Oklahoma City Symphony (1924-1931)
A Matter of Pride – The Oklahoma City Symphony
The story starts in 1908 with the founding of The Ladies Music Club, which eventually boasted more than 800 members. For decades, the group brought to Oklahoma City the greatest musicians, singers, dancers and speakers of the era. The club’s crowning achievement was the establishment of the Oklahoma City Symphony. This orchestra, conducted by Frederick Holmberg, dean of The University of Oklahoma’s School Of Music, was an outgrowth of the Ladies Music Club string choir, started in 1921 by Mrs. Frank Buttram, an accomplished musician and a leader of The Ladies Music Club. On May 21, 1924, the city heard its first local symphony concert, a 54-piece ensemble of all volunteer musicians, at the Shrine Temple, N.W. 6th Street and Robinson Avenue.
The first season included concerts for children. Jubilant organizers reported that the orchestra played to 2,500 fifth and sixth graders in addition to six classical concerts. An audience of 1500 people at the opening performance grew with each subsequent concert.
“The announcement of a series of Symphony concerts marks a big step forward in the marvelous growth and history of our city. Perhaps no city of such few years growth has ever achieved a like accomplishment. Cities which have Symphonies regard them as their very best, highest civic advertisement.”
– From the program of the first concert of the Oklahoma City Symphony – May 21, 1924
Oklahoma City was one of 49 American cities to have an orchestra in 1928 however its days were numbered. The young orchestra flourished until the spring of 1931, when the combination of The Great Depression, politics, and the effects of the Dust Bowl brought the curtain down on the group. Some say the group was ended by Governor William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray. It’s said that he was annoyed that the supporters of the Symphony were not political allies and cited Holmberg’s participation as a conflict of interest between the University and the privately-funded Symphony. He forced Holmberg to resign and there was no one else willing or able to take the podium of the young orchestra.