Nestled in the heart of Chattanooga’s arts scene lies a gem that has been harmonizing with our community for over nine decades—Chattanooga Symphony & Opera (CSO).

In March, Walnut Street Publishing partnered with (Be) Caffeinated’s Giveback Program to support CSO. During this partnership, our team learned more about this incredible non-profit and want to share with you.

Read our interview below to learn how Chattanooga Symphony & Opera nurtures local talent, collaborates with community partners, and adapts to meet the evolving needs of Chattanooga’s art scene.

Q: First, can you tell us a little about the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera?

We do far more than play mainstage concerts! In addition to Masterworks performances where we keep the classical canon alive in Chattanooga through traditional symphonic performances, our ensembles travel throughout the area playing for people in community kitchens, Alzheimer’s support groups, senior living communities, and schools. We offer free Sensory Friendly and All-Accessible concerts for the disabled community, and free Family Concerts in both Spanish and English that pair puppetry and storybooks with classical music. You may have seen us onstage for the first time when you were a kid at one of our Young People’s Concerts. This is an arts education staple for Hamilton County Schools, which sends 6,000+ third-grade students to these concerts for their first live classical music experience.  On top of all this, we offer the Chattanooga Youth Symphony as a platform for musical training, college prep, and team building for children ages 8-19. In addition to the 16,000+ people that attend our mainstage performances like Masterworks and Pops, we benefit another 16,000+ with these community and education programs.

It’s an exciting time for the CSO. At the end of this season, after 13 years on the podium, we will say goodbye to our beloved Music Director Kayoko Dan, making way for the next generation of artistic leadership. Following an international search, four finalists have been selected as candidates to be the CSO’s next Music Director. Each will conduct a concert this season, and based on musician and audience feedback, one will become the new face of the CSO beginning in Fall 2024.

Q: What are the unique ways in which the Chattanooga Symphony lifts up the art community in Chattanooga?

The CSO is Chattanooga’s only fully professional performing arts organization, and one of our region’s largest arts employers. We’ve brought live classical music to the city for 91 years! The presence of a professional orchestra in Chattanooga makes it possible for our community to employ hundreds of professional musicians and engage community and volunteer choirs each year. These artists are a huge community asset: they live, work, and perform in our region, and teach in area colleges, schools, and private studios. 

Our commitment to inclusivity and accessibility is a core part of our mission, and we put special emphasis on welcoming audiences that often encounter barriers to enjoying live performances. We offer Sensory Friendly Concerts tailored for individuals with sensory sensitivities, with a relaxed atmosphere where audience members can move around and express themselves freely. Our All-Accessible Concert is a groundbreaking approach, providing a full-orchestra performance in a format accessible to individuals with a wide range of disabilities. These concerts incorporate features like American Sign Language interpretation, captioning, adult changing tables, and designated quiet spaces, making classical music accessible in ways that are rarely found elsewhere. If you want to check it out, join us for our next Sensory Friendly performance on May 18 at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.

Q: What makes Chattanooga’s art community special?

Chattanooga’s art community thrives on its collaborative spirit and inclusivity. Organizations like ArtsBuild help connect all disciplines of artists, giving us more opportunities to work together and learn from each other. It’s easy to collaborate and share ideas. This city is also home to an incredible pool of talent. The musicians in the orchestra are top-notch, and so are many of the visual artists, actors, dancers, and other creatives that call Chattanooga home. 

Q: Art, cities, and communities are constantly evolving. How has the Chattanooga Symphony seen Chattanooga evolve since COVID?

We’ve definitely seen a renewed desire for people to engage with the arts and immerse themselves in cultural experiences. It feels like everyone is eager to dive back into arts and culture, craving those live, in-person experiences we all missed. This energy is partly thanks to a wave of new people moving to town. From the new businesses fueling economic growth, to the artists coming to join the CSO onstage, to the many new faces in the audience, this influx brought new waves of people interested in the arts. They’re younger, too. Our average audience age has dropped by 8 years since the pandemic. This shift has brought more people to our shows, broadening our audience and drawing in supporters from corners we hadn’t reached before.

Q: How is the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera evolving to match the needs of the city?

In response to feedback and the changing landscape post-pandemic, we’re embracing digital platforms and technology to engage with our audience, for example by switching to digital programs. We’re responding to a growing demand for music rooted in Chattanooga, featuring local composers like Doug Hedwig and Roland Carter and adapting Bessie Smith’s music for full orchestra. That project, Bessie Smith: Orchestrating the Blues, was a huge success last year and we collaborated with so many additional local artists and choirs that we felt hugely connected to the community. 

Our music education programs fill gaps in school systems where it’s not considered core curriculum, meaning it’s not a top priority in the education system. We make sure that these students don’t go without music education by stepping into their schools to coach and perform, making scholarships available for our Chattanooga Youth Symphony members,  and offering tons of free programs like Family Concerts.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about CSO’s current shows?

We’re wrapping up the 2023-24 concert season with something for everyone. Each show in our lineup offers a unique way to experience the transformative power of music.

We have Family Concert performances of “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble” on April 27th at Red Bank Community Center and April 28th at Collegedale Commons. This family-friendly event, supported by the City of Chattanooga, combines classical music with classic children’s literature. We start with pre-concert activities including an instrument petting zoo and craft-making, followed by a 45-minute performance where Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and life-sized puppetry accompany the telling of “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.” It’s a magical blend designed to spark young imaginations, and families get to take home a copy of the book!

We close out the season by paying homage to the silver screen with “A Salute to John Williams” on May 11th at Memorial Auditorium. Under the baton of the emerging film composer and conductor Vincent Oppido, the CSO will bring iconic film scores by John Williams and other Oscar-winning composers to life in an evening of cinematic classics.

Walnut Street Publishing is a Chattanooga-based independent publisher that specializes in amplifying stories from new and experienced authors and artists. We build a bridge for authors and artists to their audience around the world. We do this by creating avenues for talented individuals to publish their work. We believe in working together to help bring stories to life. We specialize in helping new authors find their voice and assist them in the publishing process while also being a solution to experienced authors who want a more personal publisher.

Emily Quinn

Emily Quinn

Emily Quinn is the creative force behind our social media magic! As the social media manager for Walnut Street Publishing, Emily brings her passion for art and music to every post. When she's not crafting content, you can find her crocheting with her cats and trying to keep track of her husband, Aaron Quinn.