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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 PM
RANDY: Monett is perhaps the smallest city in Missouri to have its own symphony orchestra... well, it's not quite a FULL-sized symphony orchestra, as Ozark Festival Orchestra Music Director Ken Meisinger points out.
KEN MEISINGER: I'd say between 35 and 40 players. We play chamber works; we play full symphonic works. It's a full range of classical repertoire.
RANDY: How long have you been with the Ozark Festival Orchestra?
KEN: I'm in my ninth year now. I think in our program it says I've been Music Director of the OFO longer than any of my predecessors.
RANDY: As we heard this morning, the orchestra was originally founded as a string ensemble.
KEN: Carol Belknap was a string teacher in Monett, and there were a number of adults that wanted to play. And so they organized a string orchestra in 1978. Then in 1980 it became a symphony orchestra with winds and brass, and percussion. We draw players from Cape Fair; Springfield; Joplin; Carthage; Bella Vista, Arkansas; Fayetteville.
RANDY: That's quite a distance!
KEN: That is quite a distance. We pay those players mileage to encourage them to attend regularly! (Randy and Ken laugh) But my position and the Concertmaster are the only regularly paid positions. We sometimes hire musicians to fill in instrumentation that we may not have--for instance we hire a harpist from time to time, maybe a second bassoon.
RANDY: What would you describe as the function of the Ozark Festival Orchestra? What gaps, perhaps, does it fill in the musical life of the area?
KEN: It's an opportunity for amateur musicians, mainly, to play in an orchestra. There aren't very many small towns with an orchestra--lots of city bands and so on--but this is that unique experience for the players to play in a real symphony orchestra.
RANDY: What kind of difficulties does that present you, working with primarily amateur musicians?
KEN: Well, of course--
RANDY: I mean, the Springfield Symphony has a certain amount of those too (amateur players), but many of them do play professionally in various capacities.
KEN: Right. And we have some of those (professional players), but mostly we have school teachers, a surgeon, a doctor of veterinary medicine, housewives. And so the talent pool isn't as deep as it would be, say, in the immediate Springfield area, or in Kansas City. So those kinds of considerations have to enter into choosing repertoire and how much demand you can make of the players--because this is supposed to be a FUN thing to do. And so we try to keep the stress level low!
RANDY: It's really an outlet for the players themselves.
KEN: Indeed. Instead of going bowling on Tuesday night, they come to Monett and play in the orchestra! I tell people that are considering joining us--there's no audition by the way--it's "you turn up, and if you feel like you can make a contribution, then you're in for as much as you want to commit to."
RANDY: The OFO plays five concerts a season: one in the fall; then a Christmas-season "Lessons and Carols" concert with the Crowder College Community Choir in Neosho, with two performances of that--one on the Crowder campus and one in Monett. Unfortunately, this year the Monett concert had to be cancelled due to the recent ice storm.
KEN: Then in February we usually have a guest soloist of some kind. In fact this year, I think it's February 17, Monte Belknap is coming in from Brigham Young University to play solo violin with us.
RANDY: Is he not a Monett native?
KEN: Yes. He's Professor of Violin at Brigham Young and also has an international soloist career. The next concert then, usually in April, is a Young Artist concert. We audition young players, school-age kids, and they get to play a movement of a concerto or sing an aria with the orchestra.
RANDY: And then you do a "Pops in the Park."
KEN: And then a Pops in the Park in the spring. And that has turned into a benefit for the orchestra.
RANDY: If people are interested in either joining up with the orchestra or attending the concerts, what's the contact information?
KEN: They can contact me--my personal phone number is (417) 626-8194. They could contact Murray Bischoff, who is the Editor of the Monett Times and he serves on our board. His email address is news [at] monett-times [dot] com.