Constance Barnes honored as outstanding arts patron

Posted Nov. 01, 2010, at 7:22 p.m.

Constance King Barnes knows deeply the importance of music in people’s lives. As a young woman, she played the harp, like her father, Maurice P. King, and performed with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra until she graduated from the University of Maine in 1943. As she made the transition out of performing and into her career as a teacher, she never forgot her musical roots. Though she traveled the world with her late husband, Dana, she always returned to Maine, eventually retiring to Searsport in 1978.

“I have very pleasant memories [of the BSO],” said Barnes, who now lives in Belfast. “My family has been associated with the BSO for almost a hundred years. My father played with them when he was a teenager. He was very musical. It always came easily to him. I always had music around me when I was growing up.”

Now, at age 90, she has spent the past two years helping the BSO establish a permanent fund to allow visiting soloists to offer master classes with young area musicians. The Dr. Maurice P. King Endowment Fund had its first crop of students work with renowned cellist Alisa Weilerstein in January 2010; in January of next year, young musicians will work with pianist Martina Filjak, who will guest solo at the Jan. 16, 2011, BSO concert.

In addition to her work with the BSO, Barnes has endowed scholarship funds at the University of Maine and has been a primary supporter of the Waldo County Humane Society for many years. For her philanthropic efforts, the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Northern New England has named Barnes the Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year. Barnes will be given her award at a ceremony in Portland on Thursday, Nov. 4.

According to David Whitehill, executive director for the BSO, the acknowledgement is well-deserved.

“It was really Connie’s intention. She wanted to see a program that could involve the people we bring in and some of the youth we work with,” said Whitehill. “After the last one, I think some of the students were still in shock. They knew how special an opportunity it was to work with someone of her caliber. It was really an unforgettable day for them. And their teachers called us afterwards to thank us for providing the opportunity.”

Barnes fondly recalls her years spent playing harp with the orchestra. In her late teens and early 20s, she worked with world-renowned harpist Carlos Salvedo, at his summer-long music camps in Seal Harbor on Mount Desert Island.

“I practiced four hours a day in the summer with 25 other women,” said Barnes. “I was in college, and playing harp constantly. I don’t know how I found time to do it. I knew that particular life just wasn’t for me. But, as my father would say, ‘it served its purpose.’”

Nevertheless, she persevered. As a young, college-age woman, she rehearsed with the BSO, at that time composed almost entirely of amateur musicians, in the Isaac Farrar Mansion on Union Street, then known as Symphony House. Someone would carry her large, heavy harp up to the third floor for her every time. In 1943, she soloed with the BSO in a concert that would end up being her last with the orchestra before she moved to Boston.

The differences between the orchestra of 1943 and of today are numerous — today’s musicians are almost all professionals, and the BSO performs in the state-of-the-art Collins Center for the Arts, just to name a few. But it’s still performing after 115 years.

“I’m amazed at what the orchestra is producing today. It’s grown so much over the years,” said Barnes. “It is simply a wonderful thing, which has continued through hard, uncertain times. We are very fortunate to have such a thing way up here in Maine.”

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