St. Augustine Orchestra, one of the longest running cultural entities in St. Augustine, numbers about 80 members, all of whom perform on a voluntary basis. As in most volunteer music organizations, the motivation for participation is a love of music and the joy of making music within and via an ensemble. Through the years, the orchestra has provided fun, friendship (even romance), to its members and has undergone increased artistic challenge and membership. In return, the orchestra gives the community of St. Augustine their best musical efforts to packed houses at each concert. The result is the continuing of a fine tradition and an increasingly sophisticated level of performance.
William McNeiland, Conductor
Mr. McNeiland has been active in nearly every area of musical life in north Florida. He has served as president of the Delius Association and the Florida Orchestra Association. He has been much in demand as clinician and adjudicator at district and state music festivals. He has conducted youth orchestras and all-state orchestras in Alabama and Florida, and for six years was resident conductor at the Sewanee Summer Music Center in Tennessee.
Mr. McNeiland earned a Masters degree in Music education from the University of Illinois, and taught band and orchestra in schools in Texas and Illinois. In 1969, Mr. McNeiland joined the music faculty at Jacksonville University. The following year he served as Resident Conductor of the Jacksonville Symphony during its rebuilding year. Then he became Principal Bass and Assistant Conductor and continued in those positions for over twenty five years.
Retiring from Jacksonville University in 2007, he was appointed conductor of the orchestra at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. After completing three years in that position, he is delighted to have this opportunity to work with the St. Augustine Orchestra.
The orchestra was founded in 1961 by Jack Van Brederode who served as conductor for several years. Originally called the St. Augustine Symphonette, the ensemble went through a number of name changes, finally settling on the St. Augustine Orchestra (SAO). After Van Brederode’s death, Kenneth Hueninck became conductor followed by David Middleton, William Turnbull, James Peronto, Ramona Peronto, Ira Strauss and 1995 to 2010, John Bush. William McNeiland, the current conductor, has done an outstanding job in improving the quality of the performances.
Governed by a Board of Directors that establishes policies and handles the business and logistics of operations, SAO established itself as a Florida corporation in May of 1989 and as a 501(c)3 entity with the Internal Revenue Service in August of 2006.
Since its inception, SAO has welcomed requests by local government and civic groups to perform at special functions. Concerts were given at civic events such as Pedro Menendez Day, the traveling Vietnam Memorial ceremony, and graduation ceremonies for the First Coast Technical Institute. In 1964 SAO performed with the St. Johns River Community College singers in their production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” in Palatka, Florida. In addition, the orchestra played in the Little Theater of St. Augustine production of “The Pirates of Penzance”. Later, SAO members played in the orchestra that accompanied Flagler College’s performance of “Man of La Mancha”. Each year, several members play in the orchestra that accompanies the annual presentation of Handel’s “Messiah”. SAO has given performances at retirement homes and churches in St. Johns and the surrounding contiguous counties. Concerts have also been presented at the Jacksonville Landing, the Friday Musicale, the Palatka Community Center and the Palm Coast Amphitheater. SAO was pleased to have been scheduled by the EMMA Concert Association to give several concerts at the Flagler College Auditorium and the Flagler College Ballroom. For the past decade, the orchestra has given four concerts a year in the Lightner Museum and has built a strong following among local residents and visitors.
Among the most notable former members was violinist Hugo Ohlms, architect and artist whose murals and colorful decorations still grace the interior of the Basilica Cathedral in St. Augustine. Emil Maestre, internationally known cellist (the Emil Maestre Music Association was named in his honor), played with the ensemble whenever his busy schedule permitted. William Turnbull, a music director in Putnam County Schools, represents one of the longest tenures in the orchestra. Mr. Turnbull originally played violin and bass whenever needed by SAO. He later became conductor and led the group for many years. Ultimately, he gave up the baton and returned to playing. His leadership and contribution to the orchestra are immeasurable. David Middleton, music teacher at the School for the Blind, served as coordinator during the early years. After Middleton’s death in 1983, orchestra member Jack Page, took the position of business manager for SACO. He later was elected president of the Board of Directors and held both posts until his retirement from the orchestra in 2002.