The Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra originated in 1908 under the direction of Dr. George A. Stout, a member of the UND faculty. Initially called the Grand Forks Philharmonic Orchestra, it accompanied the Bjarne Male Chorus, a Norwegian choral group.
The first season of the Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra was 1910-1911 under the direction of William Wellington Norton, UND Music Department chairman. Rosa Adelaide Marquis, a music instructor at Wesley College was the concert master and fifteen prominent Grand Forks families supported the orchestra as patrons. The initial concert was held in the city auditorium on N. 5th Street on Monday, March 13, 1911. The orchestra consisted of thirty-five members, four of whom came in from Minneapolis and Fargo to fill out the cello and bass sections. Marie Ewertsen O'Mera was the contralto soloist.
Fred Biedelman, Knute Fraysaa, and John S. Howard succeeded Norton as conductors. In 1933, Leo M. Haesle, a band instructor at Central High School, became the Symphony conductor and held the reins for thirty-two years, until his death in 1965. Haesle was succeeded by Thomas Facey in 1966, Jack Miller in 1971 and John Deal in 1983, all of whom were associated with the University of North Dakota. William Pond served the orchestra as associate conductor for many years under Haesle, Facey, and Miller.
Orchestra members over the years have been both university connected as students or faculty members and community connected, as public school music teachers, high school students, business and professional people, and homemakers. The orchestra has also attracted players from nearby communities, such as, Larimore, Crookston, Ada, Thief River Falls, Reynolds, and the Air Force Base. The orchestra has maintained a regular concert schedule since 1911, except during World War II. Concerts were resumed in 1946.
1950 witnessed the formation of a more structured formalized symphony organization. The first meeting of the Grand Forks Symphony Association was held March 8, 1950. It was composed entirely of symphony personnel and was governed by a constitution and By-laws and an elected board of Directors. In 1954, the Board of Directors officially appointed a Citizens Committee which was in charge of the publicity of concerts and fund raising through the selling of symphony memberships. It also provided refreshments to orchestra personnel between rehearsals and concerts or after concerts. In 1960, the Committee began an annual large fund raising project, the Symphony Ball.
This structure remained largely unchanged until 1983 when the North Dakota Arts Council encouraged the Symphony Association to adopt amended By-laws, reorganize and to hold open auditions for all playing positions. This it did and the Symphony Association was reorganized to include a large Board of Trustees composed of 50-75 interested members of the community directed by a small Board of Directors elected from the Board of Trustees A Trustees were assigned to one or more working committees; such as Fund Raising, Special Projects, Long Range Planning, Mailing, Publicity, etc. In 1984, the Board of Directors hired a part-time manager. The need for a manager had been discussed in the past, for example in 1969 and 1977, but funding never seemed to be available. In addition to instituting a paid subscription policy for concerts, the Symphony Board of Trustees continued to raise money through charitable contributions, grants, and various fund-raising projects. Its major fund-raiser, the Symphony Ball, was replaced with a Fall Harvest Hoe-down in 1985.
The Symphony has received nationally competitive awards from Meet the Composer, Inc. and Chamber Music America. In the fall of 2002, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Symphony brought its own commissioned work to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota, to perform for community members and area schoolchildren.
The Grand Forks Symphony, now a sixty member community orchestra, performs classical concerts, pops and special events five times a year under the direction of conductor Timm Rolek. Guest artists from the U.S. and Canada join the symphony for performances including world premieres of new music. The Symphony Association now offers youth programs including a youth symphony, junior symphony, master classes, workshops and coaching in chamber music.
Additional materials were donated by:
Evelyn Warner, Grand Forks, North Dakota, August 19, 1987 (87-1561)
Sharon Rice-Fleur, Grand Forks, North Dakota, November 13, 1987 (87-1572)
Sue Litszinger, Grand Forks, North Dakota, December 9, 1988 (88-1633)
Paige Towne, Grand Forks, North Dakota, September 11, 1990 (90-1725)
Sandy Beidler, Grand Forks, North Dakota, June 7, 1991 (91-1768)
The Grand Forks Symphony Association Records, 1911-1991, have been divided into nine series:
Series 1: Governing Documents
Series 2: Membership
Series 3: Meeting Minutes
Series 4: Artists and Programming
Series 5: Financial
Series 6: Miscellaneous
Series 7: Photographs
Series 8: Oversize Materials
Series 9: Audio Tapes