The following letter, addressed to the Editor of the Knoxville News-Sentinel and dated December 24, 1972, appeared in the "News-Sentinel Forum" in January of 1973. It is a brief but deeply felt appreciation of David Van Vactor, the conductor, composer, flutist and educator who, from the late 1940's to the mid- 70's, made such a vital contribution to the musical life of Knoxville, Tennesse, and to the life of countless young people, myself included, who looked to him for inspiration.
EDITOR, The News-Sentinel:
I read of conductor David Van Vactor's resignation from the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra with deep sadness. Your words of editorial were quite appropriate in evaluating the tremendous contribution he has made to Knoxville's cultural life. A special note should also be made of his evangelical concern and care for the musical education of the children of Knoxvi1le.
I still remember vividly the excitement at Fountain City Grammar School in the late 1940's when we were preparing to go to a Young People' s Concert given by the K.S.O. A lot had to do with the half day out of school, of course, and with the trip down town with good friends, but a lot also had to do with seeing a full symphony orchestra, hearing beautiful music, and learning about it first hand from that debonair, mysterious man on the podium - David Van Vactor. The impression these concerts left on all of us was enormous. The afternoon seemed to unfold in another world. In fact it took place within the old U.T. gymnasium complete with basketball goals and occasional appearances by tennis-shoed undergraduates intent upon crossing the auditorium come hell or Beethoven. Yet it seemed like Carnegie Hall and, in retrospect, it may have been even better than Carnegie Hall.
David Van Vactor was not content, however, just that we hear music. We were supposed to compose it as well - so he organized the "Tune Contests". And then we were supposed to play it as well - so he organized the "Young Performer's Contests". He never seemed content and kept us all (and here there could be a long list of young Knoxville musicians) working to come up to his standards. He represented an ideal of complete self-dedication and of musical and personal integrity.
In the mid-fifties while in high school and an active member of the K.S.O., I saw he had his work cut out not only in educating the young people, but also in making Knoxville conscious of the importance of the orchestra and of its place in the community. He insisted that an active cultural life must begin at home - the concert being only the final link in a chain of day-to-day interactions between community and musician. Today one can see how brilliantly he has succeeded on all accounts.
Dave's resignation from the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra marks the end of an era, but for those of us, "the young people", who received our stimulus from him and the activities of the K.S.O., the era is unending - permanently impressed upon every fiber of our thought. We are the most fortunate of all, for we had the benefit of his extraordinary talents and guidance during our formative years and we have the example of his imagination and determination for the rest of our lives.
December 24, 1972