The Speed Of Sound
● By Aimee Cormier
By Amanda Jean Harris
Photos By The Acadiana Symphony Orchestra
Millicent Matthews grew up going to the symphony. It was a part of life from a young age. Five years ago the busy mother of three and real estate agent joined the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra’s Women’s League, carrying on the tradition laid by her own mother. She believes, quite simply, ASO does much for our community.
She is not alone.
“I really believe that it enriches our culture and the music is beautiful,” Matthews says. “I think it’s wonderful for children and for adults.”
The power of the symphony lies far beyond the city of Lafayette or music alone. It’s about more than performances. They are a force throughout Acadiana in ways many may not realize as they move into areas not traditionally thought of to host what some consider “high brow” in the world of music. Rebecca Doucet, the deputy director of ASO points toward the name as an indicator of where the group is headed — Acadiana, which covers more than just Lafayette.
Most recently ASO can be found in New Iberia where the group has brought a concert series for the last few years. “It’s very well received and they are free,” Doucet says. The funding for the free series is thanks to Iberia Parish Cultural Resources Association and also includes an educational arm to the effort through the Epiphany Day School.
“They are an arts integrative school and they really have an understanding of how the arts impact education and how learning can be enhanced through the arts. It’s a natural partnership,” Doucet says of the school. “We’re happy to do it in the hopes that a model will be used in other places as we start to look at our vision.”
The vision for ASO is one that is in progress. In fact, Vision ‘16 is the last year of a three-year plan from ASO. Now, the group is working to solidify the next artistic vision. “We are looking at who we are again and what we are doing and where do we want to go?” Doucet says.
At present, ASO is reaching beyond its Lafayette borders and moving into Abbeville with a concert and is also looking to Houma as interest is growing. While beautifully done (and more typically known) performances at the Heymann Performing Arts Center in Lafayette are part of ASO’s tradition, the organization is move to include more out-of-the-box offerings in both substance and location.
“We are looking to be more diverse … we are not limited to Lafayette and while we will always be here the musicians are hungry to work more and do more and our staff as well. We want our reach to be as far and as wide as possible,” Doucet says.
ASO is one of only three orchestras in the nation that also boasts a conservatory. Cities far larger have less by the way of classical music options. And Doucet says the people of Acadiana are to credit with the existence of a flourishing ASO that reaches into less populated areas or smaller cities that outside of this region have no access to experiences the caliber of the symphony.
“I think it’s Louisiana and especially our area. We are culturally rich and we have an expectation for our community. People have an appreciation for the arts and music especially in this area of the country. It’s a part of our culture and I think that’s part of the reason a city the size of Lafayette as well as New Iberia, Abbeville or Houma might be willing to put forth funding or collaborate for the partnership to have these experiences. They value it because it’s a part of who we are. Our heritage is so embedded in culture and music.”
While traditional Cajun and Creole sounds with zydeco influence and indigenous inspiration are certainly the hallmark of the region, Doucet says the general appreciation and love for music bleeds into the territory of ASO.
“Louisiana is such a melting pot so it’s this broad appreciation that people have here that you may not find in another town,” she says.
While the well-known classics are a part of ASO and beloved by supporters like Matthews who plays them in her home in lieu of other music, ASO is a diverse organization that offers some unexpected musical fare. “There is a stigma or an impression that it is a high brow or affluent experience and while that may have been true in the past in some ways. It’s no longer true. Regardless of socioeconomic status, you can enjoy this music.”
ASO has an inclusive approach offering access to performances to those who otherwise may not be able to afford it. The inclusive aim also includes other types of music as well.
“We partner with our conservatory and we are in contact with people that may not normally access the symphony and we want people to feel comfortable,” she says pointing toward efforts like the “Roots” series, Disney concerts as well as recent performances connected to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Robert Plant. “Much of that music was written to have a full orchestra behind them and traveling with that became expensive.” Doucet says.
Doucet says ASO is trying to bridge the gap between more standard symphony sounds and modern music or unexpected collaborations. “We also stay true to classical music. We are evolving and we have music that represents what’s going on at that time. We have to adapt,” she says. “What does our community want and how can we give that and maintain the quality?”
Doucet herself has a love for music. Married to a musician (a fiddler), Doucet is drawn to the music and inspired by it. She is not alone. While neither Matthews nor her children play music (the kids love sports) they have an appreciation for the beauty of what ASO offers. And it is her hope to reach more people through the unique spin ASO takes on music.
“If we can draw people in with things that are out-of-the-box, people will take an interest and maybe they will be more interested in the traditional classical,” Matthews says. “We welcome anybody in the Acadiana Women’s Symphony League. You don’t have to be from a specific social background.”
Outreach and education is a paramount arm of ASO and one leaders like Doucet and executive director Jenny Krueger take seriously and do so creatively. In recent years, ASO has published a regular magazine — Overture — to infuse ASO and the arts and culture of Lafayette in a way that reaches people who may never go to a performance.
“Overture publication — we look at it as an adult education piece and a way for us to connect to a wider audience that we may otherwise never reach. We have great content and it’s a beautiful magazine about various arts — fine arts and folk arts. Our culture is so heavy in Cajun and Creole and zydeco that some people are not aware as much of the fine arts. Those two worlds don’t collide and those communities may not know about each other. Overture does that.”
Whether it’s a breakdown of the beloved Blackpot Festival or showing musicians’ everyday lives, Overture is a window into the arts scene across the board.
“The idea was to get behind the scenes and show what’s going on in the arts community. It’s a way for us to get our message out there and it’s a full-fledged magazine with professionals. We brought in people who know what they are doing and the symphony comes up with the content.”