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Monett, Missouri is possibly the smallest town in the state with its own symphony orchestra. Randy Stewart profiles the Ozark Festival Orchestra, now in its 29th season.
SOC--OZARK FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA AM
RANDY: Lots of small towns have brass and wind bands, but very few towns the size of Monett, Missouri, population 8700, can boast a full orchestra including strings. Monett has been home to the Ozark Festival Orchestra, a 40-plus-member ensemble made up of volunteers from as far away as northern Arkansas, continuously since 1978. Monett may, in fact, be the smallest town in Missouri with its own orchestra. Today you'll learn more about this unique community resource, bringing symphonic music to the Monett and Neosho areas for nearly 30 years. This morning you'll meet two of the players in the orchestra.
Phyllis Garrett has been Principal Cellist since the orchestra was founded in 1978 as a string-only ensemble.
PHYLLIS GARRETT: We moved back here from Jefferson City in 1977, and when we came back there was nothing in Monett at the time. So I went to Joplin and played in their symphony orchestra. And then a woman came to Monett and started a stringed instrument program for children and adults. In this area there were quite a few string players who still hoped to play on our instruments in our adult years, so she gathered string players from around the area and just started a chamber orchestra.
RANDY: So now, that's 29 years you've been there with this group.
PHYLLIS: That is correct, yes--I'm the senior member of the Ozark Festival Orchestra.
RANDY: Phyllis Garrett says that, as important as it is to provide concerts for the general public, the Ozark Festival Orchestra exists as much if not more as an outlet for the players themselves.
PHYLLIS: We're made up of volunteers who just love playing our instruments and are thrilled to have an opportunity to play in a musical group that plays really good music. And I think we play as much for our own enjoyment as we do for our audiences.
RANDY: Well, how long have you been Principal Cello?
PHYLLIS: 29 years! (chuckles) Well, I started as the ONLY cellist, so it was an easy position to keep! It's just wonderful, and I'm thrilled that I can still play.
RANDY: And you're going to keep on as long as you can.
PHYLLIS: Absolutely--as long as there's a place to play and my fingers move, I will be playing.
RANDY: Echoing these sentiments is Anjie Nowell, Coordinator of Center for Arts in the Schools here at Missouri State University. She is Principal Clarinet with the Ozark Festival Orchestra--a relative newcomer, having joined midway through the 2001-2002 season.
ANJIE NOWELL: They had a vacancy, and actually the Music Director Ken Meisinger called me up--I'm not sure, actually, how he got connected with me--but he called me up and asked if I'd give them a try, and invited me out there. So I went, and really enjoyed it. It's different from a professional group, it's a different feel. And it also gives me a chance to kind of keep my "chops" up, you know, not being in school and taking lessons and things any more. This definitely gives me an outlet to keep playing. And also, I've played clarinet since I was 10, but mostly in the band track, so this gives an opportunity to play a lot of different literature and different composers. Being a community group, it's not as high-pressure as some playing situations can be! But it's fun, and you get to meet a lot of different people. In that group, for instance, we have a wide age range. There are some high school students, and people that are, I'll say, well into their senior years (laughs). And we have people from about an hour and a half radius, I would say, that get together once a week just because they love to play and really enjoy making music together.
RANDY: Both Phyllis Garrett and Anjie Nowell remember the May 4, 2003 tornadoes--the orchestra was playing an outdoor park concert in Monett that Sunday evening!
PHYLLIS: The storm came, and we literally folded up within five minutes and everybody scattered.
ANJIE: Yeah, that was pretty memorable, actually! We were just ending when all the sirens went off, and it seemed like half the population of Monett was trying to get into City Hall Auditorium for shelter!
RANDY: That fall, Principal Clarinetist Anjie Nowell had perhaps an even more exciting concert with the Ozark Festival Orchestra.
ANJIE: The orchestra invited me to be a soloist on their fall concert, and that was really exciting. This was my first opportunity to be the featured soloist with an orchestra backing me up, so that was really cool!