The symphony, established in 1953 at Beloit College, celebrated its 60th season this year with a diamond jubilee concert last month.
For 60 years the orchestra has entertained the Stateline, but like any organization, it is only the sum of it parts. Staple orchestra members like timpani player Ellen Knutson and trumpeter Kay Schultz have added a lifetime of performance to the orchestra’s past.
Schultz has been with the orchestra for 48 of its 60 years, and is still going strong. She joined as a sophomore at Clinton High School with the youth symphony that was offered at the time. She spent some time playing under the direction of the BJSO’s founder, and has gone on to play under all of his successors. The experience is dear to Schultz, who plays her trumpet every single day to stay sharp.
"I think it’s a tribute to our community," Schultz said. "It’s so exciting for all of us to play. We have a sort of camaraderie among the musicians. You have to be prepared for all the rehearsals, but they are a very enjoyable time, musically and socially."
Schultz is as professional a musician as they come. Not too long after graduating from Clinton High School, she went on to become the school’s band director and held that position for 41 years. Retirement has hardly slowed her down though; in addition to playing for the orchestra, she still teaches at Beloit Music and Melody Music Studios out of Reno, Nev., via Skype and has time for freelance playing at weddings and other events.
Knutson has had a similar experience with the orchestra, joining in 1962, three years before Schultz. She has been beating away at the kettledrums for the organization’s performances through all three conductors as well. Knutson got her start during her college days and, like Schultz, still is going strong.
The orchestra brings together all types of musicians from different age groups and ethnic backgrounds, but their reasons, one way or another, are the same: They are there because they love to make music.
"I played for many years not getting paid at all just for the fun of it," Knutson said. "What we get paid now isn’t much, but it’s not why we do it. Most of us are there because we just love to play."
"It’s a great orchestra to play with," Schultz said. "Their standards are high, and I really enjoy being part of a topnotch group."
Looking to grow
"One of the things orchestras all over the world are facing right now is remaining relevant with audiences, and part of that is attracting a younger demographic," said Krueger. "We are really looking to grow regionally next season. We really want to establish ourselves as a true regional orchestra and reach out even further than Beloit and Janesville. We are going to start making a real effort to remove two sets of boundaries, both geographic and artistic boundaries."
While Krueger said that the orchestra does an outstanding job with all of its performances throughout the year, he feels that the single season is a bit too one-size-fits-all. Next season, instead of including all the musical genres that the orchestra plays into one season, he intends to switch the format to a three-series season while adding performances that cross into territory that the BJSO traditionally hasn’t explored.
"The first series will be called the family pops series, and it will be a sort of picnic, bring-the-children and you don’t have to be quiet type thing, with our traditional pop orchestra music," Krueger said. "Then we will have the classical series where we will continue to honor the legacy of great conductors from around the world through different times in history. But the third series will be our exploration series. We want to take the orchestra to a more innovative, explorative place, and that series will mix some mediums like dance, film and different kinds of music than we usually play."
Krueger is excited about the upcoming season’s changes and hopes for a strong community response. One thing is for sure, the orchestra has grown and continues to do so. From its humble beginnings in 1953, it has grown to an orchestra that has access to more than 200 regional musicians from Rock, Green, Winnebago, Walworth and Dane counties. If you are looking to see a top shelf symphony in action, Krueger says that you don’t have to travel far, because the BJSO is right in your backyard.
"There is a lot of talent and style in this region and people don’t even really realize sometimes, but it plays a part in the culture of our community," said Krueger. "It’s better than having to go all the way to Chicago, Madison, Rockford or Milwaukee. There is a quality musical organization right here centered in Beloit and Janesville."
The next opportunity to see the BJSO perform is the upcoming Holiday Spectacular being held at 3 p.m. on Dec. 14 at the Eclipse Center in Beloit. Four local high school choirs and Miss Andrea’s Dance Factory will be joining the orchestra to perform during the event. If you do stop out to enjoy the holiday performance, chances are that musicians such as Schultz and Knutson will be just as excited to be there as you are.
"There aren’t a lot of places where someone can play kettledrums because they are so big and I really enjoy playing with a group that is so talented," said Knutson. "Sometimes I actually practice on pillows, I can play that way because I can set them up in the order in which I need to use them. Being a part of the orchestra has added a wonderful dimension to my life."