The mission of the Southeast Iowa Symphony Orchestra is to promote quality orchestral experiences for our regional community and musicians by providing live performances, educational opportunities and rural outreach programs for all ages.
Objectives include cultural enrichment and delivery of its services for a minimal fee or free of charge so that it remains accessible to everyone in Southeast Iowa. The SEISO, organized in 1950, is recognized as one of Iowa's most prominent community-based orchestras.
The service area of the SEISO includes the following Iowa counties: Appanoose, Davis, Des Moines, Henry, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lee, Louisa, Mahaska, Monroe, Muscatine, Wapello, Washington and Van Buren. Students, who reside in these counties, are eligible to participate in the annual Youth String Festival and Young Artist Competition.
SEISO is centered at Iowa Wesleyan University and supported with boards of directors in 3 cities: Burlington, Mt. Pleasant and Ottumwa. It reaches 12,000 people every year, has over 70 board members, 100+ volunteers and 65 musicians.
The Symphony’s First Ten Years - written by Robin Schweizer (Burlington)
By mid-20th century most of us had returned home from World War II. We had enthusiastically met old friends and gradually resumed living sanely. We had married or become reacquainted with our spouse and children and with our parents, who had reluctantly sent us to war.
Those of us, who were musically gifted, sought an outlet for our talent. We sang in church choirs, in barbershop quartets and, interestingly, we frequently played our instruments in small trios, duets and quartets for our personal pleasure. We participated in the city band concerts in Crapo Park on Sunday evenings. We avidly attended and supported our public school band, orchestra and choral recitals. We welcomed live music.
Civic Music Association concerts (for 47 years), organized and sponsored by Mrs. William (Hazel) Witte, and the Civic Music Board were offered by subscription and filled a near void of professional live entertainment. Members were surveyed annually for their musical preferences for the coming year -- usually an instrumentalist, a symphony, a vocalist, possibly a ballet, a musical -- the choices were endless, if affordable and available.
In the early fifties we were introduced to a magnificent menu of musical presentations through television and brought to us a myriad of cultural and music educational programs which further broadened our understanding and knowledge and enriched our lives.
During this mid-century adjustment following one war and soon to be involved in another, colleges and universities made room for a deluge of veterans returning to campus under the GI Bill. In all probability, some were students of Professor Howard Lynch, head of the string department at Parsons College (Fairfield) and a major factor in the formation of a small area orchestra comprised of 35 college and area musicians. Mr. Lynch was selected its first conductor. There was one concert in 1951 presented in the Iowa Wesleyan College chapel on October 19th. Mr. Lynch, pursuing his doctorate, left Parsons in early 1952 and the now titled Southeast Iowa Symphony Orchestra was led by Dr. Oscar Butler of the music department at Iowa Wesleyan College (Mt. Pleasant). Dr. Butler conducted for two seasons, presenting three concerts yearly in Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Burlington. The following two years Richard Lee Morse, of the Cornell College (Mt. Vernon) Music Department was chosen director and following that, became permanent conductor until the end of the decade. By this time, the orchestra had grown from 35 to 65 musicians.
Mr. Morse held music degrees from the University of Nebraska and Baylot University and has been associated with the Lincoln, NE Symphony, the San Antonio, TX Symphony and has performed with the Detroit, MI Symphony and the Philadelphia, PA Symphony orchestras. In 1956, Mr. Morse was offered a position as a public relations officer by symphony cellist Milton Sandell, president of Benner Tea Company. This move to Burlington of Mr. Morse and his family made it much easier for him to meet with potential orchestra players as well as Burlington and area service and civic clubs to explain the orchestra’s visions, its opportunities and its potential value to southeastern Iowa.
Concurrent with the Morse family move to Burlington, Iowa Wesleyan College President, J. Raymond Chadwick announced that the Southeast Iowa Symphony Board of Directors had voted to become an affiliate of Iowa Wesleyan College, enabling students playing in the orchestra to receive 1/2 hour semester academic credit. Mr. Morse would join the music department. Mrs. George Crow, President of the SEI Symphony Executive Board announced that organization of the orchestra, policies regarding rehearsals, music and appearances would continue to be administered by the Executive Board and the conductor. It had been increasingly apparent early on that the generous donations from music lovers and businesses in Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Burlington could not adequately support the orchestra. Rehearsals, initially at Ottumwa, moved to Mt. Pleasant. Mileage had to be paid for concerts and rehearsal, also the conductor’s salary, music purchase or rental, concert hall rent, an occasional guest artist and snacks when the orchestra played both afternoon and evening concerts in the cities.
The aforementioned Symphony Executive Board was created in 1952 with members elected from IWC and Burlington. Chosen as president was Mrs. George Crow, wife of a Burlington internist, long term member of the Burlington School Board under Dr. Ray Bracewell, music lover and active community leader. With her from Burlington, was Mr. Glen Cray, also a music lover and well known and able local attorney. Both served for many years in those capacities until their deaths twenty or so years later. During their early tenure, they met with friends and acquaintances to discuss the possibility, pros and cons, of supporting an area orchestra. Most were encouraging and promised continued annual donations as well as reaching out to their friends and business owners, in turn, for supplemental aid. Mrs. Crow, in a letter to concert attendees in mid-1956 explained the need to continue on a subscription basis. She stated, “No organization can long exist on charity. We must know where we are going, how much we can spend and where the money is coming from.” The following year was the first we sold tickets on a subscription basis. Each year we also listed in the concert programs the names of larger annual donors and the contributors. It was at this point in the history of the Southeast Iowa Symphony Orchestra that all facets of organization seemed to meld. We all began to realize what was expected of each of us to guarantee the orchestra’s continued viability.
Fortunately, our publicity had never been a problem. Mr. Clarence Moody, editor and publisher of the Burlington Hawkeye Gazette stated that “in his opinion the orchestra-college liaison contributes much to the cultural interests of Southeast Iowa.” Each Burlington concert was reviewed and critiqued by Lloyd Maffit and later by Grant Marshall when he was in town. Both were elected to the Symphony Executive Board and to terms on the Board of Directors. They excelled in their knowledge and commentary and never missed a performance. Twice, in 1951 and 1957, the Des Moines Register featured coverage of the orchestra’s rehearsal in its Picture section. Mr. Gerald McDermott, owner of radio station KBUR, taped and later played the concerts on the air. Interviews were heard several times.
A picture in the Hawkeye Gazette, Wednesday, March 9, 1955, shows Mrs. George Crow, board chairman, and elected officers of the newly formed Symphony Women’s Association. Elected were Robin Schweizer, president; Mrs. R. W. (Shirley) Schaefer, vice-president; Mrs. Everett Cluxton, recording secretary; Mrs. Harland (Joanne) Soper, treasurer; and Mrs. William Siebers, corresponding secretary. Serving as presidents until the end of the decade were Mrs. Ralph (Doris) Youngstrom, Mrs. Frank (Elaine) Schramm, and Mrs. Soper.
Our duties as members of the woman’s group were to financially support the orchestra. We raised money through membership dues, bake sales (F and M Saving Bank, First National Band and Burlington Bank and Trust always willing to give us space) and by giving an annual membership tea at the home of Col. and Mrs. Fred Holsteen and daughter, Betty. Of the original 22 members it was noted that the wives of three executive businessmen hired from out-of-town by the Chamber of Commerce, the City and the Burlington School Board found it expedient to contribute their time and help toward the orchestra’s success by joining the Symphony Women’s Association. We were each given a list of local businessmen to ask for financial support, and during the ticket sales, we all had a list of potential buyers to contact. It was not a social club. Our purpose was to raise money for the symphony. We worked hard, and it paid off. 2000-2001 we are celebrating its 50th anniversary.