A rich opus from the start
The citizenry of Tryon, North Carolina has never been typical for a small town in a rural county. Almost since its founding in 1885, Tryon has attracted and passionately supported artists, intellectuals and the culture that comes with them.
So in the fall of 1954, when David Cromer, superintendent of Polk County Schools and a lover of classical music, suggested to a circle of fellow music enthusiasts that tiny Tryon should have a concert association and host an annual classical music series, a few voiced doubt but the majority responded by rolling up their sleeves. Together Cromer; John G. Landrum Jr., president of Tryon Bank and Trust; Rev. Joseph Wagner; Rosetta French, a classical musician who would later donate her grand piano to Tryon Fine Arts Center; Orville White; and Genevieve Washburn founded the Mutual Concert Association, a name that reflected the group’s collaboration with similar societies in surrounding towns. Later, the name would be changed to Tryon Concert Association (TCA).
From the beginning, the group saw its mission as making available to everyone in the community music of cultural and educational value. To fulfill that mission meant not only securing performers of world renown but also ensuring that the concerts were affordable—especially to students. The board charged Virginia Bradley and John Landrum’s spouse, Elizabeth Landrum, with recruiting a membership capable of supporting that mission. “Ginny and I rang every doorbell and telephone in Tryon,” recalls Mrs. Landrum. “We knew the town had enough people who appreciated classical music to fill an auditorium; and we knew the town had enough people with the resources to become meaningful benefactors so we could keep ticket prices low. Our job was to seek those people out and keep pestering them until they joined us, and that’s what we did.”
With a healthy membership, money in the bank, and tickets priced at a modest $2.50, the organization held its inaugural event in January 1955. No less than famed baritone Robert McFerrin performed. Within months of his appearance in Tryon, McFerrin would become the first African American to join the Metropolitan Opera. (He was also the father of vocalist and composer Bobby McFerrin, best know for his 1988 hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”)
For the first 15 years, TCA’s concerts were held in the auditorium at Tryon Elementary School or in local churches. True to the mission, students and people from all walks of life comprised those early audiences. A few of those performances also served as fundraisers for the music program at the local high school and nearby Brevard Music Camp (today known as Brevard Music Center).
With every new season, TCA proved its ability to bring a wide variety of accomplished musicians to Tryon. In the 1955-1956 season, Roger Wagner Chorale arrived in Tryon fresh from a performance at Carnegie Hall. Conductor, composer, pianist and well-known music writer, Nicholas Slonimsky performed during the 1958-1959 season. And the 1960-1961 season began with a performance by Lillian Kallir, pianist. While TCA’s venues may not have been able to rival big city concert halls, the sophistication and warmth of Tryon audiences and Tryon’s convenient location between New York and Atlanta quickly made the association a favorite booking among artists from all over the world.
Throughout those critical first years, board members Rev. Wagner, Henry Bartol, Herbert Thatcher, and Mrs. French each generously served terms as TCA president, until that position landed and stuck on David Cromer in 1959.
Expanding the scale
Within its first decade of seasons, TCA hosted more than 30 performances and welcomed celebrated chamber musicians, vocalists, wind players, string players, pianists, duets, quartets, choirs, companies and symphonettes, as well as many musicians and groups whose talents and stars were clearly on the rise. TCA’s seasons consisted of three, occasionally five, but typically four concerts a year, two in the fall and two in the spring.
As TCA was finding its footing, so too were other area arts organizations. Tryon resident Violet Parish-Watson observed that not only were these groups meeting in nooks and crannies throughout town, but they also were holding concerts, plays, and other events in less than ideal venues. She sensed the need for a facility that would provide these organizations with meeting space, class space, as well as a “civic auditorium” for performances, lectures, and demonstrations. To encourage the likelihood of such a structure, she made a substantial bequest toward its construction with the caveat that it be matched within one year through “public subscription of a broad scale.” Her bequest was more than matched within a month’s time. In 1964, representatives from local arts, civic, and business organizations formed the Tryon Fine Arts Center steering committee. Largely though the efforts of James Black and TCA founder Landrum, more money was raised, which included several TCA founders contributing $10,000 each. Throughout the planning, TCA and other arts organizations took an active role in the building’s design and acoustics.
In 1969, Tryon Fine Arts Center and Civic Auditorium (TFAC) opened, with 315 seats and acoustics that matched the caliber of both the musicians and the audiences TCA concerts were attracting. TCA’s first season on the new stage included John Adams, pianist; Barbara Blanchard, soprano; the Zurich Octet; the Belgrade Trio; and the National Opera Company. Throughout the next two decades, the TFAC stage would hold such admired musicians as Michael Ponti, pianist; The Vienna Quintet, the North Carolina Symphony, Madam Lili Kraus, pianist; and glee clubs from Ohio State, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania.
In January 1990, during a performance by Alvin McCall, cellist, and Jan Deats, pianist, the audience learned that longtime TCA president and founding member David Cromer had died. He was only 67 years old and had invested more than half his life, 36 years, in helping to shape Tryon Concert Association into the institution it had become. In tribute to Cromer and to help the stunned audience process the news, McCall and Deats dedicated their encore that evening, Schumann’s “Stüke in Volkston,” op 102, to Cromer.
Board member Philip Cooper, who had delivered the news of Cromer’s death that night, soon found himself installed as the organization’s president.
After decade upon decade of stunning performances, audiences came to expect outstanding season lineups from TCA, and TCA delivered. However, for its 40th anniversary season, TCA surpassed all expectations as it welcomed to Tryon the Beaux Arts Trio, who were celebrating their 40th anniversary as well; the Marian McPartland (of National Public Radio fame) Trio; The Lark Quartet; and The Russian State Chorus. After accepting the engagement, Marian McPartland sent a handwritten note to TCA saying, “Congratulations on your 40th season in support of good music! I’m very happy to be able to help you celebrate this wonderful occasion. Long may you continue your fine programs.”
Five years later, with the opening of the Polk County High School auditorium in 1999 and its more than 800 seats, the association gained the option of accommodating larger orchestras and larger audiences—an option it took full advantage of for its 50th anniversary celebration in 2004.
Joining resources with Polk County, which was celebrating its 150th year, TCA invited the Dresden Philharmonic to play at Polk County High School on November 15, 2004—a week after their performance at Lincoln Center. As Philip Cooper wrote in a letter to the editor of the local paper, “An orchestra of this size and reputation has never before performed in our community.”
Raphael Frübeck De Burgos conducted that evening, and special guest violinist Julia Fischer performed as well. In her review of the event, Rita Landrum, the daughter of TCA founders John and Elizabeth Landrum, wrote, “The crowd
was on its feet at the end of each half of the program and the orchestra was correspondingly generous with encores…It was indeed a night to remember.”
In the TCA tradition, tickets to the Dresden Philharmonic were a very affordable $25 for adults, with a number of free tickets made available to students. As with so much of what TCA had been able to accomplish over its five decades, presenting the Dresden Philharmonic was made possible through support from many private donors, local businesses, Polk County Community Foundation, as well as with funds from Tryon Concert Association.
To continue the celebration throughout their 50th season, TCA announced a spectacular series that included the popular Waverly Consort; David Daniels, one of the world’s leading countertenors; the Guarneri String Quartet; and Sequenza. Unfortunately, David Daniels became ill just before his scheduled appearance in January. For first time in 50 years, Tryon Concert Association had to cancel a performance outright. Luckily, the program committee was able to add an additional concert in March, Jennifer Larmore, mezzo-soprano; and David Daniels, a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina was rescheduled for TCAs 2005-2006 season.
In 2008, after 18 years on the job, Philip Cooper decided it was time to hand the TCA reigns over to the next generation. Gwen Suesse, an author, vocalist, and TCA board member since 2004, assumed the presidency. “We are and always have been a working board,” says Ms. Suesse. “When I served on the board’s nominating committee, Phil used to tell me that the only requirements for new board members are that they love music and play well with others. Those are words the board has taken to heart and put into action as we’ve worked to increase membership in the organization and expand our reach.”
Our next movement
In a letter to the editor of the local paper in 2011, Tryon Concert Association board member Peter Hawes asked, “What do the following world-class musicians have in common? The Beaux Arts Trio, Chestnut Brass, the Swingle Singers, pianists Olga Kern and Jeremy Denk, the Vienna Boys’ Choir, the King’s Singers and Chanticleer?” The answer is they have all played, along with so many other musicians of world renown, in Tryon.
Without exception, these musicians have played to appreciative audiences, unwavering over six decades in their support for TCA season series and special events. In return, TCA’s audiences have enjoyed hearing outstanding musicians in relatively intimate settings with the opportunity to personally meet the performers at receptions before or after every concert. When possible over the years, TCA has also arranged for performers to speak to local school groups and conduct master classes and workshops while in Tryon.
As TCA moves into its seventh decade of “bringing world-class music home,” the board is working to modernize systems and expand programming to ensure classical music is even more accessible to all in our area. Along with updating their logo and creating their website, TCA now has a toll-free number—888-501-0297—giving concertgoers another easy option for purchasing tickets and making inquiries.
This season, in addition to a dynamic 2014-2015 lineup (details on the back cover), TCA is introducing TGIF Concerts—one-hour musical events aimed at starting the weekend on a lighthearted note. The first of these two concerts is scheduled for October and the second in February (details on the back cover).
What began 60 years ago as a shared love for music among friends has grown into an impressive community effort that has brought season after season of amazing classical performances to a small town in rural North Carolina. Today, Tryon has a reputation for being an oasis for classical musicians on tour—a place where they are guaranteed an extraordinary night of sharing their music in an acoustically sound theater with a passionate and appreciative audience. It is a well-earned reputation and one Tryon Concert Association’s programming is dedicated to fostering for decades to come.