New Fort Smith Symphony Staff Bring New Ideas: Orchestral Music


Unearth music created by forgotten composers. Expose children to orchestral music. Improve the quality of life in the river valley.

These are just a few of the reasons the Fort Smith Symphony is known.

And the three-person staff of the symphony want to continue to expand this reach of the organization, making it more accessible to the community.

“It’s like that stereotype where it’s mostly for the elderly or the wealthy, and so I think those are issues that America in general is facing and the world I guess in general and I think that there are solutions we can come up with to fix this problem or at least help with this, ”said Damian Cheek, the head of financial and public services.

Cheek is the newest member of the symphony team, joining the group a few weeks ago.

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Cheek’s solution to the problem would be to have smaller musical events that are not as expensive as symphony concerts, giving audiences more opportunities to familiarize themselves with the symphony. He suggested that members of the symphony could even perform for free in smaller groups.

“I would just like to see him as something in the community that everyone is familiar with and that everyone is happy with, satisfied with, that he’s come in contact with,” said Laken Emerson, director of development, education and community involvement for the Fort Smith Symphony.

Emerson has been on the staff for over a year. She began her career with the symphony in the midst of the pandemic.

She said the pandemic forced the symphony to jump about five years into the future in terms of the technology it uses, and Emerson led the charge, moving the organization away from paper products and relying instead on copies. digital.

“And they’re young, so they’re going to bring a lot of really good ideas,” John Jeter, music director and conductor of the symphony, said of Emerson and Cheek.

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Jeter said new staff have a lot of ideas on how to reach younger audiences through technology.

They bring technology expertise as well as ideas on how to streamline day-to-day operations, Jeter said.

Fort Smith Symphony Orchestra Director John Jeter, left, meets with Symphony Laken Emerson and Damian Cheek to discuss the first show of the new season.  Emerson is the Symphony Orchestra's Director of Development, Education and Community Engagement.  Cheek is the director of finance and utilities for the symphony.

Lavon Morton, a member of the symphony’s board of directors, said he believed Emerson and Cheek’s musical backgrounds made them more qualified for their positions.

Emerson holds a Masters of Music in Flute Performance from Wright State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. She also interned with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra during the 2016 to 2017 season and the Akropolis Reed Quintet in 2019.

Cheek is an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. He gives saxophone lessons as well as other music related lessons. He is preparing his doctorate in saxophone interpretation.

“I think we have probably the strongest ensemble in the office since I’ve been associated with it,” said Peter Fleck, Symphony Orchestra board member.

Fleck credited Emerson with keeping the symphony afloat during the height of the pandemic.

“It took a lot of thinking outside the box, a lot of organizational skills and a lot of perseverance to be able to respond to our efforts to move forward and have a season with a series of performances that have met the challenges that COVID gave us. “Fleck said of Emerson.

Teamwork from staff helped address the challenges COVID placed on the symphony last year.

Violinist Hallie Michaels announced the work Jeter has been playing throughout the pandemic. The Fort Smith Symphony was one of the only symphonies that continued to perform during the pandemic.

Laken Emerson of the Fort Smith Symphony, left, John Jeter and Damian Cheek stand outside their new offices in the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education Research Institute Health & Wellness Center at 1000 Fianna Way in Fort Smith on July 30, 2021.

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