Staff Blogger: Lexie Digby, Marketing/Graphic Design Manager
Kathie Bracy knew at a very young age that music would be a part of her life, even if she didn’t know in what capacity. Now, she is celebrating her 50th season with the Lakeside Symphony Orchestra (LSO).
As one in a family of five musical children, she understood that she would take instrument lessons at some point. She was reluctantly scheduled to begin piano lessons when a harp instructor moved to town and changed her plans by putting out a call for harp students.
“Since I was signed up to start piano lessons a couple weeks later, I jumped at the chance to play the harp and avoid the piano,” she said. “I loved the harp right from the start, and I never looked back.”
Her introduction to the harp blossomed into more than just a hobby. She earned her bachelor’s degree in harp from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where her teacher, Dorothy Henschen, had studied, and then continued with her master’s degree in music theory and literature from Baylor University.
It was during her time at Baylor that she heard of the opportunity to play with the LSO.
“I had moved to Waco in 1964 with the intention of spending the whole summer writing my master’s thesis,” she said. “Writer’s block was setting in when I saw a tiny classified ad in an issue of International Musician for a new orchestra being formed in Lakeside.”
Bracy was already familiar with Lakeside because of a Methodist Youth Fellowship event she attended in high school. She sent her application to the founding conductor, William Penny Hacker, and was immediately accepted.
“At that point, being accepted meant that I had only a few weeks to write my thesis before I went to Lakeside for the summer,” she said. “I wrote my 140-page thesis in about three and a half weeks, which apparently was record time. After that, I made it to Lakeside in time to play my first season with the new LSO.”
Bracy played with the LSO for four years under Hacker’s direction before she took a three-year hiatus at the beginning of her marriage to take summer courses for her teaching certification. When she heard that Robert Cronquist was taking over as musical director, she applied for her old job and was again immediately accepted as he was already familiar with her playing. She returned for his first season in 1971 and has played every summer season since.
Bracy’s re-entry into the LSO also served as her family’s formal introduction to Lakeside. Her parents, siblings and extended family followed her and some eventually purchased cottages of their own.
“This year, my great-niece, Maddie Fleischer, is Assistant Supervisor at the shuffleboard court,” she said. “Her grandad and my brother-in-law, Joe Caner, has also been working there and Maddie is actually his boss! My nephew, Eddie Caner, played violin with the orchestra in the past. My sister, Cynthia Kreiner, has been playing violin in the orchestra since 1973, and my other sisters, Mary Ann Reigle and Barb Caner, have done a lot of volunteer work over the years. I could go on and on.”
After Bracy finished studying at Baylor, she taught harp for five years at the University of Texas in Austin, played in the Austin Symphony and performed gigs around town. She completed two tours with the Henry Mancini Orchestra and the Houston Symphony. She moved back to Ohio in 1965 to begin teaching public school (non-music) and later played 16 years with the Columbus Symphony, all while teaching.
Around 2000, Bracy was honored to play a number of concerts with The Ohio State Marching Band.
“These were indoor concerts at the end of the football season,” she said. “It was a totally new experience for me and was a lot of fun. The sousaphone section adopted me and made me play a little harp solo.”
Bracy also had the chance to be a featured soloist on 14 European tours with a choral group from Indiana.
“Thankfully, three young men in the choir were always assigned to ‘harp crew,’ which they loved doing,” she said. “Those tours took place in the early summer, so I was always able to come home in time to play with the Lakeside Symphony.”
After 66 years of moving such a heavy instrument around, Bracy claims she is more or less retired from performing. She still enjoys playing with the LSO every year, an annual tradition that has provided her with many memories. She said her favorite LSO memory might be in the early 1990s when Hoover Auditorium flooded and the LSO was set to perform with a ballet.
“The water started backing up in Hoover, and the next thing we knew there was a little ‘lake’ all the way back to row Q,” she said. “But the show must go on. Maintenance brought risers for us to use in the orchestra pit, and the audience sat behind row Q. We had to step very gently on our way out, as we could see the water rising in the cracks beneath the risers. How my harp remained safe and dry was a miracle.”
Aside from the LSO, Bracy also performs a couple of concerts a year with the volunteer Alliance Symphony, which her sister, Cynthia, manages. She is also an adjunct faculty member of the University of Mount Union Music Department, in place of Henschen, her late instructor. Lastly, she is a member of the American Guild of Organists.
Thank you, Kathie, for bringing joy to Lakeside with your expertise and commitment to music, and congratulations on 50 years with the Lakeside Symphony Orchestra.