Many ingredients go into making a community a healthy, attractive place where folks want to live. Some of those are obvious — a thriving economy, a healthy educational system and good medical care – but others, such as the availability of ample cultural and recreational opportunities, are more aesthetic in nature, but no less important.
In an area where artistic and cultural pursuits abound, the Golden Isles is literally filled with the sound of music, from crooning soloists, jamming groups, symphonic music and touring acts that perform a variety of genres.
Now in its 37th year, the Coastal Symphony of Georgia, led by music director and conductor Michelle Merrill, will begin its season on Sept. 23 in the Brunswick High School Auditorium.
Merrill says there’s no overall theme to the upcoming season, other than just presenting great music.
“Within each individual concert it could be said there is a theme, like the theme of Christmas for the second concert, and a theme of vibrant orchestral colors in the final concert, but for something like the first concert (which features the music of George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel), it really is just a connection between orchestrations of similar like-minded composers,” said Merrill.
Gershwin and Ravel adored and respected one another, Merrill said, and Jared Miller, whose music is featured in the final concert, is a contemporary composer who has been inspired by past greats.
“I thought the sound world he (Miller) creates in the opening piece ‘Luster,” fit in nicely with the other works,” she explained. “Likewise the third concert is made up not only by two cornerstones of the classical era – Haydn and Mozart – but also two contemporary female composers (Jessie Montgomery and Caroline Shaw) who are making their mark in the classical music world.”
Merrill says that putting together a season of music is similar to curating a good meal.
“I want there to be plenty of meat and potatoes, if you will, but also some exotic spices or new flavors that people maybe haven’t tried before, in the hopes that people will enjoy the experience of something out of the ordinary,” she said.
As in seasons past, a variety of guest performers will be featured at the concerts. Tristan Clark, principal trumpet for the orchestra, will be a soloist in the Hummel Trumpet Concerto during the second concert of the season.
“Readers who went to the final Soundbite of last season will recognize him as one half of the Melodica Men, and I’m happy he will be featured now in a more classical setting, as he is an extremely talented individual,” Merrill said.
In the final concert, Brent Deubner will be featured on viola. Merrill said he will play Joan Tower’s Purple Rhapsody and also the Romanze for Viola and Orchestra.
“The viola is often the forgotten stepsister of the string family, but it has such a rich and deep sound that is truly beautiful,” Merrill said.
Symphony enthusiasts also have another series of SoundBites and Salons to look forward to. Both series give people the opportunity to become acquainted with the musicians in the a more intimate setting, and see other sides to their music-making. Some new ventures are also in the works.
“We are also working on a program called ‘Musical Mentors’ that will bring our musicians and guest artists into the schools to spread music and education to the students of the Golden Isles,” Merrill said.
Orchestras bring many benefits to a community, and Merrill said the No. 1 benefit is empowerment.
“An orchestra helps a community come together, experience art and learn about the world,” she said. “It is our goal to continue to reach out and find new ways to be a part of the community so everyone has the chance to behold the transformative power of music and enjoy the sounds before them.”
It is a rare thing for people who live in a small area like the Golden Isles to have access to a symphony orchestra without driving miles and miles to see them. However, Golden Islanders are fortunate because rather than traveling to see the orchestra, many of the musicians in the Coastal Symphony of Georgia make the trip to bring music to the local audience.
Susan Garrett, vice president and marketing chair of the symphony, said the musicians who make up the orchestra come from a variety of places.
“While many of our musicians come from Jacksonville, others arrive from throughout the Southeast, including Atlanta, Savannah, Miami and the Carolinas,” she said. “They are professional artists who allow our conductor, Michelle Merrill, to ask for excellence in each performance.”
The size of the orchestra also varies, from 33 to 70 members per concert, depending on the requirements of the music being presented.
“For example, our first and last concerts this season will have the largest orchestras, while our second and third programs call for 33 musicians each for a more intimate setting,” said Garrett.
The symphony has sold out of season tickets for the last six years, and Garrett said that season ticket sales are currently running ahead of this time last year.
“Music lovers need to order their season tickets to ensure having a seat for our exciting new season,” she said. “There are occasionally a few single seats available, not necessarily together, and we do have a waiting list. We are looking forward to our planned move into the Community Center for the Arts in 2022, so we can offer more seats for our concerts.”
When asked what a symphony orchestra brings to a community Garrett’s answer was succinct.
“Bringing the people of the community together through vibrant musical performances,” she said. “… The symphony experience is a community experience, and we are proud to play a vital role as the premier musical organization in the Golden Isles.”
In addition to the four scheduled concerts, other events, such as SoundBites, which are presented as small casual gatherings where guests and artists can mingle and the music can be enjoyed in a more intimate setting. Three SoundBites are planned for this year, and all begin at 7 p.m. The first, on Nov. 10, will be at Halyards, followed by Jan. 21, 2020, at Thrive and March 30, 2020, at The Study at Reid’s Apothecary, in Brunswick.
There will also be a family Christmas concert at 4 p.m. Dec. 8 in the Christ Church Frederica Parish Hall, featuring pianist Terry Readdick. Readdick will play traditional Christmas songs and new arrangements of selections from “The Nutcracker.”
Michael Frick, president of the Coastal Symphony of Georgia, has a core group of dedicated patrons and corporate sponsors.
“Our community has long expressed a strong interest in the ability to enjoy fine, live, classical music here in the Golden Isles,” he said. They also appreciate our dedication to excellence in our product, and understand that donor funding is critical to that effort.”
Ticket sales account for only 27 percent of the organization’s revenue, so while concerts are regularly sold out, individual and corporate sponsorship is the orchestra’s lifeblood.
“We are deeply grateful to our loyal patrons for allowing us to continue bringing the finest in classical music to the community,” Frick said.
After making the move from the Glynn Academy Memorial Auditorium to the new Brunswick High School Auditorium, the symphony will move once again in 2022, when construction of the the Community Center for the Arts is complete.
Frick lauded the high school facility’s excellent acoustics and the immediate sense of a concert hall upon entering the space.
“Laurie Frank and the staff at BHS have been so supportive, doing all that they can to make both our musicians and patrons comfortable on concert night,” he said. “The musicians particularly enjoy the large well-lit stage, and the opportunity for camaraderie on the supper break in the airy, light, school cafeteria.”
The patrons, he said, enjoy the comfort of their seats, and the full, rich orchestral sound filling the hall.
However, with all of its benefits, there is one significant drawback.
“The one thing we cannot do at BHS is increase the numbers of tickets we can sell,” Frick explained. “We have a waiting list for every concert, and believe many more music lovers would attend if they could get a ticket. The Community Center for the Arts will allow us to double the size of our audiences, while maintaining excellent acoustics and comfortable seating.”
The oldest continuously operating musical organization in the Golden Isles is Golden Isles Live! Once known as the Brunswick Community Concert Association, the group has undergone a Renaissance of sorts, with more contemporary programming, and a wider variety of musical styles presented each year.
Notable acts that have performed in the past include The Von Trapp Family (1946), made famous by “The Sound of Music” some 15 years later, Fred Waring (1969), Ferrante & Teicher (1971), New York Theatre Ballet (1988), The Glenn Miller Orchestra (2004), Hal Linden (2013) and Maureen McGovern (2018), among others. The emphasis has always been a quality musical performance.
Judy Cauley, administrator for Golden Isles Live! said this year will be very exciting. Each year, she said, board members travel to Nashville, Tenn., to attend a music industry showcase to evaluate artists for the upcoming season.
“The board will then meet to discuss the talent options so that we can bring back performances that we know our patrons, season ticket holders and community will enjoy,” she said.
A variety of world-class entertainment is on tap for audiences this year.
“There will be something for everyone this season, including pop, country, classical and even some rock ‘n’ roll with one of America’s favorites, the Beach Boys tribute band, Sail On,” Cauley said. “We will kick off our season on Sept. 7, with finalists from ‘America’s Got Talent,’ Sons of Serendip.”
Sons of Serendip is a classical crossover ensemble that features a cellist, pianist, harpist and lead vocalist. The four men, Kendall Ramseur, Cordaro Rodriguez, Mason Morton and Micah Christian, met while attending graduate school at Boston University. They formed in 2014 specifically to compete on “America’s Got Talent,” and finished the competition in fourth place.
All concerts, with the exception of the December date, are held at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays in the Glynn Academy Memorial Auditorium, in Brunswick.
Also performing will be Glen Campbell tribute artist Jeff Dayton on Nov. 2, pianist Jason Lyle Black on March 6, 2020, and Beach Boys tribute artists, Sail On, on April 18, 2020. The Christmas concert this year will be held at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 in Strickland Auditorium at Epworth by the Sea, and feature Ben Gulley with the Mark Lowrey Trio.
“It will be a really fun season, and you can purchase your tickets online at www.goldenisleslive.org,” said Cauley. “Enjoy five great concerts for only $80.”
Golden Isles Live! also has a commitment to local students. Each season two performances are provided to Glynn County public school students.
“Many of these children in our community may not ever have the opportunity to attend a professional performance of this caliber,” she said. “These students will also have the opportunity to interact with the artists. In the past, we have also provided master classes to Glynn County music students.”
In fact, just last season Golden Isles Live! brought in a professional saxophone player from Los Angeles to work with Brunswick High School and Glynn Academy band students. Eighty band students, Cauley said, were given the opportunity to perform live for the season finale.
Last season we brought in professional saxophone player from LA to work with Brunswick High and Glynn Academy band students. Eighty band students were given the opportunity to perform live for our season finale.
“Our student outreach program exposes our local students to entertainment that they may not otherwise get to see, and it will hopefully foster a love of the arts,” she said.