Chattanooga is often referred to as "the best mid-size city in America." Along with the scenic beauty of its mountains, the river and the waterfront construction, Chattanooga has a rich cultural heritage dating back to pre Civil War times. The Chattanooga Music Club is one of those organizations that have played a leadership role in the city's fine arts for well over a century.
In the year 1896, a small group of musicians formed the Chattanooga Music Club, dedicating itself to the stimulation of interest in "the beauties of art" in Chattanooga. An early yearbook stated: "The Chattanooga Music Club has never had an ax to grind, a fad to popularize, or a faction to promote, but has had one interest alone-to keep alive in Chattanooga the love of good music by bringing to Chattanooga the very best artists and musical organizations obtainable."
The first president was Frank L. Case and was followed in 1899 by Howard Smith. Programs featuring two countries were given twice a month. Dues were $3; visitors: 15 cents. Through the efforts of the CMC, many other groups were organized: The Mutual Benefit Club, 1909; the St. Cecelia Chorus organized by CMC member Stella Weitzel; the MacDowell Club, organized by Mrs. Elizabeth Bettis, a pupil of Edward MacDowell; The Chattanooga Male Chorus; the Community Concert Association; the Cadek Choral Society, later named The Chattanooga Civic Chorus, formed under the direction of CMC member Dr. J. Oscar Miller.
Professor Joseph O. Cadek, a talented and gifted violinist who came to America from Bohemia in 1893, became CMC president in 1918. He was president of the Southern Conservatory of music 1899-1903, resigning in 1903 to establish the Cadek Conservatory of Music the following year. Over a period of 27 years he was instrumental in bringing many of the world's greatest artists to Chattanooga. He organized and conducted orchestras such as The Cadek Orchestra, The Cadek Symphony, The Chattanooga Symphony and The Chattanooga Orchestral Club. With his death in 1927, Joseph Cadek's conservatory of music passed to his sons Harold and Ottokar, and daughter Lillian, all superb musicians and members of the CMC.
In the early 1930s, a small group of talented musicians at the University of Chattanooga was organized. Stella Weitzel requested financial aid from the Chamber of Commerce in sustaining the group. A small contribution was made, and in 1936 the CMC gave financial assistance to the small group. Dr. Arthur Plettner was brought to Chattanooga to direct the group in 1937 by Dr. Alex Guerry at UC. After a request for help from the CMC, the Jr. Chamber of Commerce added their support. Dr. Plettner developed the struggling nucleus into a symphony orchestra. Later, Chattanooga's own civic orchestra was formed, with Dr. Joseph Hawthorne conducting the first concert on November 7, 1949.
As a result of WWII, Dr. and Mrs. Werner (Emmy Land) Wolfe, who had won acclaim in the capitols of Europe, were forced to leave Nazi Germany. Upon coming to the U.S., they located in Athens, Tennessee, later coming to Chattanooga to join the UC faculty. There were occasional performances by the Metropolitan Opera Co., the Chicago Opera Co. and other lesser known companies in Chattanooga, but there was no sustained support of opera until the Chattanooga Opera Co. was founded in 1943. Their first production was /I Trovatore by the UC Opera Department on October 18, 1943. Dr. Wolff served as conductor, assisted by his wife Emmy Land as dramatic director.
Dr. Edwin S. Lindsay was elected chairman at the organizational meeting of the Opera Board and J. Kent Boyd the first president. The first performance (Carmen) was presented at the Frye Institute, where CMC member Weitzel was president and manager. She asked Mr. E.Y. Chapin for aid in organizing an opera association. With his help and material assistance, the Opera Association was formed and Dr. Wolff became director.
During World Wars I and II, the philanthropic work of the CMC and its contributions to the war effort were many. Soldiers and WACS were entertained with programs at the USO Club in Ft. Oglethorpe, GA; a grand piano was presented to the USO; seasonal parties were given; musicals were given every month for the entire duration of the war; contributions were made to the Red Cross; and the CMC participated in the purchase of musical instruments for hospital ships. Five hundred soldiers attended a Christmas party given by the CMC at the Service Club in 1942.
One of the most rewarding achievements of the CMC was the establishment of a scholarship program for students through competitive auditions. In 1946 the first Elizabeth Windsor Scholze Scholarship was awarded to Opal Rhea, who later went to New York to study and concertize. Years later, when funding was no longer available, the CMC began raising money for the scholarships and the name was changed to The Chattanooga Music Club Scholarships. To date 144 students have received scholarship awards. Many have become professional vocalists, instrumentalists, private and classroom teachers, band and orchestra leaders, church musicians, theatrical productions musicians and scores of other professions related to music.
Following WWI, a memorial to Chattanooga's servicemen was recommended. The CMC was one of several civic groups that fully supported the project. The dedication of Memorial Auditorium took place on February 22, 1924. In the dedication booklet, Mr. Chapin wrote: "The dedication of Memorial Auditorium marks ...the grateful appreciation in which Chattanooga holds her sons who offered their lives to the Nation's service in the great World War. We erect it for posterity, in commemoration of their patriotism, this hall in which mementoes of their achievements may rest; an auditorium in which great bodies of people may assemble for civic service; for the cultivation of the arts; for the promotion of a higher and broader citizenship .... The finer harmonies of great composers upon the lips and instruments of great artists, will animate the walls which we have reared in patriotic devotion."
The CMC worked with other organizations in enlisting financial help for the building of Memorial Auditorium. Professor Joseph Cadek led in proposing the purchase and installation of a grand pipe organ, and this became the greatest project in which the CMC has been involved. The CMC resolved "that such an auditorium deserved a grand organ of adequate size and of quality second to none." A contract was signed with Austin Pipe Organ Co. of Hartford, CT, for $44,549 and would contain 114 stops, 81 ranks of pipes, and a total of 5,261 pipes. The organ was designated Opus 1206 (Work No. 1206). Built in 1924, the organ was formally dedicated on February 12, 1925, with the world renowned English organist/composer Edwin H. Lemare presenting the concert. Mr. Lemare served for 5 years as municipal organist.
The organ was used for many years for the enjoyment of thousands of people, but following WWII it became neglected and fell into the hands of vandals. Much of the treasured organ was damaged and stolen. In 1985, the CMC undertook the restoration of the organ. CMC members and other volunteers donated time, energy and expertise to the project. Contributions from members, friends, foundations, local businesses and banks provided funding for professional help from Austin Organs. In 1997, Milnar Organ Co. was engaged to take up the work until its completion in 2007.
During the twenty years of restoration, the CMC worked diligently to retain as much of the original instrument as possible. Many pipes had been damaged and 1,451 pipes were missing. The entire string division, valued at $65,000, was discovered in a home in Atlanta and was returned; two missing ranks of pipes were found at the Tivoli Theatre and were returned; pipes belonging to the organ were found in the Knoxville Theatre and returned; an entire rank of pipes was discovered in Idaho but the "owner" refused to return them.
In 2006, two ranks of pipes were needed to complete the restoration. The CMC discovered an Austin organ of the same vintage as Chattanooga's in a former church building in Atlanta. The building had been sold but the organ was left behind. After months of correspondence, 40+ phone calls, and much persuasion, the committee finally reached the owners of the building, got an appointment, went to Atlanta, met with the owner and inspected the instrument. Although parts of the organ were missing, the two ranks that were needed were still in place. The owner hesitated, but finally said he would sell them for $25,000. The chairperson of the organ committee told him the CMC was asking him to make a donation of the pipes and use it for his tax purposes. After consulting with his assistant, he decided to donate the pipes. Arrangements were completed in December, 2006 - or, 12/06, the number of the Chattanooga organ, Opus 1206!
Chattanooga heard once again the thrilling sounds of "The Voice of the Auditorium" as Peter Conte played the rededication program on July 2,2007, for an audience of 3,000+. The 2008 program featured Robert MacDonald of Ft. Worth, Texas. Fundraising for a solid state electrical system was begun, and in June, 2009, the new system was used for the first time at the 3rd annual patriotic concert featuring Nicholas Bowden of Atlanta and the MidSouth Concert Band.
Outstanding concerts and programs featuring the organ have brought other great organists to Chattanooga. In 2010, Dr. Jeannine Jordan of Portland, Oregon, presented a multi-media concert, "From Sea to Shining Sea." The following years brought three more world famous organists to Chattanooga: Steven Ball, 2011; Tom Trinney, 2012; and Walt Strony, 2013. Other concerts and programs included four hymn festivals, concert featuring Dr. Robert Delcamp from Sewanee's University of the South and the CSO Youth Orchestra, and the first Christmas Spectacular in 2012 starring Larry-Douglas Embury of Atlanta's Fox Theatre.
The CMC has enjoyed many other outstanding concerts, programs, the annual St. Patrick's Purse fundraiser, picnics, Christmas luncheons and the annual MacDowell Club/CMC program, as well as the scholarship auditions and scholarship winners programs and socials.