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Symphony shift aimed at bringing music to younger ears

Published on

Cathy Dobson

It’s moving day for the International Symphony Orchestra and executive director Anthony Wing is in the thick of things.

“It’s an ambitious step that we’ve carefully planned,” he says, readying boxes by the door at 251 Vidal, home to the ISO until last week.

“But I wish I’d done this in my 20s when getting no sleep wasn’t a problem,” he joked.

Wing has put in long days – and evenings- preparing the ISO’s new downtown location at 143 Christina Street.  He’s done a lot of the physical work himself, carting furniture and painting walls.

The move is critical to the ISO because it will make it easier to partner with other cultural nearby entities, like the Imperial Theatre, the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts and the JNAAG art gallery.

Wing hopes it will also attract a younger following, with space to host casual lunchtime concerts and participate in First Friday festivities each month.

The new space is a former dance studio with room for a stage to present chamber music, as well as other musical genres.

There’s also room for the symphony’s administration, a comfortable reception area, kitchen, storage and bar set-up during performance events. The idea is that the new location can be easily transformed into a public area and cultural centre.

The front windows will display works by local artists, starting with the photography of Lou Sprenger, the ISO’s photographer the past several years.

Moving downtown is just part of the plan to raise the symphony’s profile and boost membership.

Monica Coombs, the new office and marketing co-ordinator, is using social media to inform a younger audience.

The bulk of the symphony’s members are 60 years plus, said Wing. “We’re looking to shift and replenish our audience, keeping our current demographic and finding younger people too.”

Coombs is also co-ordinating a rebranding of the orchestra, working with a graphic designer on a new logo and website going live in about a month. Online ticket and subscription sales will be introduced by fall.

“It’s intended to widen our reach in southwestern Ontario but mostly in Michigan,” said Wing. “We predict a nice hike in American sales.”

Meanwhile, the ISO is preparing for two youth-oriented events. The first is June 19 when ISO members will visit four elementary schools to present Music Makes Sound Sense.

And registration has started for the popular Summer Strings program, taking place the week of July 22. Registrants are taught to play string instruments by principal cello Barb Armstrong and principal viola Steve Collins.

The ISO just wrapped its 61st season with about 100 U.S. and Canadian musicians. Together they present 12 shows a year, six in Sarnia and six in Port Huron.

Subscriptions for the 2019-20 season are on sale now at early bird prices.  One adult subscription is currently $188.15, instead of the regular $225 price.

For more, call the new Symphony office at 519-337-7775, visit, or view the new Facebook page.

The Arts Journal welcomes story ideas about everything cultural in Sarnia. Contact [email protected].

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