The Early Years
The Colorado Symphony Guild, Inc. was born in 1935 when Denver resident Jean (Mrs. George C.) Cranmer invited six friends to lunch at the Denver Country Club. At the time, there were three orchestras in the Mile High City – the Denver Symphony Orchestra (DSO) of professional players, the Civic Symphony Orchestra of pro and amateur players, and a Junior Symphony Orchestra comprised of senior high school and college students. Mrs. Cranmer envisioned an organization that would serve the DSO as a helpmate, not only in fundraising but as nurturer of an image of great music presentation and creation of future audiences from the youth of the city. Her goal was to augment (not replace) the activities of the Civic Symphony Society whose purpose since 1921 was to maintain and operate the Civic Orchestra by arranging for guest artists and helping young musicians obtain instruments.
Although they were called together to discuss ways and means of helping the three existing orchestras, the Denver Country Club luncheon attendees started rotating the wheel which would create today’s Colorado Symphony Guild, Inc. by their decision to invite 75 cultural leaders to Mrs. Cranmer’s home. At the enlarged session, Mrs. Cranmer was elected Chairman of the “Women’s Committee” – a post she held until 1940 – and the 75 guests were given an opportunity to volunteer their services in seven areas. The founding assembly also organized a “Women’s Army” to conduct a residential campaign for support of the DSO. Their inaugural goal, which they reached, was $6,000.
On April 25, 1940, the name of the “Women’s Committee” was changed to “Denver Symphony Guild.” Monthly meetings were held and members from a broader base were solicited. Eligibility was three-fold: 1) be a campaign worker, or 2) be a contributor to the DSO, or 3) be a subscription ticket holder. No membership dues were assessed!
In 1941, the 6-year-old organization was given a small office in the City and County Building. Activities centered primarily on the campaign with a 1940-41 goal of $30,000. By 1945 (the Guild’s 10th anniversary year), the target had grown to $125,000. The expanded “Women’s Army” was recognized as a major unit in fundraising and carried on throughout World War II.At the end of this stressful period, DSO Conductor Horace Tureman left the podium because of illness and was replaced in 1945 by Saul Caston contingent upon the DSO becoming fully professional with 75 members. The Civic and Junior Orchestras were discontinued at this time.
After World War II
In 1947 there was a demand for Guild-member study units and 15 Music Appreciation groups were formed in various parts of Denver. At first, these groups met not only in homes, but also in auditoriums and libraries, and the public was invited. Several were group-sponsored by the AAUW (American Association of University Women), the Junior League and PTAs. Membership ranged from 15 to 200 per group. One of the most active and creative at the time was in Five Points, which had a mostly black membership. Programs included a study of orchestral instruments, competitions, methods of teaching kids and previews of coming concerts. In 1950, 14 of the groups combined (all but Central, Lakewood and AAUW) to form an All-City Study Group, and the Guild paid a $25 honorarium to performing musicians.
By 1965-66, there were nine new groups forming outside Denver in Arvada (an overflow of Lakewood/Wheat Ridge), a Business and Professional Women’s Group (which became Career Women), Evergreen/Lookout Mountain (which died and then was reborn as Foothills) and Applewood. One of these groups was the initial provider of transportation to concerts for school children, and another began serving coffee to orchestra members during intermissions. The transportation project subsequently was taken over by the school district, and the coffee treats were discontinued after five years because of cost. In 1969, the Music Appreciation Groups were renamed “area units” – and now are known as “constituent chapters.”
On Sept. 21, 1948, a year after formation of the Music Appreciation groups, the Guild Board voted to assess annual dues of $2. Fears of an ensuing decrease in membership proved unfounded. Membership was 253 that year, but that was the beginning of a steady increase. In the fall of 1957, dues were increased to $3. Membership again increased from 400 in 1955 to 615 in 1959, 226 of whom were new members. Dues were again raised to $5 in 1959, but $2 of the $5 was allocated to a Social Security fund for the DSO players. By the fall of 1965, the 30-year-old Guild had 1,056 members.
In 1956, at the request of younger Guild members, a Junior Symphony Guild (JSG) was founded for 40-and-under members within the Denver Symphony Guild framework,. The JSG broadened the overall Guild agenda, originating the Tiny Tots program and introducing the Designer Showhouse in 1975. The latter, however, whetted the JSG’s appetite for independence. In 1979, just after Boettcher Concert Hall was dedicated, the Denver Symphony Guild, Junior Symphony Guild and Career Women became equal and autonomous organizations. The Career Women returned to the DSG in 1981 – when dues were increased to $15 (first increase in 11 years) – but the Juniors have remained independent.
A Time of Transition
In 1988, the DSO concert season was suspended for the first three and last twelve weeks due to financial woes. The budget at the time was $6 million (it’s now twice that). With the late Penny Shoemaker at its helm, the Guild Board chose to not fold its tent and was rewarded in 1989 when the new player-founded Colorado Symphony Orchestra emerged from the crisis.
In 1993, with Fran MacKenzie serving as Guild President, the CSG Board addressed a CSO Task Force recommendation that all support groups merge into a Colorado Symphony League. A preliminary CSG Board vote gave approval to the proposal, but in a final merger vote in January, 1995, the membership chose to remain separate from the League and instead become a “constituent” CSO support organization under the League umbrella. This proved to be a wise decision, for over the next decade, all of the merged groups dissolved or blended into the orchestra’s structure. Only the Guild remains independent, but still attached.
Now in its 80th year, the Guild can take pride in its role as a “helpmate” to the Denver/Colorado Symphony Orchestras. Way back in 1947, it promoted the orchestra’s first Red Rocks concert series by staffing five Thursday-Friday ticket booths in strategic Denver locations preceding the weekend events. It also introduced and hosted summer concerts in the parks, until the Denver Parks District took over, but it still staffs hospitality tables at Colorado Symphony park concerts throughout Metro Denver. In the late 50s, season ticket sales were assumed completely (although temporarily) by the Guild. It sponsored the orchestra’s first concerts spotlighting celebrity vocalists in the 70s, a tradition continuing as recently as 2007.
The Guild helped expand the orchestra’s Education Department program with the Junior Guild’s original “Tiny Tots” program (1967) and Senior Guild’s “Touch of Symphony” (1990-91). The first Symphony Deb Balls and inaugural Symphony Galas were under Guild auspices, but now are overseen by the Colorado Symphony Association. Even the current pre-concert lecture series and ticket exchange program originated with the Guild, which celebrated its 30th birthday with the first of four biennial Young Artists Competitions, now co-sponsored by the Colorado Symphony and The Denver Post as the Jeff Bradley Young Musicians Competition honoring the late Post music critic.
Guild members walked the public streets with S.O.S. (Save Our Symphony) signs raising $500,000 in 1977. When Boettcher Hall opened in 1977 and was dedicated in 1978, Guild members served as ushers for introductory tours as well as the inaugural “Pick a Seat” program. They staffed the first fundraising telethon in 2004 and, most recently, Guild members’ phone calls helped get the $60 million Boettcher Hall Bond Issue passed (for upgrade remodeling).
Over the last six decades, the Guild has engaged in many successful fundraising endeavors to benefit the orchestra. For 20 years (1963-83), it ran a successful Tour Guides operation involving 40-50 members professionally trained in convention services and Colorado history. Four out-of-state tours, as well as a pioneering excursion to the Santa Fe Opera, have been sponsored. In 1973, a $30,000 Guild gift underwrote the orchestra’s first recording. Other major Guild projects of the past were: a Guild party for orchestra players (1952); free Sunday afternoon Family Concerts (1950-56), now the summer parks concerts; commission of a Weingarden piano concerto premiered by Garrick Ohlsson (1975); a Van Cliburn benefit concert the year Boettcher Hall opened (1978); His and Her car raffles at Brown Palace Hotel (1983) and one later at DCPA; Sounds Delicious food bazaar (1987); Bargains Baroque garage sale (1991-95) , Repeat Performance retail shop (1997-98), June Jazz Jamborees in Hudson Garden (1996-99) succeeded by Winter Fantasy dinner concerts at Pinehurst Country Club (1999-2005) and publication of “Haydn in the Kitchen” (1978) and “Rhapsody of Recipes” (1997) cookbooks.
The most lucrative single-event fundraiser in Guild history, however, was the “Classics on Ice” spectacular in May, 1984 starring Olympic figure skating champion Scott Hamilton. Other national stars and local standouts appeared in concert with the DSO to open the Guild’s 50th year at a sold out McNichols Arena. The benefit show netted $100,000 for the orchestra and another $100,000 for the cancer research program at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital, winning an American Symphony Orchestra League award.
In the fall of that 50th year, The Symphony Shop, which made its debut in 1983 on a card table adjacent to the Boettcher Concert Hall bar, was given formal recognition with a prominent display case in the lobby. Although it has moved within the lobby five times since then, The Shop has justified its transformation from a “Symphony of Art” Street Show souvenir booth by producing more than $400,000 in total net proceeds donated by the Guild to the orchestra over the past 26 years.
In addition to its other fundraising activities, the Guild now is contributing via its Golden Circle memorial and honorary gifts program for the purchase of new music for the orchestra. The Colorado Symphony Guild, Inc. celebrated its 75th year in February, 2010, with a commemorative luncheon at the Denver Country Club. The Guild is looking forward to the next 25 years of helping to make the music happen!
To donate to the Colorado Symphony Guild, including the Golden Circle Fund, please click here
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Our thanks to Dorothy Mauk for this history of the Colorado Symphony Guild.