History of the Rome Symphony

Edith Lester Harbin

Top photo: Paul Nixon and his symphonic band

Mrs. Edith Lester Harbin, founder of the Rome Music Lovers Club (1904) and the Junior Music Club (1917), created the first Junior Orchestra in Georgia in 1919 with twenty-eight members. In 1921-22, Paul Nixon, a trained cellist, returned from service in World War I. In 1921, Mrs. Harbin’s students combined with Paul Nixon’s Orchestral Band of Lindale, to form the Rome Symphony Orchestra. According to an editorial in The Baltimore Sun in June, 1923, “It was the first and only symphony orchestra in the South”. Shorter faculty members and violin students of Arthur Talmadge also joined the Orchestra. The RSO performed its inaugural concert under Mr. Nixon’s direction on May 11, 1922 with a program of Strauss Waltzes, the Overture to Weber’s “Der Freischutz”, and other selections. The soloists were Mrs. Taul White and Mr. M. G. McWilliams. The concert took place during Rome’s first observance of Music Week.

Paul Nixon continued to conduct the Rome Symphony Orchestra until the orchestra disbanded in the 1930’s. The Rome Chamber of Commerce presented Paul Nixon with a citizenship award in 1932 for his contributions to the artistic level of music in Rome.

The Rome Symphony did not perform during the years of World War II; however, music and music education were still prominent in Rome through the efforts of the Music Lovers’ Club and Shorter College.

The Rome Symphony Orchestra was reorganized in 1944 by Dr. Wilber Rowand, Jack Kranyik, and Helen Dean Rhodes. Miss Rhodes continued to conduct entertaining concerts for the next 28 years. Also at this time, the Symphony Guild was organized to assure public support of the Orchestra.

When Louise A. Hoge (Mrs. Ivan) became president of the Music Lovers’ Club in 1948, her main goal was to raise funds to purchase a concert grand piano for club programs and concerts in the City Auditorium. This was accomplished. In addition, Louise Hoge served as concertmaster with the Rome Symphony Orchestra for 35 years, from 1947-1982.

Helen Dean Rhodes

Upon Helen Dean Rhodes retirement as Conductor in 1976, the baton was passed to John Carruth, who led the orchestra until his retirement in 1995. The orchestra experienced tremendous growth under Mr. Carruth’s direction, utilizing many local teachers and musicians. It was under John Carruth’s tenure that musicians began to be paid for their service and the Orchestra moved towards becoming a professional, community orchestra.

Dr. Tristan Foison became Music Director in August, 1995. In October 2000, Philip Rice was selected and served as Conductor and Music Director through 2007. The 2007-2008 season utilized guest conductors as a search began for a new conductor. In July 2008, Dr. Richard Prior was named the new Music Director and Conductor. Dr. Sam Baltzer served as Artistic Director and Conductor from 2015 to 2017. Currently the Orchestra membership consists of 50-65 paid, professional musicians.

Edith Lester Harbin and youth orchestra