Newly tapped musical director and conductor of the Macon Symphony Orchestra Gerald Steichen blew into town week before last for a three-day visit. Enthusiasm for the arrival of the new musical director is palpable after the rave reviews he received as MSO's guest conductor for last October's concert, "Symphonic Tricks and Orchestral Treats," at the Grand Opera House.
After Sheryl Towers, CEO of the MSO, gave Macon's most eager hosts a heads up that Steichen would be in town, impromptu get-togethers were planned to give the new conductor a taste of Southern hospitality. Edward Eikner, professor emeritus as Comer Professor of Fine Art at Wesleyan College and legendary gourmand, introduced Steichen to some friends and to his elegant cuisine, capping off dinner with a traditional Southern pound cake from the kitchen of another well known local pianist, Nancy Rehberg.
Lucy Allen opened her home in the Intown Historic District for a reception hosted with Lee Laughter, Lisa Moore, Trudie Sessions and pianist Susan McDuffie, who was accompanied by saxophonist Ted Robinson for a little improvisational jazz to entertain the new conductor from Oklahoma.
On Steichen's last day in town, Stephen Reichert introduced him to a few board members of the oldest institution promoting classical music in Macon, the Macon Concert Association. Over brunch, Reichert, Janice Brice, Stella Tsai, Ken Deaton, Eikner and others heard Steichen's plans for the symphony to become more integrated into the fiber of Macon and Middle Georgia.
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MAN ON A MISSION
One of Steichen's missions is the exposure of young people to music at an early age, which he considers essential to their academic and social success -- a sentiment shared by many academicians as they see art programs in schools eliminated. He is also passionate about outreach, taking the music to venues other than a symphony hall. He mentioned surrounding towns he would like to visit with the orchestra, outdoor locations that would be ideal for music and a picnic, and how impressed he is with the many venues that support music in Macon.
EXPLORING BLACK HISTORY
On Feb. 27, H&H Restaurant served a portable brunch to a group of visitors gathered at the Ruth Hartley Moseley Women's Center on Spring Street before they boarded the trolley for a tour of the Cotton Avenue District, a six-block area surrounding D.T. Walton Way, once part of Cotton Avenue. With the new brochures for self-guided tours in hand, about 25 tour-goers listened to guide George Muhammad highlight the history of Steward African Methodist Episcopal Church on Forsyth Street, first stop on the tour.
Pastor Charles Lewis recounted the history of the oldest church in Macon built and owned by blacks, founded in 1865 and named for the Rev. T.G. Steward. The church was the first to establish a primary school when there were no schools for the children of freed men after the Civil War.
The next stop, First Baptist Church on New Street, was founded by blacks who had attended First Baptist Church on High Street before the abolition of slavery and before their number exceeded the white membership. Finally forced to worship outside, they built the existing church in 1897, according to Minister James W. Goolsby Jr.
IN HIGH COTTON
Leaving the church, the tour group walked down D.T. Walton Way to see the restoration of a cluster of buildings, circa 1914, at the corner of Plum Street, which once housed the Macon Pharmacy, the Independent Cash Market and the White Elk Water Company. In 1986, Alex C. Habersham restored the building where he publishes the Macon-Middle Georgia Black Pages, a resource guide to minority-owned businesses.
The group met Brian Nichols, the new owner of the former Capricorn -- Phil Walden & Associates building, also on D.T. Walton Way, and listened to his plans for commercial and loft space behind a façade he is restoring to the Capricorn era.
The final stop in the Cotton Avenue district was Washington Avenue Presbyterian Church, an 1875 Gothic revival building that was remodeled with a brick veneer in 1904. Pastor Kenneth C. Moye greeted his visitors on the steps of a church that houses one of the oldest minority congregations in the country, having organized around 1838. The preservation of the churches, their original pews and their stained glass windows is remarkable considering the economic downturns during the last 150 years.
The importance of black history to Macon can be celebrated 12 months of the year; pick up a brochure at Historic Macon Foundation or at the Ruth Hartley Moseley Center and start walking!