Since its founding in 1948, the Greenville Symphony Orchestra has created opportunities for everyone to enjoy the shared experience of live orchestral music. From its earliest days, the GSO has prioritized education, presenting a children’s concert in its third season. Now in its 72nd season, the orchestra offers world-class performances that inspire civic pride, while keeping education and community engagement at the center of its mission.
“When most people think of the GSO, they think of concerts at the Peace Center, but equally important is what we do in the community. Music education is at the core of who we are,” said Linda Grandy, development director. “Last year, we served 28,000 students and their families at over 165 events.”
For decades the symphony’s Lollipops concert series has taken free programs geared toward young children to Greenville County branch libraries and the Hughes main library. Once Upon an Orchestra, a collaboration with the South Carolina Children’s Theatre, offers free performances for young listeners featuring music, acting (character narration), and interactive audience participation.
“It’s important for us to remove barriers and serve the whole community,” Grandy said. “These two programs incorporate a story with real classical music — not watered down — and are developmentally appropriate, interactive, and allow time for children to speak with the musicians.”
The GSO also works closely with Greenville County Schools to further music education. EdReach sends musicians into all 51 elementary schools with performances by the string quintet, woodwind quintet, and solo percussion for grades three through five, rotating each year so that over three years every student sees all three programs.
The annual children’s concert brings up to 3,000 upper-elementary students to the Peace Center to experience the full orchestra performing classical favorites and pieces from their Masterworks season. Maestro Edvard Tchivzhel invites two lucky students to join him onstage as guest conductors.
Each season, 21 musicians team up “Shoulder-to-Shoulder” with Greenville County Youth Orchestra members and “Side-by-Side” with the Carolina Youth Symphony to practice and perform with these middle- and high-school students. The newest GSO program, Music Mentors, sees GSO musicians visiting 10 partner sites throughout the school year to provide personal instruction to selected high school and middle school music programs, then inviting the young musicians and their families to come to GSO concerts by providing generously discounted tickets.
All Greenville County students and teachers can purchase $10 tickets to GSO Masterworks and chamber concerts. And education doesn’t stop with graduation: Before every Masterworks concert, a free talk is offered where audience members of all ages can learn more about the composer and the historical context of the music to be presented.
Regular ticket prices cover only about a third of the cost to present a concert, Grandy said, with the rest covered by donations. The GSO’s annual budget for education programs is $445,000.
“We couldn’t do it without individual and corporate donors and grant makers who help us put the musicians on the stage so they can also be out in the community doing these programs,” she said.
Grandy said the Greenville Symphony Association is extremely grateful for a 2018 Capacity Building Grant from the Community Foundation of Greenville of $10,000 to fund new technology, including computers and a projector. The group was able to pay it forward by donating the old computers to the Shepherd’s Promise preschool.
“The Greenville Symphony Orchestra is a pillar of the cultural landscape of Greenville. It has maintained a loyal base of patrons as well as attracting new residents who have moved from large cities who are impressed by the high quality of their performances,” said Bob Morris, CFG president. “Providing the money to help the business office upgrade its computer systems and network will improve the efficiency of ticketing and donor cultivation, ensuring generations of future audiences can hear live performances of classical masterpieces as well as innovative new works.”