A tradition of excellence for more than 60 years
In the fall of 1940, Mr. Herman H. Rinne decided it was time to have an orchestra for people who loved to play but had other occupations. Mr. Rinne was a musician and business man -- he owned the Indiana Music Company at 115 East Ohio Street. He helped establish and played in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for 8 years under the direction of Ferdinand Schaefer. Thirteen players showed up for the first meeting and the orchestra quickly grew to 50 members. Mr. Rinne suggested the name “Indianapolis Philharmonic Orchestra” – He said “we may not be good but at least the name sounds imposing.”
In March of 1941, officers were elected and shortly after that dues were 10 cents a week. The first concert was held April 28, 1941 at Emmerich Manual Training High School. During world War II the Philharmonic gave benefit performances for service groups and for a couple teen organizations.
June 12, 1947, the orchestra became incorporated as the Philharmonic Orchestra of Indianapolis – which it remains today. The board members were made up of orchestra members as is true today. The board members were in charge of all areas of orchestra management – both business and artistic areas. However there were certain business men who helped raise money for the orchestra. Today the board of directors and music director are still in charge of all music decisions. With the incorporation came scholarships, encouraging composers and young talented musicians, and a system of sustaining memberships. Many scholarships have been given over the years when funds were available. Composers works have been premiered and young musicians have played in and with the orchestra as soloist. For many years attendance at the concerts was reserved for Sustaining members and their guests – no tickets were sold at the door. Today we still have different levels of membership, but tickets are also sold at the door.
Our first Sustaining membership concert was on April 12, 1948 at Caleb Mills Auditorium of Shortridge High School. Ernst Hoffmann, conductor of the Indiana University Symphony, was our first guest conductor on May 24, 1948. Towards the end of 1948, Mr. Rinne became ill and Mr. Hoffmann became the conductor. On Mr. Rinne’s death, February 14, 1949, Mr. Hoffmann became the music director. Wolfgang Vacano from IU guest conducted in the fall of 1954 while Mr. Hoffmann was on leave. Mr. Hoffmann and his wife were killed in an accident on January 3, 1956. Michael Bowles from IU took over Mr. Hoffmann’s duties at IU and also became music director of the Philharmonic.
Over the years the Philharmonic has rehearsed in many different settings -- from community centers and churches, to the carriage house at Jordan College of Music on North Delaware and from colleges to high schools. We have given concerts in high schools, colleges, different cities, state hospitals, the Girl’s School, and many places outdoors – the zoo, parks, and malls – indoor and outdoor. The majority of concerts, if you had to name one place, were given at Caleb Mills Auditorium of Shortridge High School. Our recent 60th anniversary concert was played on stage in the Hilbert Circle Theatre -- a thrill.
We have had many guest conductors over the years. Our music directors have been chosen from guest conductors when the need arose.
Wolfgang Vacano became music director in June, 1963 and directed for 14 years. Ben Del Vecchio became music director in the 1979-80 season and ended after the 1983-84 season. June of 1985, Orcenith Smith became music director through the first half of the 1988-89 season. Allan Dennis became music director in the 1991-92 season. Jackson Wiley became music director in the 1993-94 season and in September 1999 became Music Director Emeritus. In September 1999, Orcenith Smith became Artistic Advisor and Conductor. Orcenith and Jackson share the conducting responsibilities now.
In June, 1995, a Board of Trustees was formed to handle the business duties of the orchestra.
In July, 1974, Carl Henn was hired as manager for the orchestra and in September 1998 he became Director of Special Programs and Executive Producer. September 1998 the position of Executive Director was established and Robin Williams served for one year. In 1999-2000 Carl Henn was again General Manager. In March 2000 Jeff Maess became full-time General Manager and Carl Henn was Executive Producer.
A new addition to Philharmonic concerts was started at the November 23, 1997 concert. There was a pre-concert chat held at the front of the auditorium before the concert to learn about the concert. They were also held on February 8, 1998 and March 22, 1998. This became a full time addition to season concerts in the 1998-1999 season and called "Listen and Learn." It gives concert-goers a chance to learn about the pieces to be played or the composer or the soloist or other options. This program is continuing.
In the summer of 1999 the Philharmonic participated in the first annual "Indy Jazz Fest." We played the Indiana Premiere of David Baker’s composition – "Ellingtones."
We also had the beginning of the "Strings and Jazzy Things" program in the summer of 1999. It is a one week summer workshop for Indianapolis string and band music students – selected by audition. This program is also continuing.
On May 4, 2002 the Philharmonic Orchestra played for the international celebration of the 25th anniversary of "Star Wars." The concert was held at the Indiana Convention Center in front of an audience of 3000.
The Philharmonic continues to explore new ways to serve the community and provide new experiences for the orchestra members.
In the 61 years of the orchestra over 1200 members have played in the orchestra. One member has 52 years, one has 48 years, one had 44 and has since died, and one has 42 years. Six members have or have had 30 and over years and 34 have or have had 20 and over years. These figures speak for what the Philharmonic has meant to people. No musicians are paid, they play for the love of music.
Compiled August 31, 2002 and updated in July 2004 by Betty Tiebert
Historian for about 40 years