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Concert series turns 60 years young

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Lower Valley Community Concert series historian Jean Corliss leafs through a scrapbook of past performances.

The Vienna Boy's Choir, New Christy Minstrels and Seattle Symphony Orchestra are just a few of the more than 200 performers who have graced the stage during six decades of the Lower Valley Community Concert series.

As the series nears the end of the 2005-06 season, concert organizers are preparing for a 60th anniversary celebration to mark the 2006-07 series.

The bands have played on over the past 60 years because of quality music and a commitment by the community, notes Lower Valley Community Concert Historian Jean Corliss.

"We're still primarily a small town and music of this caliber is not easy to find in a small town," she said.

Corliss said she still recalls attending community musical concerts at Yakima's Capitol Theatre. She said her first concert there was when she was in the fourth grade. "People would dress up, it was a big deal," she said.

But growth and development brought competition for the musical performances in Yakima. The Capitol, since rebuilt into a performing arts hall, had been converted into a movie theater by the time it was destroyed by fire in 1975.

The Lower Valley concerts seemed to have picked up where the Yakima community performances left off, Corliss noted.

At one time the Lower Valley series was held in the Lincoln School gym, before later moving to the 700-seat capacity Sunnyside High School auditorium.

Since its opening season in 1947-48, the concert series has consistently featured national and international performers.

Today, concert organizers are able to draw from a pool of talent through an agency known as Live on Stage, which presents a variety of artists for consideration.

The Lower Valley series is one of several drawing from the selection of performers. Once locations are lined up, the performers then arrange a schedule for a tour of the venues.

That has led to a reciprocal agreement in which a season ticket holder for the Lower Valley series, for example, can enjoy concerts in the Tri-Cities or Everett, among other places, at no charge.

"We've driven as far away as Hermiston for a concert," said Jean's husband, Jim.

The set up is a win-win for both the artists and the public. Since the performers arrange the dates according to when they are available, ticket prices are able to be kept at a reasonable level. As a result, concerts are held on weekdays, as well as weekends, to fit the artists' traveling schedules.

The concert season generally runs from Fall through Spring.

The series is literally a year-to-year operation, with the subscription revenues from one season funding performances for the next.

The 2006-07 line-up of harpist duo Bronn Journey, The Great China Acrobats, as well as the string trios of Time for Three and The Eskar Trio is already set and paid for from season tickets purchased for the current season.

Jim and Jean estimate 500 to 600 season tickets are purchased each year. Sometime this fall, Lower Valley concert organizers will purchase a series of performances for the 2007-08 season based on season ticket sales for 2006-07.

Adult tickets for next season are $35 for four performances, plus a bonus performance for new members signing up on or before April 23.

After April 30, season tickets will be $40 for adults. The Corlisses point out that if tickets are purchased during the drive on now, the average price per show will only be $7.

The 2005-06 season concludes with a performance by multi-instrumentalist Todd Green on April 23. The show also serves as a bonus performance for new subscribers for the 2006-07 season.

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