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VS first concert mistress Faye Kent (nee Ockenden) shared her memories of the VS from it’s inception till 1991. Read her words below.
The present day Victoria Symphony had its beginning or roots in the early thirty’s when a cellist named Harold Taylor arrived in Victoria and gathered together all the eager young instrumental students to form a Junior Symphony Orchestra.
After considerable time and many, many rehearsals in the old “Boys Central School,” the orchestra performed a concert in the Victoria High School auditorium.
The performance was warmly received by a large audience. But although it proved to be a beginning of orchestral experience for some of its players, the orchestra did not survive.
Later in 1938, another attempt was made to create an orchestra in Victoria. Violinist Gilbert Margison and a small group of musicians, including some who years earlier had had their start in Taylor’s junior orchestra, organized a working committee to bring together musicians interested in forming an orchestra under the direction of Alfred Prescott.
Mr. Prescott was a prominent British trained musician active in conducting Victoria’s 5th Regiment Band and the Victoria High School Orchestra, and in teaching young students of string and wind instruments.
An ambitious programme was prepared and finally performed under the name of “The Victoria Symphony Orchestra” on April 12, 1939. The programme included Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and the Grieg piano concerto with Helen Ockenden as soloist.
Due mainly to the lack of a properly organized association supporting it, this orchestra did not survive beyond its one grand attempt.
Two years had passed when in 1941, two young musicians who were enjoying a musical evening of recordings with their friend Naval Lieutenant Herber Hartie, lamented the fact that Victoria did not have an orchestra in which they could play. The young couple were Fay Ockenden and Douglas Kent who had met each other while members of the Prescott Orchestra.
Herber Hartie, a proven initiator and organizer, immediately reacted with the suggestion that they begin organizing such an orchestra that very evening with the writing of a constitution. Then plans were laid to seek community and culturally minded citizens who would work to support an orchestra. Hartie agreed to be interim president until a Board of Directors could be assembled.
It did not take long to put together then very enthusiastic committee members whose first act was to register the organization under the name “The Victoria Symphony Society.”
At about the same time, it became known that Melvin Knudsen, a cabinet maker, had recently moved to the city. Not only was he an excellent craftsman but more importantly he had a musical background including a summer session of tuition in conducting with the eminent European conductor Felix Weingartner.
A meeting was arranged in which Knudsen eagerly accepted the challenge to direct and help build an orchestra in Victoria.
Again the musicians were contacted and invited to attend a meeting, bringing their instruments and music stands, for a try-out rehearsal to determine if there still existed in the city a basic instrumentation needed for a symphonic ensemble.
In its first year, the orchestra performed a very successful concert in the Empress Hotel Ballroom on Monday, May 18, 1942.
Following the concert, rehearsals continued and the Society’s directors remained active to ensure continuity of the orchestra into the following year. Miss Sara Spencer was elected President.
That orchestra remained together and performed regularly through the next fifty years gradually expanding its concert season and attaining the artistic stature enjoyed by today’s audience.
Recognition is due to those musicians who faithfully attended the many rehearsals prior to each concert in the early days. They, with Melvin Knudsen and with the support of a small group of determined citizens, built a firm foundation for the present day “Victoria Symphony ”