Beginning a Second Century
The Aberdeen University-Civic Symphony (AUCS) is a joint undertaking of Northern State University’s music department and area musicians. The ensemble provides multiple symphonic concerts annually for the enjoyment of the city and region. Formed in 1919 in the aftermath of World War I and a worldwide influenza epidemic, the AUCS embarks on its second century this season in the midst of another challenging year, again uplifting the community with the beauty of music.
The Northern Normal and Industrial School (as NSU was initially known) offered teacher music training from its inception. In fact, Lydia A. Graham, an original faculty member when Normal opened in 1902, was the principal instructor for public school music for many years.
Over the first couple decades, the Normal music program grew, offering not only courses in classroom music but also individual instruction in various instruments, voice and piano. During this period, numerous ensembles—such as a band, orchestra, choruses, and small instrumental groups—existed on campus each year, always dependent on the talent available during that particular school term. There were also an annual series of guest artist concerts on campus and, for many years, a Spring Festival, which featured visits to Aberdeen by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.
In 1919, with the Great War over, life in Aberdeen and at NNIS was getting back to normal. That summer, concerts by a municipal band under the direction of Howard C. Bronson were enthusiastically received by the community. Since the band was such a success, it was proposed that a civic symphony organization be formed. After some efforts throughout the fall of that year, the Aberdeen Symphony had its debut rehearsal on Feb. 18, 1920, under director Howard Elson Goodsell, who was dean of the NNIS music department. The local newspapers reported favorably on the first organizational meeting of the new ensemble, which included students from the Normal school as well as city and high school players. The Aberdeen American noted that the orchestra “ … gives every promise of developing into a first class musical organization.”
Howard Goodsell became a prominent and beloved member of the community by providing Aberdeen with professional and high quality concerts. One such concert was noted as “a splendid success and a real musical treat. Seldom has an Aberdeen audience listened to such an entertaining program.” Other words of praise for the musical director and composer of national note were: “…he has perfected an ensemble that plays with the precision and assurance seldom found in larger orchestras.” Under Professor Goodsell’s 20-year leadership - the longest tenure of any of its conductors - the symphony grew from an amateur group to a full symphony orchestra.
In 2010, as the orchestra celebrated its 90th anniversary, the Friends of the Aberdeen University-Civic Symphony was organized, reviving the community board component that Goodsell had initiated in 1920. In 2014, the Friends board created a plaque honoring all 16 conductors of the orchestra; the plaque currently hangs in the lobby of the Johnson Fine Arts Center, the orchestra’s campus home.
Dr. Christopher Stanichar is the 17th conductor of the AUCS. As the leader of the oldest, continually running orchestra in South Dakota, Dr. Stanichar is enthusiastically guiding the AUCS into its next century, reviving the tradition of having high school musicians join the ranks of the ensemble and creating appealing, thoughtful programs of both musical standards and newer compositions.