The Chicago City Wide Orchestra had its beginning in 1947 when teacher Fanny A. Hassler agreed to conduct the first rehearsal of the future Northside Children’s Orchestra at Eugene Field Park in Chicago.
In 1953 the orchestra was renamed “Students’ Symphony”, its 70 student musicians moved to the Jefferson Park Field House and continued under the direction of Fanny Hassler. After receiving District, State and National recognition, the orchestra was invited to play at Carnegie Hall in New York. Raising funds from concert ticket sales, sponsors and other activities, orchestra members and parent chaperones boarded the Nickel Plate Railroad bound for New York and played before a large audience at Carnegie Hall on April 19th, 1953. During the years that followed the members were provided with scholarships to the Summer Music Camp at the University of Illinois. Most important to these young musicians were several summer trips to the Interlochen Music Camp in northern Michigan.
As the orchestra increased in size, and its members increased in age, Fanny divided the members into “Preparatory Orchestra”, “Advanced Orchestra”, and “Concert Orchestra”. This made it possible to have individual orchestras tailored for those of all ages and advancement.
In 1955-1956 the orchestra performed in Orchestra Hall as guest performers and accompanists for the Young People’s Song Festival of the Civic Music Association. The orchestra first appeared on television in 1955 on WGN-TV; and, in 1961, played a complete program on WTTW. The orchestra continued to prosper and perform regularly at Jefferson Park and at many events, including Humboldt Park Summer Concerts, Mooseheart Children’s Home, the Parental School, and Grant Park Music Festivals.
In 1983 the organization became known as the “City Wide Orchestral Association” until 1996, when the Student Orchestra was discontinued because of lack of interest. The name “City Wide Symphony Orchestra” was formally adopted in 1996 to reflect its new mission and future.
Fanny Hassler was the driving force that created and maintained a musical and orchestral experience for young and old alike. It was because of her vision, dedication and efforts that the City Wide Orchestra is here today. She retired from conducting in 1983 and donated her music library to the orchestra. Fanny passed away in March of 1996. Her name and memory is honored as the orchestra continues to play music from the “Fanny Hassler Music Library”. On October 20, 1996 orchestra president Robert Beck presented, on behalf of the orchestra members, a plaque for display in the Jefferson Park Field House in remembrance of Fanny Hassler’s contribution to the community and to the advancement of music appreciation.
Our history was provided by long time member, violinist and past president of the orchestra Robert Beck, and William Welty, a member of the original Students’ Symphony and its student governing body.
THE STORY OF THE STUDENTS’ SYMPHONY
“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” so the saying goes. But a group of parents of the Northwest Side stopped talking, and really did something about the lack of instrumental instructions in the Chicago grade schools.
Here is the story. One September evening in 1947, I received a phone call from the wife of one of my former players in my Studio Orchestra that was fondly known as the Tiny Symphony. She introduced me, by phone, to her sister Mrs. Paul Lindauer, who started the conversation by saying that she was the music chairman of the Volta P.T.A., and as such, had been commissioned to find a new teacher for their fledgling children’s orchestra. She explained that the parents at her school had just invested in the purchase of instruments so that their children could have the opportunity of an orchestral experience. The music teacher (a regular classroom teacher) had been transferred to another school and no one else was capable or willing to take over. She knew my reputation and experience in the field. Could I spare the time to work with the group just one evening a week in the neighboring Park District fieldhouse. The parents had agreed to finance the project thru dues levied on the participating children. The Volta P.T.A. would underwrite the project to the extent of $10.00. In praise of the parents, they have never called on the P.T.A. for that $10.00.
The first rehearsal included 10 children, 9 to 11 years of age. None had ever played in an orchestra before. At the end of the first rehearsal they were able to play the first 16 bars of a simple march. On May 20, 1955, five of these same children sadly played their final concert before going on their respective ways to college. The orchestra was first known as the Northside Children’s Orchestra. In 1953 was renamed the Students’ Symphony. At the Tenth Anniversary Concert, four of the original 10 played in our alumni orchestra assembled for that occasion. They all continued playing music. One became a member of the Kansas City Symphony.
Though the orchestra was organized as a grade school group, the young people refused to leave when they entered high school, so a new group was formed and from then on we rehearsed in two groups. In 1957, we played our concerts with three orchestras, a Junior, an Intermediate and a Senior Orchestra and in June 1959 the Orchestras were renamed Preparatory, Advanced, and Concert Orchestras. At this time service rewards were given on the basis of attendance, etc. One year of service brought a bronze pin, two years a silver pin and three years a gold pin. At termination of service, at high school graduation each graduate received a trophy engraved with the Students’ Symphony name, the graduates name and the year of his graduation.
The Parents Organization furnished all the incentives above, and for many years sent large groups of players to the excellent two week orchestra training sessions held at the University of Illinois in their summer camps. The university was so impressed that in 1955, Paul Painter, director of music extension, devoted an entire page of the program to a history and evaluation of the Students’ Symphony activities. The original Parents Organization continued to function until the present, joining in to encourage the young people at every opportunity.
A great help came to the orchestra in 1954 when the Chicago Park District became interested and incorporated the Students’ Symphony into its Recreation Department, Music Section, under the direction of Dr. Wm. Francis Bergman. Ann Higgins followed Dr. Bergman and Dean Goldberg is the present supervisor of music. The orchestra is very appreciative of the help given by these dedicated supervisors who have worked tirelessly to bring the facilities of Chicago Park District to the use of the organization.
NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE STUDENTS’ SYMPHONY
In 1951, 1952, and 1953 received for (three consecutive years) a superior rating in the National Federation of Music Clubs Spring Festival.
In 1953 the entire orchestra climaxed a three concert tour of New York City with a program at Carnegie Hall on April 19.
In both 1955 and 1956 appeared as guest performers and accompanists for the annual Young People’s Song Festival of the Civic Music Association at Orchestra Hall.
The orchestra had several appearances on early television programs. The first was on February 22, 1955, on WGN-TV. A notable appearance was a complete program on WTTW on May 30, 1961.
Other appearances have been at the Humboldt Park Summer Concerts, Mooseheart Children’s Home, the Parental School and may others, including a stellar appearance at the Biennial Junior Convention of Illinois Federation of Music Clubs in the Pick-Congress Hotel on April 30, 1960, and an appearance at the Conrad Hilton Hotel for a national recreation convention.
– Fanny A. Hassler (Program Notes March 28, 1982 – 35th Anniversary of the Students’ Symphony)