Musical chairs: UC offers multitude of soundboard hot spots

UPPER CUMBERLAND – Venues in the Upper Cumberland where music can be experienced year round draw tourists and attract locals. They also contribute to the local economy through employment, construction projects, tax revenue and purchases of goods and services.

And from Warren County’s Cumberland Caverns to Cookeville’s renowned Bryan Symphony Orchestra, these locales are also as different and unique as the performances they offer to audiences both big and small:

Though offerings at Crossville’s Cumberland County Playhouse (CCP) include major elements of opera, dance and challenging dramatic works, musicals have been the cornerstone of the theater’s success. With an annual budget of more than $1.8 million, the Playhouse is among Tennessee’s most self-sufficient arts institutions. Since its opening in 1965, 78-85 percent of all revenues have been from earned income. CCP operates on 80 percent earned revenue from ticket sales compared to 52 percent for most theaters nationally.

The Playhouse operates on a balanced budget and has no accumulated deficit. It is the only non-profit professional performing arts organization in Tennessee that wholly owns and operates its own major performance facility. Construction of a 27,000-square-foot expansion to the original facility has made the Playhouse a four- theater complex featuring proscenium, black box and outdoor arena spaces.

Combining a resident professional company and a staff of 16 with more than 100 visiting professionals and a large volunteer corps, the Playhouse draws professionals from across the country and volunteers from a dozen Tennessee counties. More than 50 percent of all revenues are expended for professional artist compensation.

The award winning Arts Center of Cannon County (ACCC) in Woodbury is a model for rural arts organizations. In addition to a regular theater season that includes several musicals, the ACCC hosts professional musical performances, musical training for and performances by children and youth, touring performances and holiday special musical events. Situated in an underserved rural area in a town of 2,000 and a county of 12,000, the Arts Center annually commands a worldwide audience of 40,000 through its facility and more than 100,000 through websites, publications and recording projects. Drawing on the blue-collar roots of its community, the organization focuses on self-sufficiency, fiscal responsibility and social entrepreneurship. Since its inception in 1980, the Arts Center has averaged more than 85 percent earned income and has never run an operating deficit.

Cookeville’s distinguished orchestra is a partnership between the Bryan Symphony Orchestra Association and the Tennessee Tech Department of Music. It is comprised of Tennessee Tech University professors, some of Tech’s finest students, professionals from the Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga symphonies and other professionals from Middle and East Tennessee.

“The Bryan Symphony Orchestra Association raises more than $150,000 annually in support of the orchestra, which benefits the community, the Tech music department and the audience,” said Dan Allcott, professor of music, Tennessee Tech University and Bryan Symphony Orchestra director.

Allcott said that the orchestra draws more than 450 season subscribers and other guests from across a seven-county area to five concert season performances. In addition, a free concert is held in Dogwood Park that attracts between 1,500-2,000 people each Labor Day weekend.

“Each year the symphony partners with the Putnam County Schools to present an educational concert for more than 800 fourth graders,” Allcott added. “On two occasions, more than 400 fourth graders from Warren County have attended.”

Throughout the academic year, the music department at Tennessee Tech draws guests to the region for faculty and student performances. Large ensembles include the concert, athletic and troubadours jazz bands, the choral ensemble and the Byron and University orchestras.

“The large ensembles have the greatest economic impact,” said R. Winston Morris, professor of music and instructor of tuba and euphonium at TTU. “Many smaller groups, faculty ensembles and studio ensembles also contribute to the massive number of public performances the department presents each year.”

Public chamber and specialty ensemble performances feature the Brass Arts Chamber Quintet, the Cumberland Quintet, Trombone Choir and Trumpet Ensemble and Tuba Ensemble. Studio programs showcase percussion, saxophone, trombone, trumpet, voice and tuba and euphonium.

“For example, my (tuba) studio alone presented more than 60 performances this academic year from our eighth Carnegie Hall appearance to producing our 28th recording,” Morris said.

On Saturday nights in Granville in Jackson County, the Sutton Ole Time Music Hour features bluegrass and traditional music, with different performers appearing each week in the restored T.B. Sutton General Store. The performances are taped for syndication and are now being featured on radio stations throughout the South.

The Palace Theatre opened in November 1938 in Crossville as a movie house. In recent years through a dedicated community effort, the arts deco building was fully restored and is now a multi-use community auditorium, visitors’ center and venue for live entertainment in variety of musical styles, including jazz, blues, country, bluegrass and rock.

The Good News Theater hosts musical theater at its playhouse on Highway 111 in Byrdstown. “They are very inclusive of the children in the area and offer a lot of cultural opportunities that they would not otherwise get in this remote area,” said Lana Rossi, Byrdstown business owner and local chamber secretary/treasurer.

Area eateries have recognized that offering music along with food is good for business.

“Byrdstown and Pickett County are definitely the music center on Saturday nights,” said Janice Neal of the Byrdstown-Pickett County Chamber of Commerce. “Live music at the Dixie Café has been a big success, even during the winter months and the terrible economy. The Country Kitchen realized that live music is a good accompaniment to good food. Olds 88 plays regularly there. On Saturday nights this summer Pier 42 Restaurant at Sunset Marina will host the E. J. Rider Band.” 

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