Frontier days of poverty and privation in southern Utah were made more bearable by traditions of music, dance, and drama brought by early pioneers from New York, Ohio, and Illinois, as well as England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Sweden. Music was an essential social and religious force and lightened the burdens of many immigrants who settled the area. Holidays, weddings, and other special occasions included a variety of musical presentations and dancing. From the time Mormon pioneers first arrived in November 1851, fiddlers provided dance music to keep the settlers warm enough to survive winter evenings on the banks of Coal Creek. The current Fiddler’s Canyon name celebrates this heritage.
In 1870, Joseph and Gomer Cosslett, two brothers from Wales, came to the area as brick makers from Salt Lake City. Joseph formed an orchestra and band which played for dances and serenaded in the streets on holidays. He also opened the first music store in Cedar City where he sold sheet music and instruments. In the 1880s John Chatterley organized a fine brass band in Cedar City with fourteen to eighteen members. These musical organizations provided friendship and camaraderie as well as social opportunities for the members and their families.
The year 1919 saw a rejuvenation of the Cedar City Band, complete with uniforms and a new bandstand in the City Park. Sunday evening concerts in the park, or in the tabernacle during the winter months, brought the community together. Highlights in local musical history of the 1920s included the establishment of the Cedar City Band as an official military unit of the United States Army.
An orchestra has existed as a part of Southern Utah University (SUU) since its founding in 1897 (then known as the Branch Normal School). Orien Dalley conducted that orchestra during the 1920's, then left to pursue a distinguished career in Michigan where he assisted in founding the now internationally famous Interlochen Performing Arts School. Upon retirement, he donated ninety string instruments to SUU which are still being used today by southern Utah string students.
The tradition of having a community musical organization has continued through the twentieth century and evolved more fully during the time of Roy L. Halversen’s tenure as orchestra conductor for SUU. Under his direction, students from the middle and high school, the college, and the community came together to provide music for symphony concerts, opera productions, and the annual “Messiah.” Mr. Halversen studied violin at Julliard and in Berlin before coming to Cedar City, where he had planned to stay for only a few years, but remained a lifetime. The Orchestra of Southern Utah's annual spring concert, featuring the winners of youth soloist auditions, is named the “Roy L. Halversen Young Artist Concert” as a tribute to his inspiring influence.
The current Orchestra of Southern Utah (OSU) is a semi-professional ensemble of dedicated professional and amateur musicians drawing its membership from throughout the southern Utah area. Providing classical and popular musical performances, OSU sponsors a Fall Recital Series and the annual Messiah production, in addition to a Children’s Jubilee, and evening concerts. OSU conductors have included Hal K. Campbell, David Nyman, James Harrison, Gerard Yun, and Xun Sun, with guest conductors Perry Arnett, Benjamin Winkler, Kory Katseanes, and Joel Neves.
The Orchestra of Southern Utah incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1988, governed by a Board of Directors. Founding Board members were Fred C. Adams, LuAnne J. Brown, Hal K. Campbell, Evelyn K. Jones, York Jones, Anne O. Leavitt, Mary MacDonald, Sara Penny, Luree S. Schmutz, Virginia Stitt, and June Thorley. Co-sponsored by SUU for many years, OSU became an independent community organization in 1996, and used Cedar City’s original auditorium, “Orchestra Hall,” formerly located at 300 West and Harding Avenue, for its rehearsal and performance venue.
“Orchestra Hall” was eventually determined to be unsafe and was demolished in 2001. The orchestra then utilized auditoriums at Cedar Middle School, Cedar High School, and SUU until the recent completion of Cedar City’s new downtown concert hall, the Heritage Center. OSU played for its grand opening on June 29, 2002, where it now has a permanent home.
Past OSU presidents Sara Penny and Inez Urie worked with other local arts leaders to encourage the funding and building of a local performing arts center, contributing ideas regarding the building’s design and features. In the Heritage Center, Cedar City now has a stage large enough to accommodate a sizeable orchestra and chorus for annual “Messiah” productions, as well as touring shows, business conventions, and other performing groups. OSU is one of the constituent organizations that perform regularly in this beautiful facility, and holds a legal agreement with the city providing for storage of its extensive music library, percussion instruments, music stands, and Baldwin grand piano.
Holiday performances of George Frideric Handel's Messiah have continued as a long-standing tradition in Cedar City. In 1924 William H. Manning was appointed head of the Branch Agricultural College (BAC) Music Department and conductor of the Cedar City Tabernacle Choir. He chose to perform the first “Messiah” on New Year’s Day 1925 with the choir accompanied by an orchestra drawn from the community and the BAC. Beginning in December 1940, this inspiring oratorio has been presented nearly every year to the present as a “Christmas gift to the community.” The year 2010 marks the 70th production of this timeless classic in Cedar City.
Current OSU leadership includes Music Director and Conductor Xun Sun, Chorale Director Adrianne Tawa, Board President Harold Shirley, Executive Director Pete Akins, Vice-President June Thorley, Secretary Laura Lee, Treasurer Allen Butt, Guild and Manager Emily Hepworth, Music Librarians Mandy Minkler and Liahona Hepworth, and board members: Julie Davis, Rob Dowse, Bryan Jackson, Brooke MacNaughtan, Kindal Erickson Ridd, and Suzanne Tegland. Bridget Lee serves as Grants Officer. Matt Dodgion helps with the website and recording duplication. Steven Swift and Larry Life are recording specialists for OSU.
The Spanish Trail Suite with video enhancement was honored with three national awards in June 2008, two from the League of American Orchestras and the Silver Telly in conjunction with Video Ideas of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
This community orchestra has also received national recognition through three National Endowment of the Arts “Challenge America” grants.
In June 2009 the OSU received a “Special Award of Excellence” from the League of American Orchestras at the Chicago Conference for the Africa project. In November 2009 the OSU premiered the Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra by Keith Bradshaw featuring his wife Tracey as pianist. This is the 5th world premiere of a commissioned work. The other three were Spanish Trail Suite, Africa by Steven Sharp Nelson and Marshall McDonald, Discovering Dinosaurs by Keith and Daniel Bradshaw, and Percussion Concerto by Keith Bradshaw.
The Orchestra of Southern Utah was instrumental in the statue of Helen Foster Snow now installed in Cedar City. OSU performed at the dedication ceremony in Nov. 2009 that recognized a daughter of Cedar City who had a positive impact on the development of modern China. Dignitaries from China joined Utah officials for the dedication.
In June 2010 the OSU was recognized with a Gold Book Roundtable presentation at the Leaguof American Orchestras for the “Baby Ears” project that provides a CD of quality music to the parents of newborns through the Valley View Medical Center with thanks to Dr. Dowse and Premier Pediatrics for sponsorship of the project. June Thorley, Colleen and Patrick Dowse represented OSU in Atlanta. Ken Hedgecock recorded the performances on the “Baby Ears” CD from OSU recitals and concerts. In June 2011 Laura Cotts represented OSU in Dallas for a Roundtable at the League on the use of Science and Art in our family Jubilee matinées.
Musicians include area musicians from Cedar City, Enoch, Parowan, St. George, Enterprise, and Beaver.