Sweet mountain melodies

KSO and Alexander celebrate the founding of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Lamar Alexander plays with the KSO in Cades Cove

Lamar Alexander performs with the KSO in ...

Knoxville Symphony Orchestra musicians, clad in tuxedos and evening wear, could have been stepping onto the stage at Carnegie Hall.

This venue, however, was much more majestic than the New York skyline.

The KSO serenaded the serenity of Cades Cove and boomed the majesty of the surrounding mountains for 90 minutes Saturday as concert-goers soaked in the sunshine and beauty of Cades Cove and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The concert was organized to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and as a fund raiser for Friends of the Smokies.

It was a repeat performance for three individuals on stage: U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and KSO members Norris Dryer and Bruce Wilhite.

Alexander played with the KSO in Cades Cove during the 1984 celebration when he was Tennessee’s governor. Alexander said that when he was governor he gave piano concerts as a way to celebrate the music of the state.

Just before he took the stage, Alexander praised those who organized the event. “This is terrific,” he said. “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the state than to celebrate our mountains and music.”

Norris Dryer, a violinist with the KSO, was part of the symphony during that concert in the Park in 1984. Dryer has played violin 57 years, and this is his 41st year with the KSO.

Dryer said that after 25 years, it’s difficult to remember everything about that afternoon. “I remember an equally beautiful day,” he said.

He also said he thought the 75th anniversary celebration was better organized than the one in 1984, in part because there was a limit on the number of cars allowed. In 1984, Dryer remembers a traffic jam that didn’t end before the concert began. “When the concert ended, there were still people coming in,” he said.

Bruce Wilhite plays the cello with the KSO. Performing in Cades Cove again brought him back to where he spent many of his weekends hiking while growing up.

“My family has lived in East Tennessee since the 1780s,” he said. “It’s exciting to be back here. I grew up hiking in these mountains. I’ve hiked most of the trails on the Tennessee side.”

Nancy Gray, spokesperson for the GSMNP, said 1,300 parking passes were sold. “We estimate on average there were four people per car so we’re estimating about 5,200 people.”

There were about 1,000 people at the last KSO concert in the park in 1984.

David Reeves of Blount County said he loves hearing the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. “I think it’s neat they’re willing to come out here to play in the Smoky Mountains,” he said. “I was amazed they played Rocky Top.”

James Carlson saw the fulfillment of a dream at the anniversary. He was commissioned to compose the piece the orchestra played as the celebration piece for the event.

“It’s what every composer dreams of,” he said of composing for the special event. His piece was titled “Off Trail in the Smokies.”

Dale Ditmanson, superintendent of the park, said the beauty of the Smokies inspired song. “If this doesn’t make you think of a melody, I don’t know what will,” he said.

Maestro Lucas Richman, conductor of the orchestra, said the concert was a special experience because of the setting. Coming out of the concert hall is part of the KSO’s ongoing efforts to reach out to the community with their music. The conductor thanked the park rangers and staff, the KSO and Friends of the Smokies volunteers who made the event possible. “It’s been a wonderful collaboration,” he said.

County Mayor Jerry Cunningham praised the organizers. “It exceeded my expectations,” he said. “Dale Ditmanson and his folks did a wonderful job.”

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