By Mark Simonson
The Daily Star
---- — If you happened to be the 676th person seeking membership in a proposed musical association in Oneonta in early 1929, it became your unlucky number, as your name probably went on a waiting list. We know this organization today as the Oneonta Concert Association (OCA), now celebrating its 85th season of offering our region’s concertgoers world-class programs in chamber music, dance, jazz and orchestra at an affordable price.
A free holiday concert adds an exclamation point to affordable, as the Association will present pianist Richard Fountain on Thursday, Dec. 27, 7 p.m., at the First United Methodist Church, 66 Chestnut St., Oneonta as part of the 85th season, in addition to its regular five-concert series. Doors open at 6:45 p.m.
Fountain will play works by J.S. Bach, Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Edward MacDowell, and Gary D. Belshaw.
Remaining concerts in 2013 include Chatham Baroque, on Friday, March 8, 7:30 p.m. at the Oneonta Theatre, and Duo Parnas, on Friday, April 5, 7:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, Oneonta. The 85th Anniversary Gala Concert will culminate the season with Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio, on Friday, May 17, 7:30 p.m. at the Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center.
Back in 1928, Mrs. Ethel Mills, herself a musician in Oneonta, had heard about a New York City group calling themselves Community Concerts Corp., a combination of nine of the best known managers, having all the stellar artists on their lists, and making them available to smaller cities across the eastern states.
Community Concerts came to Oneonta after Mrs. Mills had convinced members of the Oneonta Women’s Club to sell memberships to help start a local organization, the Oneonta Community Concert Association. A public meeting was also held at the Municipal Building, today’s 242 Main St., Oneonta, as Mrs. Mills and Attorney Owen C. Becker told of the advantages of having a permanent organization with membership to support a few high quality concerts.
The Oneonta Herald of Jan. 17, 1929 reported that while 500 memberships at $5 each were being sought, the local support was so robust that once the 675th membership was sold, no more were made available. That number was based on the seating capacity of the Oneonta High School auditorium, their initial venue, which was then found on Academy Street.
The first concert of that series took place Wednesday, Feb. 13, featuring the Russian Symphonic Choir. With the director, nine men and eight women gave a complete symphonic arrangement of classical, sacred and Russian folk music without accompaniment of any sort, with “all the orchestral effects being achieved entirely by the voices,” according to the Herald.
The Herald description said “the men in long red coats and the women in gowns of vivid red and blue, with jeweled Russian tiaras on their hair and many strings of beads about their throats, formed a glowing picture, which wakened long and sincere applause from their Oneonta audience.”
Celeste Brown-Thomas, co-chair of publicity for today’s OCA, said that attendance numbers at concerts remain at well over 500. Brown-Thomas added that while the all-volunteer organization is engaged in many 21st century endeavors, such as strong partnerships with several area venues and sponsors, as well as an active website, “the OCA mission remains the same as in the late 1920s, to provide world-class programs at an affordable price.”
Visit www.oneontaconcertassociation.org for complete details on upcoming performances and activities.