By Sheena Barnett
TUPELO – Margaret Anne Murphey thinks of the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra as if it were a person, referring to its various stages of existence as its infancy, adolescence and, now, its middle age.
Murphey was there when the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra was started in 1971 by Wade Lagrone, and has been its executive director for the past 25 years.
Tonight, she will be honored for her work at its last concert of the season.
“They could call me ‘The Source,’” Murphey said. “I can just start spouting off the history of this organization and the people who have been involved. I have so many stories I can tell.”
Murphey will hand over executive director duties to Lisa Martin after this season, but she will still be involved with the symphony. She’s keeping her office at the symphony’s headquarters at the Link Centre.
“I’ll be involved in the creative, artistic area,” she said. “I’m so work-oriented.”
‘A force of nature’
“When I was asked to be on the board of directors, I was completely ignorant,” Murphey said of the symphony’s infancy. “I had no idea what it would entail, but I’ve always loved music.”
As executive director, she established and organized the symphony office and the purchasing and care of the symphony’s Steinway piano.
“I know Steinway has built many wonderful pianos, but we think this one’s the best,” she said.
She brought the symphony into the 21st century.
Murphey, 88 – “I’ll be 89 in October, and in 11 years I’ll be 100” – wasn’t familiar with computers but has become proficient, thanks to classes and working diligently to become tech-savvy.
During her tenure, she oversaw the creation of the organization’s website and online ticket sales.
She was also a part of the organization’s name change from Tupelo Symphony Orchestra to North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra last year.
She insists her accomplishments were achieved with other symphony workers and volunteers, including Nancy Diffee, Gayle Carlisle and Charles Johnston.
“It takes a village,” she said. “We’ve had wonderful support from the beginning from our entire community.”
Steven Byess, the symphony’s music director, said Murphey’s business skills and Southern hospitality have helped the symphony succeed in a time when other symphonies have declined or even failed.
“Margaret Anne is the complete package: director, supporter, manager, visionary, all rolled into one,” he said. “This is one of the few organizations I know of that’s seen a steady increase of success in 42 years. We have lots to celebrate, and a lot of it is due to the talents and efforts of Margaret Anne. She’s been described as a force of nature, and I will agree to that.”
Murphey is proud of the symphony she’s helped raise.
“I have no doubt that this is the best orchestra in the state. We’re the smallest city in the United States with a professional orchestra,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful journey, and it’s been joyful. It’s brought joy to my life. My goal, my spiritual goal, is to glorify God, and I think our music does that.”
• The North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra concert tonight is “Scandals, Drama and Enigmas” with guest artist Andreas Klein. The show is at 7:30 p.m. at the Link Centre’s concert hall. Tickets are $30/adults, $10/students. (662) 842-8433.