Rooted in capital city history, the Jefferson City Symphony Orchestra puts a modern twist on classical music.
If you close your eyes and think of classical music, perhaps your nose comes alive with the scent of mahogany, and you begin to sway a bit as you imagine the sounds of your favorite classical tune. Luckily, you can experience this timeless feeling when you visit the Jefferson City Symphony Orchestra. Beginning in the 1920s, when a group of local musicians gathered to play for church events, the JCSO has developed a long-standing rapport within the community. Their performances have become a place where people from near and far come to be reminded of the power of classical music, an art form long lost among newer generations.
“[Classical] music has the ability to heal hearts and souls,” says Bonnie Verdot, who’s been involved with the JCSO in multiple capacities as production manager, librarian, board of directors member, and principal of the double bass section over the last 45 years.
These skillful musicians, conductors, and narrators weave stories with the swipe of a bow across thei strings and delicate breaths across a reed.
“Classical music provides a tie to the past and helps people to see how music has evolved over the years,” Bonnie says.
When you visit the JCSO, you can witness an important piece of Jefferson City’s rich history. After its first appearance at an Easter Sunday service in 1923, the group of musicians became known as the “Little Symphony.” When many of the members were drafted into World War I, the group disbanded. Members on the homefront, however, continued to play together in small groups until it was reorganized as JCSO in 1948. Over the years, the orchestra has played during multiple historical events, including the Capitol dedication ceremony in 1924 and the Missouri Bicentennial in the Capitol rotunda in 2021.
The JCSO also keeps the genre alive in the community by acting as a teaching orchestra.
“We welcome high school students into the orchestra under the tutelage of their teachers,” Bonnie says.
Attending one of their concerts, visitors may get to see their neighbor playing the clarinet or a local classroom teacher belting out a tune. The community has certainly been the biggest help in keeping this institution alive. While visitors expect to hear classic literature performed, they may be surprised to hear some familiar pieces.
“We’ve dared to perform new, modern, and unfamiliar music. Over the years, the orchestra has matured in that we perform better and play more difficult repertory,” Bonnie says. “We’ve also branched out in the type of concerts we give. In addition to classical programs, we have a yearly family friendly ‘Spooktacular’ concert at Halloween, which introduces children to a symphonic orchestra.”
This commitment to making classical art accessible to everyone helps ensure this art form doesn’t fade into the recesses of history.
“It’s not unusual for first-time audience members to tell us how wonderful the concert was and they had no idea Jefferson City had such a good orchestra,” Bonnie says.
In addition to the regular concert schedule, the JCSO sponsors the Piano Concerto Competition that brings talented musicians from all over Missouri together to compete. This year, JCSO is delighted to bring back the Symphony Choir, which was originally organized in 1983 and then briefly retired after founder and conductor, Carl Burkel, passed away. The orchestra also partners with Dancer’s Alley to provide spectators with a dance performance that pairs beautifully with the music.
Thankfully, music lovers can still catch JCSO’s last performance of the season on April 24, where it’ll debut the revived Symphony Chorus doing “Rutter’s Magnificat” at Lincoln University’s Mitchell Auditorium.
With such rich history, supporting the classics is what makes Jefferson City such a great place to live.
“Come out and give us a chance. Experience a concert,” Bonnie says. “People who have never experienced a live orchestra concert may be surprised with what they hear and find that live symphony music can be pretty cool.”