La Verne Magazine
Living a Life of Music
by Rima Thompson
photography by Liz Lucsko
Fall 2002 marked the 50th season of the Claremont Symphony Orchestra, established
as a non-profit organization in 1953. Principal Conductor and Musical Director
Dr. James Fahringer has directed the 85 symphony musicians for the last
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
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
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.