Bringing a World of Music Home
The Williamsport Community Concert Association’s mission is to be a source of pleasure, enrichment, and inspiration to area residents by providing an affordable annual series of outstanding performances by world-renowned musical artists.
Growth of the Williamsport Music Scene
Before the Civil War, few professional musicians performed in Williamsport because suitable facilities for concerts were lacking. This didn’t deter Ole Bull, the great Norwegian violinist, from giving a recital in 1852 in a courtroom of the first Lycoming County Courthouse, then the largest hall in Williamsport. It wasn’t until the opening of the Ulman House in 1868 that Williamsport became a regular stop for musicians.
With the opening of the Ulman House in Market Square in 1868, Williamsport became a regular stop for recitalists, instrumental ensembles, and operatic troupes on tour.
The Academy of Music opened at the southwest corner of West Fourth and Pine Streets and the big names of the day began appearing in Williamsport. Such luminaries included Theodore Thomas and his orchestra and Emma Abott and her Grand English Opera.
The Organized Audience Movement
In 1928, the committee accepted the Community Concert representative's proposal. A three-year contract was signed calling for the creation of the Williamsport Community Concert Association, and the presentation of a series of programs by famous artists. The first membership campaign of the Williamsport Concert Association began July 16, 1928, with a community luncheon, which cost $1.00 per person, meeting at the Park Hotel that today is Park Place.
The goal of the campaign drive was 1,150 memberships, the capacity of the Majestic Theatre at the southwest corner of Pine and Church streets where the concerts were to be presented. Memberships for the 1928-29 season cost $6, $8 and $10. A four-member program committee finalized 5 artist appearances in Williamsport:
- Doris Niles and her ballet troupe
- Joint recital by Sylvia Lent, violinist, and Ifor Thomas, tenor
- Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Nikolai Sokoloff
- John Charles Thomas, baritone
- Lawrence Tibbet, baritone
Economic and Cultural Events AFffect Membership
The Williamsport Community Concert Association felt lasting effects from the 1929 depression. Memberships fell under 1000 during 1930-31 and 1931-32 seasons, when the Association could only afford four concerts. Then, as economic conditions worsened and membership declined to a few hundred, the Association could offer only three concerts. After World War II the Association received many more applications for membership than their venue, the Karlton Theater (formerly The Majestic), could accommodate with its capacity of 1,150.
Finally, the waiting list reached nearly several hundred, so the Association began a second series of concerts in 1948. During the next 20 years, costs continued to climb slowly, forcing officials to raise dues from time to time. By 1975 spiraling inflation made balancing the budget increasingly difficult. Officials realized that membership dues could not continue to rise or the Association would lose members, and if dues weren’t high enough, the Association would face financial trouble.
Musical stars of world-renown began to frequent Williamsport after the opening of the Lycoming Opera House at the southeast corner of West Third and Laurel Streets. Among the stars performing on its stage were Ernestine Schumann-Heink, the great German contralto, John McCormick, the eminent Irish tenor, and John Philip Sousa and his band. Appearances by such stellar artists reflected the high level of sophistication that Williamsport music lovers had attained by the late 19th century.
Oliver J. Decker inaugurated a Celebrated Artists Course under the auspices of the Williamsport Lions Club. In five seasons, the Course brought to Williamsport such attractions as the New York Symphony Orchestra conducted by Walter Damrosch; the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Nikolai Sokoloff; the English Singers of London; the Russian Symphonic Choir; Paul Whiteman and band; the New York Theater Guild Company and others of equal merit.
Creation of the Endowment Fund
In 1976 the Association realized that they could no longer rely on dues alone so they established an endowment fund. While not a panacea, the fund was meant to keep the Association solvent, help sustain the quality of the concerts, and help keep membership dues at reasonable levels. In 1977, the Association was approved for incorporation and in 1978 it received its tax-exemption status. As the Association completed its first half century, it had prepared to meet the challenges of the second half century in continuing to give residents of the Williamsport area an opportunity to see and hear, in person, an annual series of performances by world-renowned professional musicians, instrumental and vocal ensembles, dance companies, and the like.
Looking to the Future
In 2002 the Community Concert Corporation in New York City closed its doors. Since then the Williamsport Community Concert Association has been guided solely by its volunteer president and board members, and sustained by the generosity of the community. The Association's stakeholders have been battling against the slow decline in support for the arts since the economy took a downturn in 2008-2009, all the while endeavoring to make improvements to subscription holders' concert experiences and bring in younger audiences. In 2014 the Association moved its concert series from the Scottish Rite Auditorium to the Community Arts Center, a beautiful, historic venue in downtown Williamsport.
The collaboration of these two esteemed organizations creates advantages for both, and should allow the WCCA to present its wonderful concerts long into the future.
WCCA Board Presidents
Over the past 89 years, eight men and women have served to guide the Association.1928 -
Upon formation, organizers named an executive committee to conduct the group’s activities. Mr. Oliver J. Decker, appointed chairman of the committee, was then the first chief officer.
A story published September 8, 1935, identifies Mr. McCormick as Association president.
Mrs. Eton N. Frisbie succeeded Mr. McCormick as president.
C. Stewart Coryell is elected as Mrs. Frisbee’s successor.
C. Stewart Coryell resigned, and William H. Askey was named president.
Terry Ziegler was elected president, serving 44 years until his death.
Dale V. Bower was asked to become the president and served for 10 years.
Cynthia Staiman Vosk became president.
WCCA Board Members
Dale Bower, Member Emeritus
Jane Landon, Member Emeritus
Cynthia Staiman Vosk, President