Glacier Symphony & Chorale History

The Glacier Symphony and Chorale (GSC) has evolved from a small group of musicians who played together at a wedding in 1981 to a group of more than 280 volunteer and professional musicians who perform over 30 concerts annually in the Flathead Valley and Northwest Montana. The tremendous growth of the GSC reflects the enthusiasm of amateur musicians who want an outlet for their talents and the support of the entire community who appreciate their music.

The GSC has its roots in the 1970’s when the Performing Arts Council was formed from a core of music lovers in the Valley. The Council sponsored recitals and summer concerts in the Valley and later formed The Hockaday Chamber Orchestra, which performed a series of concerts. Glacier Symphony and Chorale members of this early group included Doug James, Lindy James, and Shauneen and Ray Garner.

The early musical group coalesced in earnest in June, 1981 when Rebecca duBois brought a small group of musicians together to play for her wedding. The group continued to rehearse and perform together as the Flathead Valley Chamber Orchestra and Chorale. By 1982, the group had expanded to the size that larger works could be performed. The first was Faure’s Requiem, under the direction of the new guest conductor Gordon Johnson, conductor of the Great Falls Symphony.

Gordon Johnson was named GSC Music Director in 1982 and served until 1997. To reflect the new geographical diversity of the musicians, the name of the group was changed to The Glacier Orchestra and Chorale. Shauneen Garner was the founding Chorale Conductor and Robin Bailey was named Executive Director in 1985. The League of the GSC, the organization’s volunteer auxiliary, was instituted in 1988. In 1992, the Glacier Children’s Choir was established, followed closely by the Glacier Youth Orchestra in 1995. In 1997, John Zoltek was selected as the GSC’s first full-time Music Director. To reflect its substantial growth and artistic quality, the G.O.C. changed its name to the Glacier Symphony and Chorale in July 2003. In 2004, Amy Smith-Kellogg was hired as Executive Director, followed by Alan Satterlee in 2006. Dr. Jim Stanard was hired as the Chorale Conductor in 2006 following the retirement of Shauneen Garner.

The GSC has performed seven world premieres, commissioned a symphony in honor of its 10th Anniversary, and commissioned four choral pieces with lyrics written by the Glacier Children’s Choir. The GSC emphasizes education of its musicians and audiences by offering master classes, clinics, Young People’s Concerts, pre-concert lectures, and elementary and secondary scholarships for instrumental and choral students.

The GSC has expanded rapidly since 1982. The first season’s budget was $3,300; the 2007-08 the budget is over $530,000. In 1990, the GSC established its Endowment Fund to help fund educational and youth programs and guest artists’ appearances.


  • The GSC was one of twelve orchestras honored in 1991 with the annual ASCAP Award for Adventuresome Programming.
  • Former Music Director Gordon Johnson was selected to conduct the Kumamoto Symphony as part of a Sister/State Exchange program with the government of Japan.
  • Chorale Conductor Shauneen Garner was one of seven American choral conductors selected to study at the prestigious Royal College of Music in London.
  • The GSC was selected to be the performing orchestra and choir for the 1986 “Amy Grant Christmas Special,” aired nationally on NBC Television.
  • The League of the GSC won the Flathead Arts Council Arts Education Award in 1989.
  • Three GSC volunteers have been named Flathead County’s Volunteer of the Year – Connie Heckathorn, Bill Kuehn, and Dorothy Laird.
  • The GSC hosted the 1989 and 2001 Regional Arts Conference, sponsored by the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras and the Montana Alliance for Arts Education.
  • The GSC received its first National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1991 and receives N.E.A. and Montana Arts Council grants annually.
  • The GSC has performed the world premiere of four compositions, one which the GSC commissioned in honor of its 10th anniversary season.
  • The GSC hosted the National Symphony Orchestra Residency with concerts, recitals, and education programs throughout NW Montana.
  • Music Director John Zoltek was named the Artistic Director for the inaugural Montana Power Summer Symphony concert.
  • Former League President Dorothy Laird was elected to the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Volunteer Council and served as President of the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras.
  • GSC volunteers Connie Heckathorn and Martha Groenke were named the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras’ Volunteer of the Year.
  • GSC Music Director John Zoltek was selected to conduct the Latvian National Symphony in Riga, Latvia. GSC, one of seven Montana arts organizations, awarded Wallace Readers Digest Foundation “Building Arts Partnerships” grant.