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April 6, 2001

In the last column, I wrote about the night in 1973 when the Perry Arts & Humanities Council was formed. At that time, there was no other organization in Perry attempting to coordinate the needs and satisfy the cultural appetites of Perry citizens. The Brush & Pallette Club was in existence but the primary concern there was to provide instruction and encouragement to the growing number of artists in this community. More about that aspect will be forthcoming.

The driving force behind the formation of an Arts & Humanities Council came from several Perry citizens as they awaited completion of the new Perry high school auditorium on the junior-senior high school campus. The building was to have a seating capacity of 999. The contractor hired an audio engineer for advice on providing the best possible sound quality. Also included were comfortable theatre seats, carpeted aisles, a waterfall front curtain on the stage, the latest controls for lighting, central cooling and heating and as many features as the school could afford, with local assistance, to give this community a marvelous new auditorium. The next question to be answered was, how best to utilize it? That was not to be the job of the Perry school district. The answer was to be provided by the Perry Arts & Humanities Council. Its new officers and members approached the task with great relish.

While the A&H Council was gearing up for its task, Perry district school board members took it upon themselves to book an attraction for a formal “opening night” performance when the auditorium was ready. They arranged for a concert in the new building by the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday night, October 16, 1973, and the news of that coming performance was greeted with cheers by the more than 400 members of the Arts & Humanities Council. Tickets went on sale with reserved seats priced at $4, and the response from purchasers was almost overwhelming. An afternoon session was scheduled by the orchestra, with Ray Luke as conductor, to introduce classical music to all children of this area. Youngsters were admitted without charge. School buses from surrounding towns brought boys and girls to Perry for the treat, and most of them admitted they were delighted by what they learned. Mr. Luke and individual members of the orchestra lavishly complimented residents of the community for the beautiful new auditorium. Music by Mendelssohn, Mozart, Rossini, Wagner, Schuman and Fernandez enthralled the opening night audience.

In subsequent years, the Arts & Humanities Council assumed responsibility for bringing more groups to Perry for concerts and performances in the auditorium. In December 1973 the A&H Council brought the Madrigal Singers of Oklahoma City University here for a Christmas concert. In 1974 the Oklahoma City Symphony returned with its new conductor, Ainslee Cox, and Perry’s own piano virtuoso, Anne Sherwood, played a Beethoven concerto with the orchestra. In 1976 Mr. Cox again brought the Symphony here for an April concert. In 1978 the Metropolitan Ballet Company of Oklahoma City joined the Symphony here for a ballet with nine scenes. Mr. Cox provided program notes during the evening and added, concerning the auditorium: “For us, it is a very comfortable hall and we are able to hear ourselves very well.” He said it was one of the most beautiful halls in which the Oklahoma City orchestra performed. In the previous fall that season, the Tulsa Philharmonic also was brought here for an evening’s performance. So, the Perry audience was treated to two orchestral performances that year, but that was the last of them. The Arts & Humanities Council ceased to exist as leadership declined. No other agency stepped in to fill the void. More on this subject will follow soon.