Herman May retiring after 25 years leading Chattanooga Community Orchestra

Contributed photo by Chattanooga Community Orchestra / Herman May

After 25 years, conductor Herman May of the Chattanooga Community Orchestra will wave his baton for the final time during the group's spring concert March 27 at Red Bank Baptist Church.

"Herman has been a wonderful musical support to all of us retired musicians," said Connie Ward, orchestra member and public relations officer for the group, in an email. "He and his wife, Grace, are well known in the music circle and greatly appreciated."

"I started conducting the group with just 25 members in 1997, and today, we have around 70," May said by phone, noting that he previously served as the minister of music at Brainerd Baptist Church, where he helped grow its program considerably over 15 years.

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May found a love for music in college and has held a baton before many local choral and instrumental groups, to the tune of some 70 years combined.

"The orchestra has been a great ministry," he said. "When we started, I felt like I wasn't looking for something to just conduct, but a ministry that would help reach out into the community."

In its early days, the Chattanooga Community Orchestra was actually the "senior neighbors orchestra" that met in a building in downtown Chattanooga, May said - an outlet for retired musicians to come together and simply enjoy playing.

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"Being retried, we had the flexibility on time," he said. "We had educators, professional musicians, folks that played in high school but could still pick their instrument up and play again later in life, that type of membership."

photo Contributed photo by Chattanooga Community Orchestra / Herman May leads the Chattanooga Community Orchestra during its fall concert. May's last performance as conductor with the group will be Sunday.

May's relationship with the local orchestra has been "a very rewarding one." When asked if he had a favorite performance or memory he could share, he laughed as there were simply too many to tell.

"I've been very excited about what the group will do as it continues to move forward and to grow," he said. "It's been not only a ministry for me, but for all our members because it gives us all the chance to use our talents and reach out and help bring music to retirement centers, schools and much more."

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May will continue to be involved as a member emeritus and "might" do a performance on occasion, but all the reins will officially be handed over to incoming conductor Paul Faulkner following Sunday's concert.

"I really hate giving it up, but I figure at 91, maybe I'm ready to slow down just a bit," May said.

The Chattanooga Community Orchestra spring concert is at 3 p.m. March 27 at Red Bank Baptist Church, 4000 Dayton Blvd. A reception for May will immediately follow.

Contact Brandi Dixon at bdixon@timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6556.