Musicians take the stage. The crowd applauds. Lights dim as instruments slowly bring into existence a beautiful swell of notes that linger over the now silenced auditorium. Not many moments compare to the anticipation of listening to a live orchestra. Anybody who’s ever been knows the magic.
Maestro joins the musicians, who make the final adjustments to their instruments. The crowd breathes softly, careful not to interrupt what is sure to be a concert for the ages. And, in fact, it will be, when this April the Fort Smith Symphony takes to the stage at the Performing Arts Center to celebrate the 200th anniversary of our beloved city. It will be an evening of music that encompasses our western heritage and embraces modern musicians and their contribution to our ever-changing culture.
“Part of the celebration is the idea of thinking about Fort Smith’s past, present, and future,” states John Jeter, the Fort Smith Symphony music director. Over two years in the making, Jeter first began preparing for April’s performance after being approached by Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, who asked for an original song to be commissioned in honor of the bicentennial. From this request, one song turned into an entire concert celebrating Fort Smith’s heritage. “This has been a long time in the works,” continues Jeter. “The more I thought about Mayor Sanders’ request, one song turned into a whole concert. We are very happy to have a part in Fort Smith’s celebration.”
This concert is just one way that the City of Fort Smith is celebrating its 200th anniversary. Throughout 2018 the celebration is divided into quarterly themes of Arts & Culture, Western Heritage, Homecoming, and Future Fort Smith. The city is planning an entire year of celebrations that will look back at where we were, where we are, and where we are going – all of which will be put to music in the symphony’s performance.
Before hearing composer Phillip Schroeder’s original composition, “From Disparate Lands,” the crowd will hear a mix of film scores to be played solely by the orchestra, from classically western films including The Cowboys, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Big Country, The Magnificent Seven, and The Civil War. In addition to this, two bands will each play separately, accompanied by the Fort Smith Symphony. The Crumbs, whose upbeat, bluegrass sound runs in the blood of anybody who has ever set foot in our best of the west town, and the Ben Miller Band, who, states Jeter, “has elements of our musical language,” will each play a few songs at the concert. Both bands, which serve to showcase the current musical landscape of the region, will play interspersed between the mentioned film scores and heritage songs, including “String ‘Em Up,” “He She Song, Wave,” and “Horses One-Pistols Three.”
The roughly 2-hour concert ends after an evening of fun music with the relaxing and thoughtful original composition by Phillip Schroeder. “‘From Disparate Lands’ is written specifically for this event,” Jeter adds. “His style is very meditative and creates a unique atmosphere. It’s very relaxing and thoughtful.” Schroeder teaches Theory and Composition at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia as the University’s Coordinator of Music Theory and Composition. Though he has written many different pieces, his main style is choral music.
John Jeter asked Phillip Schroeder to write the original song for the Bicentennial Symphony Concert because he is fond of his style. Though western is a deep-seeded theme in our culture and heritage, Jeter wanted a different take on the subject and “without asking him to do that. That is what he will do.” This meditative and reflective piece invites those who attend the April 21st concert to think about Fort Smith’s future.
“Musically, we are covering all the bases and trying to incorporate Fort Smith’s history with the symphony orchestra.” John Jeter, who has been with the Fort Smith Symphony for over 20 years, has seen a gradual change from playing only the classics, to opening the orchestra up to playing exceptional music from any genre. This concert is an extension of the symphony’s embodiment of our community, the varying genres and people.
“I feel that the orchestra is very much tied to the growth of the city and the city’s success,” concludes Jeter. “The community’s growth gives us opportunity, which is why we’re involved in economic development.”
Within the Fort Smith Symphony itself is evidence of our past, present, and future. From classical to modern, forever western, bluegrass, rockabilly, and classical, the symphony stands as a testament to our city’s heritage as a musical monument of our past, present, and future. Happy Anniversary, Fort Smith!