Kibitz (Chat) 3.0 – New blog post chatting with Karen Kapella, Executive Director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SoNA)

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This week we were so very thrilled to speak with Karen Kapella, Executive Director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas otherwise known as SoNA.  It is no secret that Northwest Arkansas has become a mecca for the arts in recent years from things like the Walton Arts Center to Crystal Bridges to the 21c Hotel and Museum, but one of the other true art gems in our community has been here for nearly 60 years and that is the symphony orchestra, which is doing amazing things in our community and really throughout the world.  We appreciate Karen and her team for their time and dedication to bringing access to beautiful music to Northwest Arkansas.


Tell us about the history of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas...  

[caption id="attachment_2590" align="alignleft" width="300"]symphony orchestra Credit: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JASON IVESTER -- Karen Kapella; shot inside her Siloam Springs home for nwprofiles[/caption]

Many people do not realize that the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas was actually founded in 1954 as the North Arkansas Symphony. We will celebrate sixty years as an organization in 2014.  Long before the Walton Arts Center was created, the symphony started playing in churches all throughout the region.

In 2008, the North Arkansas Symphony faced some challenges like many other orchestras nationwide, and the staff and board realized we needed cease operations until we could truly rebuild the organization to meet a sustainable program.  We took a couple years to really examine where we had been, and where we wanted to be.  We created a task force to help us survey the community, and the results were clear  - Northwest Arkansas demanded an orchestra of the highest artistic level.

With a new operating model, we made many decisions for positive change to enhance our orchestra.  One of those was changing our name to the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas.  We also examined the true logistics of having this type of organization.  To produce a symphony orchestra is one of the most expensive productions throughout all the arts.  It requires a conductor, lighting, sound, travel, rehearsals, 70 musicians, a venue, etc. We took our time building a budget to accommodate this program, and also began a national search for a conductor which led us to Paul Haas a graduate of Yale University and The Juilliard School.  Paul's experience and depth were a game changer for our organization.

We held open/blind auditions for the orchestra, which is the fairest way to select participants to build the orchestra.  This type of auditioning has the participant sit behind a curtain and play, and they are judged solely on their skill and performance.  So, it could be a 12 year girl playing or a 90 year old man playing but all were judged on skill alone.  We auditioned over the seven state area, and people came from all over the country and beyond to audition.

I was incredibly excited when selections were made that over half those selected all based on skill level were people here in Northwest Arkansas, and the other half are people from an eight state area.  Our Concert Master flies in from Manchester, England for each performance because she believes so greatly in our symphony.

In 2011, we reopened our season after rebuilding the program to a full house and had rave reviews ever since.


 What can we look forward to this season?

 In 2012, four of our five performances were sell-outs, and we are hoping this is indicative of how successful this year will be also.  Our first concert of this season will be on November 16th at Walton Arts Center with our Masterworks concert.

Though we are our own 501-c-3, the Walton Arts Center is our home and we are their resident company.

Our 2013-2014 concert series spans over five concerts that will conclude in May.  We have some really special pieces this year, and we are also so very excited that we have developed the SoNA Singers, who participate with us a few times this series.  This group consists of 50 top singers in the region who perform with our orchestra on special events.  Terry Hicks, who also leads the Bentonville Music Program leads our choral group.

Our orchestra will also be doing special Christmas and Valentine's performances.

A full schedule can be found on our website at -


What else is ahead for SoNA?

We recently were provided a matching grant from the Walton Family Foundation which will allow us to develop a position for an Education Director.  With community support we were awarded a match of up to $25,000 to develop our education program which will be targeted in schools to allow children who may not have access to music arts opportunities to experience music.  We believe every child deserves to be impacted by music and there are several studies that show how access to music helps children's lifelong learning.  We also want to develop programs to offer more accessibility to music to seniors and the elderly in our community.  We are hopeful that with community support, we will be able to develop these programs within the next year.

Also, we are eager to have more people volunteer with our organization and have many ways to plug those with interest into our program.  Anyone interested can email to get more information.


Last modified onTuesday, 15 March 2016 13:25