Were it not for two Martinez residents—one a tenacious musician, the other a soft-spoken music educator with a sympathetic ear, the Diablo Symphony might never have been created—let alone endured as the oldest orchestra in Contra Costa County.
In 1962, Jim Arnold was coordinator of music for the Mt. Diablo School District in Concord. His position and his prominence in the community made him the perfect person for Thelma Compton, an accomplished viola player, to persuade to help her in forming an orchestra of community-based musicians. With Arnold taking the lead and Compton tirelessly promoting the idea, the school board authorized the recruitment of musicians, the provision of rehearsal facilities, and the payment of the conductor, a member of the music staff. The board also made another important contribution—the name of the orchestra, establishing the “Diablo” connection.
To assist him, Arnold recruited another member of the district music faculty—the late Bill Burke, a talented trombonist and a strong supporter and crusader for music and art in the schools. Burke was a cornerstone of the orchestra in promotional leadership and served several terms as president and treasurer while also playing in the trombone section.
In 1966, the Diablo Symphony Association, a non-profit organization, was formed by William Donaldson and several other Rossmoor residents to sever the orchestra’s connection to the school district. The Association gained support from the old Walnut Creek Civic Arts Association and the community of Walnut Creek. Early performances took place in the “Nut House,” which was the predecessor to the current Lesher Center for the Arts where the Diablo Symphony Orchestra has performed since 1990. Over the years, the retirement community of Rossmoor has been an important supporter of the orchestra providing venues for regularly scheduled concerts and dress rehearsals.
Today, in its 53nd year, the Diablo Symphony is not only the oldest aggregation of volunteer musicians in Contra Costa County, but also a valuable asset in the cultural life of the region. The orchestra’s professionally trained musicians continue to perform for audiences of all ages at nominal prices in concerts featuring the world’s great symphonic classics as well as popular music from Broadway and the movies.
Musical Directors of the Diablo Symphony Orchestra
|1979-1980||Series of guest conductors:|
|1980-2011||Joyce Johnson Hamilton|
|2011-2012||Series of guest conductors:|