college seated in the clarinet section, a French professor leading the second violins, or a former Vice-chancellor playing with the cello section. Additionally, the SSO is open to exceptionally talented members of our community.

The SSO, as an artistic and academic undertaking, follows an innovative model of music apprenticeship in which students learn from colleagues and faculty every time they rehearse or perform. During rehearsals and concerts, several music faculty members and guest artists not only lead different sections of the orchestra but actively work mentoring, inspiring, motivating, and helping students to improve as musicians and members of an artistic community. Our artists also work individually with the students in private lessons and sectional rehearsals.

We strive to maintain an unconditional commitment to high performance standards and consistent support for the creation of new repertoire. We also believe in music’s ability to impact positively our community and contribute to social transformation. During each season, the orchestra commissions and premiers at least one new work and performs an outreach concert for nearly 600 elementary school students with limited access to music instruction. Multiple local donors in our community as well as grants from the Mellon Foundation have supported these outreach initiatives.

The SSO is a student lead organization with faculty oversight provided by the Artistic Director through the innovative Artistic Leadership Program (ALP). ALP is a model program focused on providing Sewanee students with twenty-first century transferable skills, which benefit them in the pursuit of other academic or extra-curricular activities. In addition to performing, our students are also leaders of all aspects of production, marketing, promotion, and library organization. Members of ALP also coordinate and design new strategies to further the artistic goals of our orchestra.

Due to a generous grant from the Hugh Caldwell Trust, the Orchestra is frequently able to perform with distinguished guest artists. In recent seasons, the Orchestra has been joined by pianist Michael Gurt (gold medalist of the Gina Bachauer Competition), Astrid Schween (cellist of the Lark Quartet), and Baritone Reggie Smith (winner of the 2014 Metropolitan Opera Competition).

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