Orpheus Club credited with promoting musical arts

During the 1940s, the clubs were asked “to carry on even though the future be dark.” Each club was asked to assist in the war effort and in defense activities. In 1946, Arkansas was given the “E” Award by the National Federation of Music Clubs for war service contributions.

For 88 years, the Orpheus Club of Conway, a member in great standing with the NFMC, did its utmost to bring culture to the community in many forms of music. For years, the Orpheus Club took the lead in presenting fine music and talented artists in venues that attracted much attention. Opera stars, well-known symphony orchestras and other musical groups made their way to Conway due to the efforts of the Orpheus Club. The Club was particularly involved in the observance of the annual American Music Month in Conway and generated programs featuring choral and orchestral music by Hendrix College and University of Central Arkansas students.

Meetings were held in various locations throughout the area, from homes and colleges to the 1949 meeting held in the social room of the Hotel Bachelor on April 13, with Mrs. James Clayton as presenter.  In 1952, Mrs. Effie Harrison was named the new radio chairman. In 1980, Mrs. Mildred Harton was honored for her 65 years of service to the community through the encouragement of music and the arts.

The Club single-handedly took on the effort of encouraging and supporting the original string program in Conway, with Jill Winters at the conductor’s podium. Funds were raised through the efforts of the Orpheus Spring Musicale and the hymn festivals.

For the Spring Musicales, guests were invited to purchase a ticket to visit a local home, with performers giving mini-concerts throughout the day. At the end of each performance, the Orpheus ladies would serve a sumptuous buffet of finger foods. Among these popular dishes were the mini-apricot pies from Mrs. Mabel Sherin (club president in 1958, recipe included). Mabel Sherin’s delicacy was served at the May 8, 1980, Spring Musicale meeting at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Bob (Janis) Banister. Sondra Koonce, Doris Dolan, Jerene Reddin and Lillian Lee would host a typical meeting. The program would consist of artists such as Curt Thompson at violin and Sharon Thompson at piano, presenting selections like “Musical Echoes from Tanglewood.”

Janis Banister recalls “during the early music programs in the public schools, Marguerite Vann would travel from school-to-school, leading the children in music classes and singing.”  Due to the efforts of Orpheus Club, the string program developed in the public schools from its meager beginning to Conway’s wonderful youth orchestra. The Club provided rhythm instruments in the new elementary schools and presented musical concerts (“A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten, “Amahl and The Night Visitors” by Gian Carol Menotti and John Jacob Niles American Folk Music, just to name a few).

Presidents through the years have included Mrs. Guy Farris, Mrs. C.E. McNutt, Mrs. James Kane, Mrs. James Clayton, Mrs. Nolen Irby, Mrs. Noble Smith, Mrs. George Thompson, Mrs. Robert Henry, Mrs. George Mulacek, Mrs. Arthur Johnson, Mrs. Elise Shoemaker, Mrs. Toni Irwin, Mrs. Fay Bonds, Mrs. Bob Banister, Mrs. Karen Nebel, Mrs. Helen Davis, Mrs. Mary Selligman, Mrs. Barbara Isom, Mrs. Imogene Holt, Mrs. Ruth Floyd, Mrs. Margaret Baker and Mrs. Betty Courtway.

Orpheus Club was the oldest study-service group known in Conway and the surrounding area. 

One of the best kept “hidden secrets” to be found in our area is the UCA Historical Archives in the Torreyson Library. Jimmy Bryant, archives director, and the staff can show you the records of the Orpheus Club – even to the first yearbook and newspaper records in 1913.

The Club was named Orpheus, after a musician in Greek mythology. The influence and contribution of the Club through the decades has not been equaled. There are many members still actively promoting the musical arts. Conway, indeed, does offer a huge message of gratitude to these ladies for much of the musical training, instrumentation and performances of the city’s musical heritage.

Miniature Fried Pies

1 1⁄3 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cup shortening
3 tablespoons ice cold water

Mix flour and salt; cut in shortening; add water. Stir gently, roll and cut into small circles. Fill with filling, approximately one teaspoon.
Fold into half-moon shapes, baste with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees F until golden.

2 packages of dried apricots
1 cup sugar
Cover dried apricots with water; boil until tender and most of water is gone; add sugar and mash. Cool to fill crust.

*These delicacies were first served by Mabel Sherin at the Orpheus Club Spring Musical.