By Cody Neff
Now in its 75th year, Beckley Concert Association has been proudly bringing live music to the region. Since its creation in 1938, the organization has touched thousands of local lives as well as the lives of the performers from around the world.
BCA began when a small group of locals met in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building. A few other groups and organizations also showed up to help, including a representative from Columbia Concerts in New York who was there to give advice. BCA and Columbia Concerts would end up being partners for over 50 years.
Members of BCA say that the first meeting wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for the help of the Monday Music Club.
Things started relatively small for BCA, with their first headquarters in the lobby of Raleigh County Bank. Volunteers and members worked together to drum up membership, which began with 758 members.
Early problems that Beckley Concert Association faced were a lack of a piano and the rigid rules of Columbia Concerts. BCA didn’t have a piano of its own, so a piano had to be brought from Charleston for each performance. Members say the piano was often late because of the condition of local roads and bad weather.
This problem was solved when the Monday Music Club helped gather donations to buy a reconditioned Baldwin grand piano.
Dealing with Columbia Concerts wasn’t an issue after 1996, when BCA decided to split from the group’s tight rules.
“People couldn’t buy or sell individual memberships,” board member Margaret Sayre said. “We felt constrained, and leaving was a moment of rejuvenation for us.”
Association members say it’s come a long way from meeting in lobbies and it now has its own office and supplies. “We were recently given a corporate copier,” treasurer Connie Woods said. “We’re getting some facilities where we can work and all gather together for meetings and that kind of thing. That has really helped, too.”
Through all of the changes that the BCA has undergone, it has still kept the same concert hall. Almost all of the concerts hosted by the BCA have been performed in the Woodrow Wilson High School auditorium, where concerts have had attendance that ranged from 150 to 700.
It is through volunteer work and donations that the BCA is able to work and thrive within the community.
“We’ve never had a paid employee,” Sayre said. “We’re very proud of that.”
The Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and West Virginia Commission on the Arts have also provided grants to BCA throughout its existence.
This 75th anniversary has given BCA time to reflect on its blessings.
“We have such a dedicated board of directors and a committed group of members coming not just from Beckley, but from all around,” board of directors member and publicity chair Peggy Debnam said. “It’s just wonderful to have their support and continued efforts to help us bring better shows and performances to Beckley.”
BCA officials say they would not have been successful without the people in the community who have put in so much time and effort.
The association is still going strong and has already started to look to the future. Aside from trying to keep up with the advancing technology of the times, they want to expand their membership.
“We need to continue acquiring new membership in younger people,” Woods said.
BCA members have recently been working to introduce locals of all ages and preferences to types of music that they may not typically listen to.
“I think the most overwhelming thing to me is changing the programs into diversified programs so that we reach more people within the area,” Woods said. “We reach people who do not like classical, but they like bluegrass, or vice versa.”
BCA has also used its recent workshops as both a teaching tool and a way to show children the importance of music.
“We go into the schools and the artists present workshops concerning their concerts or their musical instruments, or how they got started in the business,” Woods added. “That’s very important because you need to start with the individuals when they’re young.”
Debnam says students can bring in their own instruments or play instruments brought in by the artists, giving the workshops an interactive element.
“It’s exciting for the students because they don’t want the artist to leave,” Woods added. “The artists want to stay too because they can’t get enough.”
BCA says the excitement of bringing music to the masses is one of the most rewarding aspects of the organization.
“The main thing is when you see people come into the auditorium and you see how excited they get when they hear the music,” Woods said. “It’s wonderful just to sit there and watch everyone’s smiling faces.”
The season’s schedule will be announced soon, said Debnam.
Beckley Concert Association can be reached by phone at 304-253-3535 or by visiting their website at www.beckleyconcerts.org.
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