Lakeside Symphony Orchestra Celebrates 50 Years of Success and Memories

Posted on July 24, 2013

To celebrate its 50th Anniversary season, the Lakeside Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is remembering the symphony’s beginning and the experiences that keep members and listeners returning year after year.

“To me, [the LSO] is the crown jewel in the cultural environment of Lakeside,” said harpist Kathie Bracey, a 47-year member of the LSO. “Many Lakesiders, so I’m told, could not imagine a summer season without their resident symphony orchestra.”

The symphony was started the summer of 1964 by William Penny Hacker, a conductor and concert pianist from Albany, N.Y.

The symphony began with only 14 members. According to an article in the Akron Beacon Journal from August 29, 1968, the number grew to 80 in its first four years of existence. The LSO today still supports around 80 musicians.

Robert L. Cronquist, the LSO’s current music conductor and director, played in the symphony under Hacker’s direction. When Hacker was not able to return for the 1971 season, symphony members began to recommend Cronquist to fill the job.

Cronquist took the position of conductor seven years after Hacker formed it. This is his 43rd year as conductor and music director.

“Lakeside has had 140 years,” he said. “I’ve been here for almost a third of the time.”

In Cronquist’s first years as a conductor, he was able to hand select the young musicians that made up the LSO, and it began to garner a reputation as a very strong symphony that musicians wanted to join.

According to Cronquist, there are now almost no openings for new members each year, as the musicians stay dedicated to the LSO.

“They keep coming back every year,” said Cronquist. “They keep playing.”

Now, the symphony includes some members from the early years of the LSO, such as Bracey, as well as younger members who have joined throughout the years.

“We’ve aged,” said Bracey. “I was in my 20s when I started; now I’m in my mid-70s. In the old days, most of the musicians were single; now most are married with families, and many family members have also joined the orchestra along the way.”

In fact, Bracey’s sister, Cynthia Kreiner, has been playing violin in the LSO since 1973. Their nephew, Eddie Caner, was also a member for a while, beginning as a violist for the LSO at age 17 and eventually working his way up to principal chair.

Cronquist’s wife, Joan Ferst, is also a member of the LSO as a violinist.

The family atmosphere and camaraderie is one of the most unique aspects that allow the LSO to stand out from other symphonies.

“People were coming from their home communities, establishing their time together, and you’d see other people’s children and your children playing down at the beach or taking classes together at the Rhein Center,” said Gretchen S. Curtis, director of Operations at the Lakeside Heritage Society. “It’s a different sense of ‘we are a symphony family.’”

Family and the LSO have seemed to go hand-in-hand since the group’s formation. According to Bracey, she began coming to Lakeside to play with the symphony alone, but after a while, her parents began to rent a cottage.

Her siblings would visit with their families, as well. “Lakeside became an annual family reunion for us,” she said. Now, one of Bracey’s sister’s is a permanent resident, another owns a cottage with her husband, as does their daughter, and another sister has a mobile home elsewhere on the peninsula.

“Most of us, including husbands and kids, have worked and/or done volunteer work in Lakeside,” Bracey said. “I have great-nieces working here currently.”

According to Curtis, during the years that the LSO was under the direction of Hacker, members were paid a stipend rather than a salary and were housed at the Hotel Lakeside. They were paid in room and board, and received a total of $20 additional dollars per week.

“It’s obvious that they participated for a love of playing and being together, and not for the high salary,” said Curtis.

Beyond their love for music, Bracey says a driving factor of the LSO’s success for 50 seasons is the sense of family they feel with the Lakeside Chautauqua community, as well as with each other.

Curtis credits the symphony’s strength after 50 years to “conductors, particularly Bob Cronquist, who have worked diligently with Lakeside to increase support and keep the orchestra going financially, and to provide programming to suit many tastes,” she said. “But it’s also because of the many Lakesiders who have continued to provide generous support through the Lakeside Fund for the orchestra over the years. We owe them much, because without them, there would be no Lakeside Symphony.”

The Lakeside Chautauqua Foundation also manages an endowment that was created to help ensure the financial viability of the LSO for generations to come.

In honor of its milestone 50th season, the LSO will bring in talented soloists and play favorite numbers in their programs. According to Cronquist, they will perform “Peter and the Wolf,” which is always a favorite among the children who attend. The LSO will also perform a full stage opera, “The Barber of Seville,” on Saturday, Aug. 17.

In addition, in honor of the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie, the LSO will perform “The 1812 Overture,” a number they have performed in the past, as a part of the final program this season.

Having lasted 50 memorable years already, Cronquist says he sees a long future for the LSO.

“I think we’ll just continue going on as long as we have players,” he said. Congratulations to the Lakeside Symphony Orchestra on this major milestone. Thank you to past and present musicians for their dedication, Robert Cronquist for his direction and the Lakeside Chautauqua community that continues to hold the Lakeside Symphony Orchestra as one of the community’s most cherished traditions.

Special thanks to Kathie Bracey, Robert Cronquist and Gretchen S. Curtis for providing information for this article.