Making Music Together: The Mississippi Symphony Orchestra
As the state's largest professional performing arts organization, the MSO performs for over 75,000 Mississippians annually at more than 120 concerts statewide.
To some, a night at the symphony may seem out of their wheelhouse, especially if they're unfamiliar with classical music. The Mississippi Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is working to redefine that stereotype and create a musical, educational and inspirational environment accessible to everyone.
Crafton Beck, who has been with the symphony for over 20 years as Conductor and Music Director, views his role as coming full circle from his upbringing, and also as an example of how music can transcend social bounds.
"When I came to this orchestra, I came home," Beck said. "I grew up in Arkansas, on a farm, and northern Mississippi on a farm up near Holly Springs. I came back here in 2000, and that was after being away for 25 years. So for me, it was coming home, and what I know of home. So much of what I do and what we do is rooted in understanding this place. I know what we're made of, I know what interests us, and also what we need as a state, a small community, and a large community."
The MSO offers a variety of concert series that appeal to all audiences, from Beethoven to Broadway to Blues. During The Selby & Richard McRae Foundation Bravo and Pops Series, classical enthusiasts and newcomers alike can look forward to period pieces and well-known hits from the stage and beyond at Thalia Mara Hall. The symphony also offers its Chamber Series, intimate concerts performed throughout charming venues with excellent acoustics in the metro Jackson area. Special events and the popular Pepsi Pops at Old Trace Park on the Ross Barnett Reservoir, where beloved pops standards and fireworks shine, are also a regular part of the season.
One of the most unique, and important, aspects of the MSO is its numerous educational programs. Through the Mississippi Symphony Youth Orchestras and additional programming, more than 800 school children receive daily instruction in violin, viola, and cello. Over the years, the MSO has introduced programs such as Children’s Concerts - full orchestra concerts performed annually for over 16,000 elementary school students, and Informances by the Woodwind Quintet, Brass Quintet, and String Quartet. The MSO also supports diverse festivals, competitions, and an annual week-long summer string camp for aspiring young musicians.
Without these opportunities, many young people in Mississippi would not be exposed to the transforming and therapeutic nature of symphonic music. Because of this, the MSO considers itself a vital piece in proactive arts outreach in the state, on all fronts.
"When I say education, I speak to anything we do that is a transformative force in this community," Beck said. "I think we're doing a better job of it than ever before, and we've still got a ways to go. But our mission has always been the same, that when people hear the Mississippi Symphony name, they'll be thinking of it in a larger, educational, service-oriented way."
As of this year, the symphony has adopted a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee to increase diversity on the governing board, on its stage, and among listeners and members. Beck notes that the MSO's distinctive place and state in America should be all the more reason for the symphony should be an essential civic partner in creating meaningful and lasting change regarding diversity.
"There's repertoire now available that didn't use to be. I'm beginning to understand how to do this work, and I've spent a lifetime trying to figure out how to do it properly," Beck said. "The world has changed. There's a reception for it too, that didn't exist before. The world is hungry for it. What [the MSO] has to offer if we extend our hands, I think will now be received in a lasting way that it may not have been in the past."
Much as in music, there are always new chords to discover, harmonies to blend, and challenges to overcome.
"The best way I can state it is that a new day is upon us," Beck said. "In a world where we know that the future is going to look very different from how it's ever looked before, we're trying to redefine our lives. It's what artists do. We create. We imagine new futures. We express what we see. And we imagine a better world. Symphony orchestras, art museums, theater, and contemporary dance in America have an opportunity to play a vital role in this new conversation. We've waited for this day and we're equipped to do this."