CSO’s biggest fan reflects on a lifetime of music

Kelsey Burritt | Staff Writer

Warren Hickman’s earliest memory of listening to a musical group in the Amphitheater was in 1926, when his father brought his family to see John Philip Sousa and his band.

“It was such a crowd that we were about the third row of standees,” Hickman said. “I’ll always remember that he put me on his shoulders so that I could see over the crowd, and one of the percussionists for one of the marches took out a black pistol and shot it in the air three times.”

Sousa’s band was a memorable moment, but the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra has been the epicenter of a lifetime of memories at Chautauqua for Hickman and his family.

Hickman began to attend Chautauqua for greater lengths of time in 1931 at age 10. Before then, he remembered seeing the first performance of the CSO under Albert Stoessel in 1929. Previously, Hickman had seen the New York Symphony Orchestra when it was in residence at the Institution.

“My wife died in 1989, and since then — except for two weeks in the hospital a couple years ago — I have never missed a symphony concert,” Hickman said. “Every time I go to a symphony concert, I come away feeling better than when I went. The concerts just inspire me.”

Starting at age 10, Hickman would listen to the overtures that began CSO concerts while leaning over the fence of the Amp. Once he began high school, he would stay for the first movement of the symphonies that often followed, and by his final year, he would remain to listen to the entire concert.

Hickman played flute in high school and was the principal flute at Colgate University. After an early graduation, he enlisted in the Army. Although he was asked to play in the ceremonial band, he turned down the offer, insisting that he did not enlist to stay on the stage.

After serving overseas at Eisenhower’s headquarters from 1943 through 1945, Hickman returned the next summer to Chautauqua, where he met his wife, Jane.

Hickman taught as a professor of international relations and worked in college administration for various institutions, including Syracuse University and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Although his career kept him away from spending whole summers at Chautauqua, he would still make an effort to attend orchestra concerts, seeing every Saturday night performance and the occasional Thursday night performance.

“That whole orchestra has astounding people, and they don’t have to be sitting first chair,” Hickman said. “And it’s just very hard to say who’s your favorite.”

Hickman lauded the brass and percussion sections of the orchestra. He specifically called attention to principal cellist Chaim Zemach, English horn player Jason Weintraub, principal oboist Jan Eberle and concertmaster Brian Reagin.

“I think Richard Sherman is terrific,” he said. “As a flute player, he does things I thought were impossible to do on the flute.”

Hickman also enjoys watching Marie Shmorhun perform, a cellist in the symphony who has been his neighbor the past 40 years.

“You bump into an orchestra member on the street, and they’re just another Chautauquan,” Hickman said. “You have a feeling that the symphony has the same Chautauqua spirit as we listeners have, and sometimes I fear that the members of the orchestra do not realize how much the rest of us appreciate them.”

Hickman used to play golf but enjoys the Chautauqua Opera and Dance companies and continues to be a fervent lawn bowler. Every now and then, he attends student orchestra concerts at Cornell and Ithaca, close to where he lives in the Finger Lakes, but he said the CSO concerts carry him through the year until early spring, when he begins to yearn for more inspiration.

“I have seen some of the most top-flight symphonies in which the musicians seem to be bored. The music was OK, but there was no spark,” Hickman said. “I’ve never found that here at Chautauqua.”

Hickman said that as he has aged and thought about life, the orchestra has filled an important part in his perspective.

“Chautauqua has done so much for my family and for me,” he said. “I could never in any way repay Chautauqua.”