“On Sept. 20, 1997, The Columbus Chamber Music Society opened its fiftieth consecutive season of concerts. The organization was founded in 1948 under the name Prestige Concerts. Its founder, organizer, and first director was James N. Cain and its major objective was and continues to be “the furtherance of chamber music.” In the following year, it was incorporated under the laws of Ohio as a nonprofit corporation. At the time of its founding, Cain was seventeen years old, a graduate of West High School in Columbus, who was preparing to enter The Ohio State University.
Cain recruited the Walden Quartet for its first and second seasons, (1948-49 and 1949-50). John Garvey was principal violist in the Columbus Philharmonic and was invited to join the Walden Quartet, then in residence at the University of Illinois. Cain knew Garvey, having studied the violin with him, and asked Garvey if it would be possible for the Walden to hold chamber music concerts in Columbus. This resulted in a series of five concerts which initiated the Prestige Concerts as a presentation organization. The first concert of the Walden Quartet occurred Nov. 29, 1948 in the Little Theatre of the Columbus Gallery of Fine Art, now the Columbus Museum of Art.
In its first four seasons, Prestige Concerts presented twelve Columbus premiere performances. A partial listing includes the Bartok Quartet in A Minor, Op. 7, Britten’s Quartet No. I, Op. 25, Hindemith’s Quartet No. 3, Ives Quartet No. 2, and Vaughn-Williams Quartet in A Minor. The classical repertoire was also well-represented with six of the Beethoven quartets, five Haydn quartets, and clarinet quintets by Mozart and Brahms featuring Donald McGinnis as clarinetist.
In its early days, the organization had a relatively informal structure. At that time, arts management was hardly a profession with recognized expertise and clearly defined roles. Cain and others attempting to run fledgling arts organizations literally had to invent the organizational forms they used as they went along. However, it is clear from copious correspondence that Cain’s major activity was to work with artists’ representatives to secure performers for the series.
Monetary problems plagued the organization from its start. By 1955, its financial problems had begun to increase. Artist fees had increased steadily as well as the cost of promotion. To offset these, a group of financial backers called Guarantors was recruited from the ranks of the membership to help underwrite the annual concert deficits. In 1957, as many as twenty individuals each pledged to provide up to $50. At the end of each season, the deficit was figured and contributions levied on a pro-rata basis. The guarantors brought their checkbooks and wrote off the organization’s state of indebtedness. In effect, the organization could begin each new concert season free of debt.
Funding was a never-ending struggle, so the organization began creating several categories of membership to meet ever-increasing expenditures. The first category, called Guarantors, agreed by means of a formal contract to underwrite a season’s deficit to a limit of $50. Sustaining members were a category of membership added in 1964, who agreed to underwrite the season’s deficit to a limit of $25. The Contributors supported the series with gifts in various amounts usually made before the opening of the season. In 1969, a fourth category of patron was established. These were individuals whose upper guarantee was $100. In addition to these categories, a small group of individuals would donate sufficient funds above and beyond the sum pledged by the guarantors, which enabled the organization to remain solvent.
In 1962, Cain left Columbus to assume a position with the Aspen Music Festival Organization. Mrs. John E Harmon (Cosme) agreed to manage the Prestige Concerts for one season, but found she was not able to retire until a decade later. Like Cain before her, she oversaw the bookings of artists. Her husband, John, served as secretary-treasurer and legal advisor.
Under Harmon’s leadership, new members were recruited for the board, yet the group remained relatively constant in size. Harmon was a master at organizing and delegating tasks. The Chamber Music Society archive has several checklists that she prepared for assuring that posters and press notices were placed in appropriate places, that artists were met at airports, that tickets were collected at the door, and the like. In effect, she shaped the voluntary character of the organization while providing many of the services of a paid professional manager. One of Harmon’s major tasks was to clarify the legal status of the organization, which included formalizing procedures for electing members to the board. This also called for a system of record-keeping that covered expenses and receipts. John kept the ledger for the organization showing ticket receipts, contributions, and expenses, while one of his principle duties was also to provide legal counsel for the organization.
The tenure of the first two directors had together occupied nearly half of the organization’s history, amounting to 24 seasons of scheduled concerts. During the next 11 years, the organization operated essentially under the system as it was established early in its history, namely the practice of having guarantors and donors write off the accumulated indebtedness at the end of each concert season. The president and director that immediately followed Cosme was Dorothy Koehl, who served from 1972 until 1976. She, in turn, was succeeded by A. Louise Earhart, who served as president and director of the concerts for the next several seasons. Earhart resigned as director during the 1982-83 season, which was the 34th anniversary of the organization.
Financial problems were mounting, largely the result of the meteoric rise in fees for artists through the decade of the 1970s. This was putting the system of writing off deficits by guarantors under increasing stress. The informal organizational pattern that evolved in the past thirty five years could work with leaders like Earhart and Harmon, who kept tabs on what needed doing and when, but their leaving broke a tradition of central leadership that reached back to the early days of the society.
In 1983, David Bury authored a report titled, “The Columbus Chamber Music Society in Transition,” (Bury, 1983). To Bury, it was clear that a system for recruiting new people into the organization needed to be found. Every resignation or retirement of older members resulted in a loss of know-how to the organization. Karl Kornacker, who became director after Earhart’s resignation, recalled attending workshops organized by the Ohio Arts Council or the Greater Columbus Arts Council, and credited both Susan Rosenstock and David Bury for instructing him in the fine points of running a healthy arts organization. These included having a program-planning process, a realistic budget, a system of record-keeping, plans for fundraising, audience surveys, maintenance of mailing lists, etc. Some of these mechanisms were present in the existing organization, but they tended to be implemented on a happenstance basis. Bury’s report was funded with grant support from both the Ohio Arts Council and the Greater Columbus Arts Council. The report also advocated the concept of a ‘working board.’ At this time, the organization began forming standing committees to make program planning recommendations, develop budgets, outreach programs, write grant proposals to funding organizations, and the like.
The name of the organization was changed to the Columbus Chamber Music Society (CCMS) because the name Prestige Concerts conveyed the image of an elitist organization. Bury’s report also alluded to “the perception by many that the Society is a ‘private organization.’ Newspaper accounts in the late 1940s and early 1950s used phrases to describe the chamber music audience as requiring the “highest musical standards” or “discriminating, discerning, or demanding” terms associated with elitist exclusion. The change of name from Prestige Concerts to CCMS was gradually phased in between the 1981 season and the 1983-84 season. This was done intentionally to avoid the impression that there were two different presenting organizations.
Philip Jastram assumed the role of board president after Kornacker, though for many years, Jastram was both a generous benefactor and member of CCMS. He was active in supporting the Cantari Singers and was a driving force that led to the settlement of the strike between the board of the Columbus Symphony and the Musicians Union. The funding situation in the arts was changing, so arts organizations like the CCMS had to confront new pressures. The continuing rise in artist fees continued throughout the 1980s. Another pressure was the need to apply to foundations and arts councils for supplementary funding. Jastram proposed that CCMS enter into an arrangement with two other arts organizations to share the costs of a paid manager. An application for funding was made to The Columbus Foundation. The other organizations included the Cantari Singers and the Jefferson Academy of Music. Jastram was active on the boards of these organizations and recognized the need to have an individual who could keep tabs on the managerial needs of these groups. Though this was a good idea, this three-fold arrangement did not work in practice and was abandoned.
A more successful initiative that Jastram proposed was the co-sponsorship of a project involving the Jefferson Academy to bring music into schools. Funding was procured by a grant to write contracts with performing groups, enabling them to come one day early to participate in special concerts for children. The approach entailed a multi-media approach in which students would be brought to a site, such as the Governor’s Mansion, the Southern Hotel Ballroom, or the Martin Luther King Cultural Arts Complex. Clara O’Dette recalls that in a series of programs called “Shhh, I’m listening to Chamber Music!,” the children would often sit on the floor in close proximity to the performing artists and they could watch and interact with them. In one incident, the Hovanis Quartet wore baseball caps while performing in an effort to relate the music they were playing to the kids. Eventually, this arrangement with schools had to be discontinued because schools could not support the additional cost of busing the children to external sites.
A succession of individuals have served in the role of director for periods of relatively shorter durations. These include Edmund King, who served as director from 1989 – 1991, followed by Sally Cleary, who served from 1991- 1994 who was succeeded by Stella Kozyris who has served from 1994- to 1997. The following president-director was Sally Cleary Griffiths, who began her second term with the opening of the 50th Anniversary season, (1997 – 1998). For the last several seasons, CCMS has operated successfully as a volunteer organization. The work of program planning, budgeting, fundraising, working with artists’ representatives, publicity, grant-writing, the maintaining of mailing lists, databases, and ticket-selling functions were carried out by numerous individuals and committees. A combination of increased ticket sales, generous contributions of individuals and corporations, and grants from The Columbus Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Greater Columbus Arts Council have enabled CCMS to reach a larger audience in the greater Columbus Metropolitan Area by offering a succession of high-quality chamber music concerts with internationally renowned performers while finishing the last several seasons free of debt.
Starting in the summer of 1994, CCMS initiated a series of Sunday afternoon concerts. This series was initiated to showcase the talents of artists that live in the greater Columbus area. The concerts were typically held in less formal settings such as the Patio in the Brewery District, or the Atrium of the Franklin Park Conservatory. The first concert in the series was given by the Columbus Chamber Symphony wind section at the Patio. During the 1995 – 1996 season, CCMS applied for and received a grant from Arts Midwest which provided substantial assistance for an outreach project involving the Ying Quartet, a youthful family performance group consisting of three brothers and one sister. In addition to the regular Saturday night concert in the Gloria Dei Worship Center, the quartet gave two additional concerts, one on Friday and another on Sunday. The Friday concert was scheduled during the lunch hour at the lounge of the Nationwide Insurance Company. Nationwide was selected as the site because the corporation was a long-standing supporter of CCMS. This was a way of acknowledging their generosity. Many individuals spent their entire lunch hour listening to the performance while others paused briefly. For many, it was their first opportunity to hear a live string quartet. The following Sunday, the Ying ensemble gave their third Columbus concert at the downtown City Center Mall.
The fiftieth anniversary celebration began on September 20 at the opening concert of the 1997 – 1998 season, which featured the American String Quartet with pianist Thomas Muraco. During intermission, the audience and society members opened the celebration with an enormous birthday cake. Among those present was James N. Cain, the organization’s founder. Now, fifty years later, the city supports multiple concert series competing for the attention of the classical audience. It is hard to know whether CCMS survived because it adapted to the changing times or whether it managed to attract new audiences and members while retaining allegiance to an established musical repertoire. The present Board of Trustees, as with previous boards, is a voluntary board comprised of individuals who have more than a love of chamber music. Collectively, they have the capability to identify talented artists, often before they have been widely acclaimed; they have been successful in fundraising, marketing, budgeting, and program planning. In many ways, the current board resembles the working board concept first proposed by David Bury in the early 1980s.
About the author: Arthur Efland is a professor emeritus in the Department of Art Education at The Ohio State University. He authored the elementary and secondary guidelines in art education for Ohio, which won an award of excellence from the National Art Education Association in 1982. He is author of “A History of Art Education: Intellectual and Social Currents in Teaching the Visual Arts,” published by Teachers College Press. Efland is a frequent participant at national and international conferences on art education. He has also published in the Journal of Aesthetic Education, History of Education Quarterly, and the Journal of Research in Music Education.