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Music to our ears

St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra continues to dazzle after 38 years

After 38 seasons, the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra continues to keep people coming back for more. What is their secret?

“I think people keep coming back because our concerts are executed in a professional tone achieving the best performance the group and conductor can provide,” said Sandy Nadeau, executive director of the orchestra, “and as a musical entertainment organization we are interested in presenting concerts that not only challenge the musicians but the audiences.”

The St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra began in 1976 as a group of musicians playing together to provide a variety of musical performances for the community, according Nadeau. And that formula is still working today.

“Our musicians have come from various backgrounds, some are high school and college students while others have a variety of professions,” said Nadeau. “The age range is 15 to 85, all having years of professional musical training. Musicians will audition to become members of the symphony and audition for specific music sets and performances. There are approximately 70 members in the orchestra and that changes from year to year.”

Each musician brings something new to the group, but they all share one common trait.

“They take playing in the St. Cloud Symphony very serious,” said Nadeau. “They come to practice diligently, learn from each other and strive to produce quality performances.”

Dr. Clinton Smith has been the artistic director and principal conductor of the St. Cloud Symphony for the last two seasons.

“What I appreciated about working with this group of musicians is that everyone is there because they love to play music and perform in public gatherings,” said Dr. Smith.  “Most of the performances are at Ritsche Auditorium on the St. Cloud State University campus, which is an ideal place for concerts because of the acoustics in the auditorium.  The group works well together, with older members mentoring the younger members. As musicians, everyone finds the music arrangements challenging to play and they work hard to produce an excellent event.”

Smith lives in Seattle, Wash., and is the conductor of the Seattle Orchestra and the Seattle Chamber Singers. Because of the long distance to St. Cloud rehearsing can be difficult, but he said it has been manageable.

“It can at times be a struggle to recruit the right players for some music arrangements, since I travel to conduct performances in other areas of the country,” he said. “In the end it all seems to work out though.”

Smith calls experience with the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra both inspiring and rewarding.

“Music is a tool for education not something to be put on a pedestal and admired.  If people in the audience learn from these performances as well as appreciate the musical event then I have done my job,” he said. “Before each show I have a question and answer session with the audience.

People are genuinely interested in finding out about composers’ musical sets and what it took to make the arrangements work.” And the questions do not just come from the adults.

“Children especially are so curious about music and composers. It is as inspiring to me as it to them. Children need to be exposed to a variety of musical events, including classical music. It will not only affect them as children but as adults,” he said. “Musicians are real people who have political convictions, life experiences and feelings about their work.  Understanding this makes music more relevant and a part of life. “

After each performance, survey forms are given to all attendees. This feedback helps the St. Cloud Symphony grow stronger, said Nadeau. Based on feedback, performances have become more diverse and feature and celebrate different cultural backgrounds. Shows directed at the younger crowd were also developed.

“In 1999 we had our first children’s concert,” said Nadeau. “Children are drawn to music, and we have found this to be another successful venue for us.”

A recent performance highlighted three exceptionally talented composers who had personal struggles.  One was Arvo Pavo, an Estonian composer who emigrated to Austria, then to Germany due to a prolonged struggle with Soviet officials. Another was Joseph Schwantner, a Pulitzer prize-winning American composer who dedicated his life to writing music about diversity and racial injustice. And the third was Pyotr Tchaikovsky, who struggled with insecurities about his ability as a composer and never really fit in with the musical trends of his time.”

For more information about the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra, visit their webpage at

If you are interested in learning more about joining the orchestra, call 320-252-7276 (SCSO) or email Nadeau at “Keep in touch if you are interested in joining the orchestra,”  Clinton said, “You never know when someone may need your skills.”

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