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Give Care Share: Orchestra Kentucky



Story by Emily Robertson

Just 20 years ago, the city of Bowling Green, Kentucky lacked any professional orchestra for patrons to enjoy in the area. Within close driving distance to the nation’s music hub of Nashville, and also other large cities like Louisville and Lexington, Bowling Green still had a void that could be felt for those that lived in the area and loved live orchestral music, especially two friends Jeff Reed and Mike Thurman. Both musicians, the men started to contact friends to discuss the idea of starting an orchestra and after lots of planning, on September 11, 2000, the Bowling Green Chamber Orchestra performed their very first concert. Now, 20 years later, and a name change, Orchestra Kentucky entertains more than 15,000 people at their concerts each year.

Orchestra Kentucky is comprised of musicians from several different cities.

“Musicians come primarily from Nashville, Louisville, Owensboro and Evansville,” Reed says. “About a dozen performers are from Bowling Green. We average 60 musicians per concert and all are professionals who have orchestra performing experience. They are paid for each rehearsal and concert, but we are not a full-time, salaried orchestra. We are constantly adding musicians to our roster through auditions and word of mouth.”

Many of Orchestra Kentucky’s performance pieces are based on community interest and what people are asking to hear.

“We believe that music can entertain, as well as educate,” Reed says. “Our Retro Series concerts consist of popular music from the ‘50s through the ‘80s, usually with a rock band and singers. Our Variety Series is based on the model created by Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, who combined popular and light classical music, unified by a theme.

This current orchestra season, Orchestra Kentucky has already performed concerts that highlight music selections from The Beatles, Paul Simon, The Music Man musical, Nat King Cole and beloved Christmas selections. The remaining concerts for this season will include music of the Memphis Sound, Rodgers and Hammerstein and composer John Williams.

The Orchestra currently has five full-time employees and four part-time administrative employees, along with a board of 24 volunteers. Jeffrey Reed serves as Music Director and Scott Watkins serves as Executive Director. In order to fund the organization, Orchestra Kentucky raises money through ticket sales, donations, sponsorships, in-kind services income, and grants. Orchestra Kentucky’s budget went from $30,000 in their first season to nearly $1.3 million for the 2018-2019 season.

Orchestra Kentucky performs one concert a month from July to May at SKyPAC in Bowling Green, with the exception of January. The orchestra has also performed in Russellville, Scottsville, Glasgow, Hopkinsville, Madisonville and Somerset, Kentucky, and Franklin,  Tennessee. The Orchestra Kentucky organization also includes several sub groups that perform in different compacities: Orchestra Kentucky Chorale, The Rewinders, The Retro Singers, Bowling Green Youth Orchestra and Bowling Green Chamber Players.

Bowling Green Youth Orchestra is a key part in the orchestra’s community outreach, where they hope to share the love of music, with everyone, young and old. “The youth orchestra is a joint project with WKU’s music department,” Reed says. “Orchestra Kentucky also gives one school day performance, per year, for area school children. We also have an Arts Access for

All program which subsidizes tickets for underserved children and senior citizens. We partner with the Housing Authority, the Girls and Boys Clubs and area senior centers to provide tickets through the program.”

Even with the tremendous growth the program has seen over the last nearly 20 years, Reed knows the organization and its programs can continue to grow.

“Our attendance at concerts has grown 17% so far this season, over last season,” Reed says. “We have had 76% of the total paid capacity filled so far this season, but our goal is to eventually sell out every concert. We work every day to bring great music of all genres to people of all ages and socio-economic levels. Our ultimate goal is to continue to do that, in a fiscally responsible way, in perpetuity.”

If you are interested in purchasing tickets for upcoming concerts, learning how you can give of your time or money or interested in learning more about Orchestra
Kentucky organization, go to orchestrakentucky.com.

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