A History of Community Concerts

Listing of Tehama County Community Concert performers 1938 – Present

The history of Community Concerts parallels in many ways that of the past century. During the 1920s, radio, film, and the phonograph gave millions of Americans their first taste of professional-quality performing arts. There was a problem, though. This problem was that while America’s interest in great, live music was growing, the audiences to support such concerts were largely confined to major cities, while hundreds more cities had no concerts at all, for it was too risky a business. It would be up to some group like the local ladies’ musical club to try to bring some noted musical artist or group to their city, which first meant lining up some deep pockets to underwrite the cost. Guarantors too often got stuck with meeting a deficit when attendance might rise or fall depending on the public’s whims, the weather, or competition from other local events.

Community Concerts proved to be the solution to this problem. Community Concerts started on a shoe-string budget in Chicago in 1920, the brainchild of two music managers, Dema Harshbarger and Ward French. It was an idea born of desperation. They were faced with declining concert dates for their artists as both small towns and larger cities were cutting back on concert presentations. The idea that French and his associate came up with was disarmingly simple. They proposed to do away with such local financial risk by organizing a permanent concert association on a non-profit membership basis, raising funds through an intensive one-week campaign. Once the money was raised, artists would be engaged within the limits of the available funds. Sale of single admissions would be done away with — only members could attend the concerts. Thus was born the organized membership concert audience movement.

The idea blossomed and fostered cultural development on an unprecedented scale. Families who had been indifferent to “highbrow” single concerts were attracted to a whole season with varied offerings at a reasonable price. A new appreciation for the performing arts, deeply rooted in community spirit, steadily developed across North America, contributing to the growth of local symphonies, theatres, and dance companies. The first year saw the new idea planted in 12 cities, and by the end of the second year 40 cities in the Middle West had organized membership concert audiences. By 1928, the movement was organized in New York City as the Community Concert Association, with French as its president. In 1930 the nation’s leading artist management organizations, Columbia Artists Management, Inc. and National Artist Service (representing a majority of the established musical artists and attractions) put the weight of their artistic and financial support behind Community Concerts. Despite the ravages of the Great Depression in those years, the organized concert membership movement rapidly expanded as artists could depend upon a network of cities with money in the bank to pay for the season’s concerts even before contracts were signed. This meant their fees could be lowered as concert tours were expanded, and the organized audience movement became a significant new artistic and cultural development for the nation. As the nation emerged from the traumas of the Depression and World War II, Community Concerts expanded rapidly. Concert Associations were formed in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and even, briefly, South Africa.

In 1993, Community Concerts restructured its relationship with Columbia Artists Management, Inc., its longtime parent company, and was free to feature artists outside the CAMI roster and make its own artistic decisions. In 1999, Trawick Artists Management purchased the company and continued to provide national leadership until its demise in 2002. The 2002-2003 season was the first that local Community Concert Associations operated independently of any national organization. There are several new national organizations that will provide the services that Trawick provided if the local Community Concert Associations wishes to join them.

The Tehama County Community Concert Association

The Tehama County Community Concert Association began in 1938. We have enjoyed some wonderful performances, including concerts by the Trapp Family Singers, the Slovak Chamber Orchestra, the Texas Boys Choir, and Nan Merriman. Since the demise of Trawick, Tehama County has been left with its own, independent and locally elected Board of Directors that make all the arrangements for the concerts. The Tehama County Board enjoys bringing great musical and artistic talent to Tehama County and will continue to provide quality entertainment for our subscribers!