Topeka Symphony Orchestra: History

IN MUSICAL TERMS, the early years of the Topeka Symphony were poco a poco — little by little. Formed as the “Topeka Civic Orchestra” in 1946 by Washburn music professor, Everett Fetter, the first performance featured 60 talented townspeople as well as Washburn University and Topeka High students. It was a small beginning for an organization that would become a much larger part of the Topeka cultural scene. In 1980 it officially became the Topeka Symphony Orchestra.

Three key factors have contributed to the steady growth and success of the Symphony. First is the long tenure of three of the Symphony’s conductors. Everett Fetter served as conductor for the first 30 years and was followed in 1976 by Jack L. Herriman, who led the Symphony until 1988. Dr. Strickler stepped down at the conclusion of the 66th season in 2012 after 23 years as music director and conductor.

A second important factor was the creation in 1952 of The Topeka Symphony Society. Since that time, the Board of Directors
has spent countless hours setting policies and handling organizational details for the Symphony. The steady growth of the Symphony would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of these dedicated volunteers.

A third factor has been the ongoing financial assistance provided by the Topeka Symphony League. Organized in 1968, the League has raised over a half-million dollars to support the Symphony.

As the size, talent and confidence of the Symphony grew under the masterful direction of Dr. Strickler, the range of performances expanded to include several world and U.S. premiers as well as the appearance of many world-renowned artists. The orchestra now includes talented musicians from throughout northeast Kansas, thus signifying the Symphony as a dynamic regional musical organization.

Support for the Symphony has also grown steadily. In addition to the hundreds of patrons who annually contribute to the Society, an endowment fund was created in 1990. Since then over $1 million has been raised to ensure the Symphony’s future.

So it can be said with considerable pride that through the efforts of conductors, musicians, the Society and League as well as staunchly loyal patrons, the pace of the Symphony’s development has progressed over the decades from poco a poco to vivace — lively and brisk!

In April of 2013, the TSO announced that Kyle Wiley Pickett had been chosen as Music Director and Conductor of the Topeka Symphony. He is only the fourth conductor in the history of the TSO. After a two year search and over 125 applicants from throughout the world, Maestro Pickett took the podium on October 5, 2013 and looks forward to the coming season at the helm of this dynamic community asset.