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Wednesday, March 14, 2012 / 10:28 AM

Classical Music, and the Arts, Are Blossoming in St. Charles

Classical Music, and the Arts, Are Blossoming in St. Charles

Choral Performance at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Lindenwood University in St. Charles

When conductor Robert Hart Baker leads the St. Louis Philharmonic in its already sold-out performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Mahler’s magnificent Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) on March 16, one detail of the performance will be somewhat different: the Philharmonic will not be performing in either St. Louis City or County, but at the still-relatively-new J. Scheidegger Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Lindenwood University in St. Charles.

This concert, far from being a lessening of commitment to the region the Philharmonic serves, should be viewed as an expansion of that commitment to include the entire metropolitan area. Significantly, the venue for this performance, and its markedly robust ticket sales, also demonstrate the vigor of the growing musical and artistic life of the entire St. Charles area. The academic institutions that have helped fuel the growth of St. Charles County, Lindenwood University and St. Charles Community College, have played no small role in nourishing this development, as has the civic commitment of all the municipalities in the area.

An opera singer from New York used to always insist that classical music is still the biggest source of musical revenue, and attracts the largest audience overall because it goes on everywhere and at all times throughout the world—to small towns, big cities, rural festivals, schools, homes, private music schools, religious and civic institutions, theatres, concert halls, and occasionally even in stadiums and arenas. (Pavarotti once performed at the old St. Louis Arena.) Add to that the fact that classical music appears in the form of symphony, dance, opera, chamber and recital formats. I wouldn’t care to do the research to determine if my friend was correct or not, but his point is worth pondering. Classical music is essential to the viability of communities.

Perhaps one factor that distinguishes the musical life of the St. Charles area from its counterpart across the Missouri River is the fact that arts venues in St. Charles generally offer a completely integrated tableau of arts events, including dramatic productions, visual art exhibits, dance performances, “pops” concerts, and even speakers’ events. Over time, audiences can sample all these various forms of expression at the same venues. The suburban location makes parking more accessible for supporters than in more congested areas, although there is something to be said for the excitement of, say, the Grand Center Arts District.

Another exciting component of the musical life of the St. Charles area is that, due to the backing of academic institutions, talented student performers are given the opportunity to interact with professionals. For instance, the Philharmonic, itself an ensemble comprised of professionals and highly skilled amateurs alike, will be joined by choruses from Lindenwood and Meramec Community College on March 16. The theatres at both Lindenwood and St. Charles Community College have played host to a wide assortment of professional and student-led productions, including past stagings of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, special performances for young audiences and collaborative recitals featuring both faculty performers and students. On May 1, for example, the Scheidegger Center will host a program featuring student conductors, and on March 16-18 St. Charles Community College will mount a special production of the musical Oliver! for young audiences.

As with all college and university faculties of eminence, the professors at both Lindenwood and  SCC are doers as well as teachers; they inspire students not just with their words, but also through their own performing and research. The many noteworthy pianists, singers and instrumentalists at these institutions teach by example, whose value should never be underestimated. It is not uncommon at  SCC to hear the same faculty who lecture during the day on such topics as music theory and history perform as soloists in an evening concert. Its thriving Suzuki programs are further evidence of St. Charles’ commitment to demonstrative teaching. And collaboration with such established institutions as the St. Louis Philharmonic illustrate the networking power of faculty and staff committed to the enrichment of their communities.

But Lindenwood and SCC could not do the job alone. All the various arts venues that abound within St. Charles County do more than their share, from the Foundry Art Centre to the various municipal auditoriums, to the various galleries, to riverfront concerts by the St. Louis Symphony and others, and right down to the strolling carolers at Christmas time in Old Town, who may be a child’s (or an adult’s!) first introduction to the joys of serious four-part choral singing. When you assemble the pieces of the quilt, St. Charles County demonstrates a growing pattern of musical and artistic development that sets an example for any community to follow.

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