Back before Joplin began budding as an arts community — long before there were art and Shakespeare festivals, house concerts and downtown poetry readings, ballet or opera companies, there was Pro Musica.
There aren’t many local visual and performing arts organizations that can say that.
This month, Pro Musica will kick off its 40th season of bringing classical music to the area through chamber music performances and symphony orchestra concerts.
It has introduced us to groups that have performed in such prestigious venues as the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House. For four decades, it has brought us the best.
How does a classical music organization achieve such longevity in a city the size of Joplin in a relatively rural area?
If you ask the Pro Musica founder, Cynthia Schwab, or the director, Deborah Billings, they’ll tell you that it has been a resolve to bring the best groups that could be afforded and doing it with no admission for the concerts. It’s been about inclusion, so everyone can enjoy classical music with no barriers preventing it.
That inclusion has gone further than just public concerts at no charge.
Throughout its history, the organization has worked to ensure that youngsters have been exposed to classical music through school outreach. Virtually every group that performs under Pro Musica has presented programming for public or parochial school students of various ages or music students at Missouri Southern State University.
Each year, one of the performing groups of the concert season participates in a multi-day residency, taking music to every local fourth and fifth grade in the Joplin school district. That age group is targeted because it’s the general age for learning to play instruments.
In addition to the school programming, the residency musicians also do outreach to nontraditional settings that include assisted living facilities and Lafayette House, a local women’s shelter.
Last year, a pre-school program, Bach-A-Bye-Baby, was added to that outreach.
In recent years, this outreach has touched about 2,000 people of all ages annually. That is in addition to the hundreds of people who are reached annually through Pro Musica chamber, symphony orchestra and jazz concerts.
To celebrate such accomplishments in its 40 years of existence, the organization is presenting an Encore Performance Season that will kick off this month. It will feature a return of groups that have been standouts from previous seasons.
With the help of Schwab, now the founding director emerita, the Pro Musica board selected three string quartets and a piano trio, plus a double string quartet, in which two quartets will perform individually, then together. For the jazz concert of the season, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet will return, coinciding with the Dave Brubeck Centennial, honoring jazz great Dave Brubeck, father of the Brubeck brothers.
Schwab said the selections were based on the national and international accolades the groups have achieved, their performances in prestigious halls, and their ability to connect with past local audiences, projecting their love of classical music in their performances.
The season will begin on Thursday, Sept. 19, with the Miro (string) Quartet performing at the First Community Church, 15th Street and Murphy Boulevard. The group, which has performed here twice previously, will present the residency outreach program for fourth and fifth graders.
The schedule for the remainder of the season:
• Brentano (string) Quartet, Friday, Oct. 4, at First Presbyterian Church, 509 S. Pearl Ave. This group performed in the 1995-1996 and the 2015-2016 seasons.
• Tesla (string) Quartet with Alex Fiterstein (clarinet), Thursday, Nov. 8, at Ozark Christian College chapel, 1111 N. Main St. Tesla performed in the 2015-2016 season, and Fiterstein appeared with a piano trio in the 2017-2018 season. The ensemble will also present a ticketed house concert on Friday, Nov. 9, at the home of Carl and Alice Blade in the Arbor Hills housing division. Because the house concert is a Pro Musica fundraiser, tickets will be $100. This is the lone concert that will have an admission.
• Horszowski (piano) Trio, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, at Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School, 3401 Newman Road. Pro Musica presented the trio in its 2013-2014 season.
• Jupiter (string) Quartet and Jasper (string) Quartet, Thursday, March 26, 2020, at Joplin Family Worship Center, 5290 E. Seventh St. While Jupiter Quartet performed here in 2006, this is the Jasper Quartet’s first visit to Joplin.
• Brubeck Brothers Quartet, Friday, April 24, 2020, Corley Auditorium at Missouri Southern, Newman and Duquesne roads. Chris Brubeck, the group’s bass and trombone player, performed with his trio, Triple Play, during Pro Musica’s 2015-2016 season, and he returned with the Brubeck Brothers Quartet in the 2017-2018 season.
The concerts are at 7 p.m. except for the Brubeck Brothers performance, which is set for 7:30 p.m. For backgrounds on the groups, visit Pro Musica’s website, www.promusicajoplin.org.
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