In 1928, a small group of music lovers founded the Corning–Painted Post Civic Music Association, pledging to bring an annual series of concerts to Corning by noted musicians, ensembles, and large orchestras. That autumn, Elmer E. Meadley, the secretary of the Corning Chamber of Commerce, and Charles C. Corwin, Corning’s top authority in music, signed a contract of affiliation with the Civic Concert Society, a national programming institute based in Chicago.
The new Civic Music Association became the 130th affiliate in the nation and the third in New York State. Local branches in small communities would solicit subscriptions for a “blind season.” That is, the year’s performers would not be selected until the funds subscribed had been delivered to the Chicago office. Asking subscribers to take such a leap of faith was intended to prevent deficits, and it did so.
The 116 charter members of Civic Music elected Ena Corwin as its president, a post she held for six years. In the first annual membership drive, enough people subscribed to finance a three-concert season. Although “pig in a poke” programming was eventually abandoned, none could complain of the way it functioned that initial year. Gladys Swarthout, mezzo-soprano, and Paul Kochanski, violinist, pleased the audience immensely. In fact, Swarthout made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the fall of 1929 and was a popular star there for the next 16 seasons.
When the Chicago Civic Concert Society disbanded, Civic Music found other agents in New York City. For many years we have been an independent organization, working with agents for musicians from around the world.
Early Civic Music events were black-tie affairs with dinners before the concerts and gatherings afterwards. Programs were presented in the old Corning Opera House, later called the State Theater, and subsequently in three local high school auditoriums.
Civic Music audiences have enjoyed performances in the Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) Auditorium since 1951. Our concerts were held in the Elmira Clemens Center during 1996 and 1997 while the CMoG Auditorium was renovated and modernized.
Civic Music’s original mission was to offer classical music performances to our area. Over the years, the group has broadened the diversity of its programs to include jazz, choral, and popular music.
In 1975, to help acquaint the youth of our community with their music heritage, we inaugurated a youth program that regularly brings visiting musicians into our schools.
Civic Music, still flourishing after almost 90 years, is our community’s oldest continuing performing arts organization. Our subscribers, patrons, and sponsors, along with a group of dedicated volunteers, ensure that Corning will continue to be on the itinerary of great musicians for decades to come.