As a Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist said back in 1946, "a city without music would be a city without a soul"

Since the casual beginnings of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra (now Orchestra Iowa) over 100 years ago it has turned into one of the most popular attractions in Cedar Rapids (and across Iowa) to this day. According to the Gazette, "the idea for the orchestra started in 1922 when well-known flutist E.A. Hazelton dropped into the office of Dr. J. Lynn Crawford."

The Chamber of Commerce of Cedar Rapids formally organized the orchestra on February 13, 1923, with a total of 40 musicians. The Cedar Rapids symphony orchestra itself became permanent in 1924.

The commitment to being part of Orchestra Iowa as a player, staff member, or community spectator is evident in every performance. It's a fun, family-friendly, and often moving experience for everyone.

As Orchestra Iowa gets set to welcome Broadway icon Melissa Errico to help open its centennial season with "Brucemorchestra!", the annual outdoor concert on the Brucemore Mansion lawn on September 17, the Cedar Rapids Gazette took a look back at its long and storied history.

Yes, the musicians get paid

But they didn't always. According to the Gazette, the Orchestra started out with volunteer musicians. This changed in 1952 when an unfavorable critique of the group from the American Orchestra Symphony League led the orchestra's then-President on a search for its first salaried director.

Henry Denecke stayed until 1969, bringing talent from the University of Iowa and expanding the concert series.

Then came Richard Williams, as audiences and the budget grew.

The Orchestra Symphony League, who once panned the group, had changed its tune by this time and designated the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra as the first "metropolitan orchestra" in Iowa, allowing it to apply for grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Paramount Theatre and Beyond

The very first performances by the group were held in the city auditorium and the Coe College auditorium until 1928 when they set up shop in the Veterans Memorial Building.

The historic Paramount Theatre became the group's home in 1976, and in 1982, longtime director Christian Tiemeyer took the helm. He spent 22 years leading the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra, and it later became Orchestra Iowa after the 2008 flood forced them to branch out and tour other areas of the state.

Tiemeyer helped introduce several of Orchestra Iowa's most popular programs, from the Pops! Series, to the Discovery Series, and the Showcase Chamber series, offering operas and opening the Symphony School of Music. Tiemeyer retired in 2006, passing the reigns on to Hankewich. In recent years, they've added new programs as well like symphonic rock concerts and live on-stage performances of classic movie scores, while the movie itself plays on the big screen (these are FANTASTIC!).

It also leads or hosts the well-known annual Holiday Spectacular shows, the Nutcracker Ballet, and as we mentioned, Brucemorchestra. For information and tickets to any of Orchestra Iowa's upcoming shows, visit their website.

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