Mendelssohn Club changes name after 120 years

As the oldest continuous community music organization in the U.S., Rockford’s own Mendelssohn Club, founded in 1884, has been witness to as many different styles and trends in music as the country has to changing fashion trends. And with the changes in music has come a change in how the organization views itself, including a name change.

Mendelssohn Club’s board of directors, guided by its president, Judith E. Graff, has decided that the name should reflect what the organization is really all about. “Actually, we are a performing arts center,” Graff said, “for local musicians, singing groups, national and international performers and audiences who wish to hear them.

Mendelssohn Club is a resource and a gathering place for everyone in northern Illinois who enjoys music of any kind, whether performing or listening! Hence, Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center.”

Conceived in 1884 by Mrs. Chandler Starr, who entertained a group of Rockford music lovers at her North Main home, Mendelssohn Club was indeed a club when it incorporated 10 years later. “But perhaps since the construction of our building in 1952, the club has really been a performing arts center,” Graff explained.

In its long history, Mendelssohn Club has been host to such notable performers as Arthur Rubenstein, Isaac Stern, the Vienna Boys Choir, Robert Merrill and Dave Brubeck, among others. Just as important, thousands of Rockford-area musicians, singers, and choral groups have taken the stage at the center’s Emerson Auditorium, which seats 220.

Earlier this spring, Mendelssohn Club held its annual Chandler Starr Miller Scholarship competition in which 110 area youths competed for $4,500 in scholarships. The organization is also home to two youth choirs, a Broadway Bound group and offers a free monthly Saturday afternoon Young Musicians Series that is attended by audiences of all ages.

Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center presents more than 25 concerts each year featuring local professional musicians, Mendelssohn Chorale, Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra, recitals by area students and world-renowned guest artists. Its popular, annual Jazz Legends of Rockford and a planned opera gala this fall, timed to coincide with the club’s observance of its 120th anniversary, is an example of how the Rockford music community and the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center work together to celebrate diverse musical offerings. Most recently, “Percussion Group Cincinnati” performed, using amplified sounds of cactus needles in addition to traditional drums, cymbals and bells, wowing student and adult audiences alike.

In addition to these concerts and special events, Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center features a Performing Members program with more than 150 professional musicians, including music teachers, accomplished musicians and singers who participate in programs. Mendelssohn is perhaps unique in Rockford with its teacher referral program while also providing area professional artists with contacts, recognition and performance opportunities.

Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center will continue to maintain its season subscription program and encourage Rockford-area residents to join the organization and help support its musical mission—to sponsor, promote and present quality music for all. “But we want all of Rockford and northern Illinois to know that Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center is no longer hiding its light under a bushel.” Graff said. “We will continue reaching out to the entire community looking to share the wonders of music with everyone who enjoys music!”

Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center is at 415 N. Church St. in Rockford, 815/964-9713 or Admission to all scheduled concerts is available through single ticket sales or season tickets for $55, which affords admission to nine concerts in 2004. Student and family season tickets are also available.

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