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Orchestrating Success: How the Charleston Symphony Orchestra League boosts aspiring student musicians

Orchestrating Success: How the Charleston Symphony Orchestra League boosts aspiring student musicians
November 2022

Tour Kiawah homes and listen to student scholarship winners play at CSOL’s 25th annual Sympony Tour of Island Homes on November 5

Violinist Elaina Gable, who graduated from the Charleston County School of the Arts, received several scholarships from the Charleston Sympony Orchestra League.

This fall, hundreds of visitors to the 25th annual Symphony Tour of Island Homes will be treated to a visual feast of architecture, landscapes, and interior design. Moving through the meticulously curated Kiawah Island properties, they’ll also discover an auditory delight: classical performances by some of the Lowcountry’s most ambitious student musicians. These soloists play as thanks for receiving merit scholarships from the Charleston Symphony Orchestra League (CSOL), host of the popular home tour. 

Since 1991, the CSOL has gifted funds to individuals looking to further their study of an instrument or vocal music. While the league’s primary role is as a financial partner for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, “through a robust music education program, we are also able to give scholarships to help talented students progress and succeed with their chosen instrument,” says Marty Penkhus, who serves as copresident of the CSOL along with Carol Cronk. 

Scholarship recipient Peter O’Malley plays during the 2022 CSOL Tour of Homes in downtown Charleston.

The organization offers financial awards in three categories: “college music,” which covers $2,000 in tuition for rising freshman majoring in music; “matching grant,” which gives up to $500 for private music lessons to members of the Charleston Symphony Youth Orchestra and Charleston Symphony Youth Strings; and “summer study,” which helps young local musicians offset the cost of camps, festivals, and private lessons. The scholarships total $32,500 each year, raised through annual volunteer-run events, including two home tours, a golf tournament, car raffle, and the Home for the Holidays concert. 

Recipients undergo a rigorous application process that entails an essay, teacher recommendations, and auditions. “We’re looking for well-rounded musicians who display technical expertise with their selected instruments and confidence in their ability to perform,” explains Cronk. This year’s 20 awardees demonstrated skill on instruments ranging from viola, piano, and cello to timpani, bassoon, and euphonium. “Pursuing a career in music and perfecting the performance of an instrument is an expensive undertaking,” explains Penkhus. “The money that the CSOL provides makes it possible for students to have that continuous training.” 

Elaina Gable has played the violin since the age of three and received her first CSOL scholarship in fifth grade to attend orchestra camp at Furman University. She was later granted CSOL funding to participate in the Josef Gingold Chamber Music Festival of Miami, Vermont’s Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival, and two classes led by CSO concertmaster and artistic director Yuriy Bekker. “Being surrounded by people as passionate as I am about music made me realize this is the life I want,” says Gable, a Charleston County School of the Arts graduate who earned the CSOL’s highest college scholarship this year. The David and Karen Stahl College Scholarship, named for the beloved CSO director who passed away in 2010 and his wife, annually awards $2,500 to the applicant with the top qualifying audition score.

(Left) Scholarhip recipient Jonathan Mei; (Right) Nora Cheng plays the flute during the 2021 Kiawah CSOL Tour of Homes. This fall’s home tour is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on November 5. More information is available at

Gable’s in good company. The star roster of past CSOL scholars includes Baltimore Symphony music director designate Jonathon Heyward; internationally acclaimed harpist and College of Charleston faculty member Abigail Kent; and pianist Micah McLaurin, who recently completed concert tours in South America and Europe. Since arriving at Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute to pursue her bachelors in music and violin performance, Gable says, “I can see myself playing as a professional musician.” 

And ultimately, that’s the purpose of these scholarships. “We’re looking at the long term,” explains Cronk. “We want to nurture students through their music educations so they can emerge as music teachers, career musicians, even world-renowned players, many of whom then return to Charleston.”

Watch a performance by the Charleston Symphony Youth Orchestra and Strings. The Charleston Symphony Orchestra League awards scholarships to some of the students in the youth orchestra.