In 1925, Frank Noyes, violinist and music instructor at Hastings College, organized the Hastings Symphony Orchestra with 25 members. The first concert was presented on May 26, 1926 at the First Presbyterian Church in Hastings. Under Mr. Noyes' 11 years as director, the orchestra developed into a full symphonic ensemble with 75 members.
The Hastings Symphony Orchestra is one of the oldest continuous orchestral groups in this country. In its second year, it was decided to charge 10 cents for admission to concerts and it became known as the Hastings "Dime" Symphony. This received much state and national publicity which included a picture and write-up in Life magazine in 1954. Later, the 10-cent admission was dropped and the concerts were free to the public. In 1986, a plan was introduced and implemented whereby a charge for season tickets and single admissions was made.
Although at one time the membership of the orchestra dropped to 40 members, today's membership fluctuates between 70 to 80. Many members have been a part of the orchestra for a long period of time. A large number of players are from the Hastings community and Hastings College. However, the present orchestra includes musicians from Grand Island, Kearney, Wymore, Lincoln, Ord, Aurora and Omaha. For some members, music is a vocation-for others it is an avocation.
Funding each year for the orchestra has come from the contributing membership, ticket holders, Nebraska Arts Council grants, corporate donations, private foundations and trusts, program ads, and fundraising activities.
The Young Artist Auditions were started in 1959. Today, these auditions alternate between high school students from Nebraska and Hastings College students. The young artists are presented at a Symphony concert generally in the spring of each year. This program provides an outstanding opportunity for young musicians.
In addition, the Brown Bag Pops concerts and matinee concerts for school children in Hastings, Grand Island and Kearney have been presented. Special evening concerts in neighboring communities such as Minden, Holdrege, Red Cloud, Aurora, Ord and Geneva have also been a part of the concert year. In 1995, an annual, free Concert in the Park was established. The Symphony is frequently called upon by various Hastings groups or organizations to supply music for special functions. Generally small groups from within the orchestra and individuals meet these special requests.
Seventeen men have served as conductors of the Hastings Symphony, including the late Dr. James Johnson who served from 1980 until his death in April 2001. Dr. Byron Jensen was named Conductor and Artistic Director in May, 2004.
The orchestra is governed and supported by a Board of at least fifteen members drawn from the community who meet on a regular basis. A Symphony Guild functioned from 1989 through 2000 to assist the Board with fundraising projects as well as community awareness and education. In 2001 the board established "SYMPHONY FRIENDS" to assist committees of the Board in carrying out their responsibilities.
The Hastings Symphony marked its 80th Anniversary during the 2005 - 2006 Season.