by Rima Thompson
photography by Liz Lucsko
Oct. 21, 2002, blossomed into a beautiful autumn day; the afternoon brought families, lovers and friends out to Bridges Hall of Music on the Pomona College campus to seek a special celebration; it was the opening performance for the Claremont Symphony Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary. As the lights dimmed, the audience focused in preparation for the start of the performance. Applause filled the auditorium as violinist/concertmaster Elise Doran walked across the stage. It then exploded to mountain heights as Dr. James Fahringer, also known as “Jim,” musical director and principal conductor, came into view. As he stepped up to the podium, the performers took their playing stances. They followed each symbolic movement of his baton with a clear, harmonizing sound of instruments and delivered a gripping performance. Each piece produced unstoppable applause. The intermission brought about eager anticipation for the second half. The audience seemed to hunger for more even after the conductor and performers rewarded them with numerous pieces in the second set. It was a “downtown” performance in a small town atmosphere.
As the last strains of music faded away, Jim, the epitome of a master conductor, took his bow. The exuberance of the audience during the standing ovation substantiated his mastery. The performers on stage mirrored the audience’s sentiment. Jim, joined by his wife Delphine, lingered on stage, thanking the departing audience and taking the time to talk to the many enthusiasts.
This scenario will be repeated seven times more this 50th jubilee. Even though the free performances are in Claremont, the musicians reside in a number of local communities. The Fahringers hail from La Verne, and in addition to Jim’s leadership to the Claremont adult symphony, the two join in the leadership and management of the Claremont Youth Symphony Orchestra.
For those who meet these two individuals, the encounter will spark a lifelong appreciation. Together, their dedication keeps music omnipresent in the community. They recognize that in these times of sorrow and pain, it is difficult to keep a glimpse of hope alive. But with perfect harmony, Jim and the symphonies he conducts have played an essential part in providing access to inspiring music.
Jim originally hails from Silver Lake, Calif., and Delphine from Glendale. It was a song-like moment when these two came together to complete an unfinished score. They met at California State University, Los Angeles, and after earning their bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree for Jim, they journeyed into a musical path together. Together, they were part of a group that Delphine refers to as the “Matrimonial Society,” originally 17 members, some couples. Delphine continued her studies at the University of La Verne, earning a master’s degree in music. Jim went on to earn his doctorate in music from the University of Southern California.
He has a strong aura that projects itself whether in a telephone conversation or a personal meeting. His voice carries like a clarion’s blast. It is contrary to his gentle nature. Delphine is a rare lady with a song-like voice; she unselfishly goes out of her way to make every moment in her presence an enjoyable one. Both Jim and Delphine’s sweet composure beckons one to slow down and enjoy their music despite life’s usual hustle and bustle.
Their musical repertoire reads well. Jim is an accomplished player of the viola, violin and percussion, while Delphine is an equally gifted opera singer who has performed more than 80 roles of opera. Her performances include Rigoletto, Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Cinderella.” They have accompanied each other in more than 40 heightened concerts and have contributed more than 43 years in musical performances and to their marriage. “Delphine’s very kind and puts up with me,” Jim confesses. “She makes it easy to work together because she plans ahead and does the right things. I also try to say as much ‘yes, dears’ as possible.” Delphine matter of factly says, “It takes a lot of work and dedication to keep going.”
With a life dedicated to music, Jim and Delphine continue their musical tradition by serving as area church choir directors, church and club soloists and, for fun, performing for small gatherings, such as ex-teacher Francis Baxter’s annual Christmas parties. Nevertheless, one of their greatest musical contributions is their dedication to the two orchestras.
The Claremont Symphony Orchestra was established in 1953. Its initial funding came from the Recreation Department of the city of Claremont on behalf of the Claremont schools music program. There is no charge to attend the symphony performances, but its continued existence depends on grants, the generosity of its audience members and various organizations such as the Claremont Community Foundation and Pomona First Federal Bank and Trust. This year, as the orchestra celebrates its 50th anniversary, it proudly stands 84 musicians strong. The performers come from all different walks of life. Some are teachers, students, librarians and retirees. Even with their different obligations, their time is devoted to the symphony as enthusiastic volunteers. A majority of the musicians hail from the cities of Claremont, La Verne and Pomona. Jim says the reason Claremont has a symphony orchestra is because Claremont is a cultural center due to the Claremont Colleges.
CSO’s original conductor, George Denes, conducted the symphony for more than 24 years while also serving as music director for the Claremont schools. During this time, Jim was Denes’ assistant as well as a noteworthy string performer in the orchestra. Jim was given the opportunity to showcase his talent as conductor by conducting the CSO during a trial period following Denes’ 1979 retirement. With Jim’s love and passion for music, it did not take long for his conducting ability to radiate. The years passed, and today, with a little help from Delphine on drums, Jim’s conducting continues to excel. One must have “an enormous amount of time, a love for music and people and a really demonstrated interest in working with it to be a conductor,” he says. “There is an enormous amount of humility to go with it, because any conductor will tell you that there is actually no power in conducting. The only power there is is in trying to get other musicians who are in some cases better than you are to play something together.”
The CSO performs at least eight concerts a year, the majority in the newly renovated Bridges Hall of Music. The selection for the orchestra’s 50th anniversary season this year includes pieces from widely known composers Ron Nelson, Claude Debussy, Cesar Franck, Mozart and Beethoven. The professionalism and talent of the orchestra made the selections a perfect musical match. Jim makes the final decision on the music played. “In the adult orchestra, so many people have played so much music and have so much musical background that they are always making musical suggestions to me, but the final choice is of course mine, and I do take suggestions,” he says.
The orchestra members’ testimonials speak of their devotion to their conductor. Beverly Widner, principal clarinetist, has been with the symphony since 1969. She says that she enjoys playing for Jim more than anyone else. “He is kind and a fine musician. There isn’t anything he can’t do,” Widner says. Her husband Ron has been playing the trumpet 16 years in the orchestra. He says that Jim is a great person to play for, and that they are friends on and off the stage. Rick Kemenesi has been playing the clarinet for the CSO for more than four years and shares that his music teacher played for the CSO for 40 years. “Jim is the greatest, and he is very appreciative of all of our hard work,” he says. Barbara Mullens Geier thinks that both Jim and Delphine are amazing. “They bring culture to Claremont. They are dedicated, generous and talented. It is a pleasure to work with the both of them.” Indeed, the musicians in CSO have nothing but compliments for Jim.”He’s such a wonderful and very pleasant man to work with,” says Suzanna Capparelli, cellist. “He’s very clear as a conductor in teaching and helping us learn what we need to know for a performance. He even shares his conducting roles with members in the orchestra.” Capparelli has been with the orchestra for five years. Cellist Ann Sherrill, who has been part of the orchestra for 11 years, says, “It’s great working with Jim because he is easy to get along with.”
Jim’s co-conductors for the adult orchestra are Dr. Gary Iida and Larry Lowder. Iida has been involved with the Claremont Symphony Orchestra for 25 years, not only as an associate conductor, but as a percussionist and trumpeter. Currently, he teaches music at El Camino College. Lowder joined the Claremont Symphony in 1998 and is an associate conductor and bassoonist. Lowder is an active performer, clinician and conductor.
Besides being principal conductor of the CSO, Jim is also the main conductor for the Claremont Youth Symphony Orchestra. Thirty years after the establishment of the Claremont Symphony Orchestra, its board of directors decided to start a youth orchestra for the community because they wanted music to be available for future generations. “The board wanted to try to help support youth symphonies and training for young musicians, so the Claremont Symphony, after two years of planning, started the Youth Symphony Orchestra,” explains Jim. In 1983, the Youth Symphony Orchestra was formed for youths ranging from 7-21 years of age. The doors of the YSO remain open to all, but acceptance into the orchestra is based on a youth’s ability to understand and play at a required level; it is not for beginning players to join. For a successful and enjoyable experience, “the youth should possess at least two or three years of professional playing and training,” Jim says.
The co-conductors of the Claremont Youth Symphony are Bill Bohannan, James Brown and Ray Walden. Bohannan has been involved with the CSO since its start and taught music at the Claremont Unified School District for nearly 25 years. Brown teaches music in Los Angeles and has had musical experience with military music and bands. Walden, grandfather of two musicians in the youth orchestra, is a public school teacher/musical director from Orange County. The three assist the students in the process of perfecting their art. Jim says that he and his co-conductors “are all primarily teachers first and conductors second.”
When Delphine isn’t helping Jim on stage, she gives all her attention to managing the YSO. Under their leadership, the YSO has earned the reputation of a respectable orchestra. The youth symphony performers entertain their audience with a variety of musical styles taken from various generations like pieces by Duke Ellington. The chosen music holds true to Delphine’s remembrance of a saying by one of her professors: “It is important for the children to play modern music as well, because we listen with 200 year-old ears, and it is great to experience various areas.” Fall 2002, the YSO performed pieces from Mozart’s “Violin Concerto, No. 4” and Hoffmeister’s “Viola Concerto in D.”
Both the CSO and YSO deliver superb music, using instruments that are “pretty standard and non-standard,” Jim explains. Half are string, and then there is a group of brass, woodwinds and percussion instruments, as well as electronic, combined with acoustic instruments.
From teaching to conducting, Jim has inspired many along his musical vocation. In his 24 years of teaching music at the Pomona schools and as a 12-year faculty member at the University of La Verne, some of those years as department chair of music, he says the difference in conducting and teaching is that when you conduct for a performance, the difference in being a student or player disappears. In teaching a class, you are “trying to pass knowledge, or you are trying to get the students to work at finding out things for themselves about their musical knowledge.” Jim confides that he equally enjoys teaching and conducting. He does not think he would be a good teacher if he were not still performing. Delphine too, holds that philosophy, having served on the music faculty at ULV, teaching voice. With Jim’s retirement from teaching music in the Pomona School District May 2002, the couple hopes they will have more time to sing together, travel and work with young people. As for quitting their roles in the symphonies, they say they have not given it much thought. “There has to be a stopping point, but we haven’t looked that far into the future,” Jim says. “We still feel needed doing the things we are doing, but we’d love to travel to Europe when we retire.”
The Fahringers hope their hard work to maintain the symphonies is appreciated, and that the musicians involved are having an enjoyable time experiencing the genius behind music they play. “Music is a living art, and we need to keep it alive. It’s like anything in life. If you’ve learned it and know it, then you can appreciate it,” Delphine says. “We need to share the things that are part of what makes our civilization a civilization,”she says. “Music is food to our soul and gives us wings to fly. Perhaps music even has shaped the dimensions of our soul.”
Performances of the CSO and YSO can be enjoyed throughout the year. Performances/dates can be accessed at www.claremontso.org.