Dr. William Sebastian Hart, founder of the Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra, was best known for bringing music to the masses with his Concerts Under the Stars series more than 30 years ago. For 11 years he was conductor of the Baltimore Bureau of Music, directing concerts throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area. "I have devoted my life to making the greatest of arts, music, accessible to the man in the street." he once said.
Born in East Baltimore, Dr. Hart graduated from City College in 1936, at age 15. In 1964, he was inducted into the high school's Hall of Fame.
He graduated cum laude from Peabody Conservatory in 1939, becoming the first student there to graduate in "timpani & percussion instruments." A year later he graduated from the Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor's degree in political science. In 1956, he earned a doctorate from Golden State University in California.
From 1939 to 1962, he taught at Peabody. And from 1939 to 1958, he was the principal percussionist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He also taught music at Morgan State University from 1962 to 1965 and at the Baltimore College of Commerce from 1958 to 1975.
In 1958, he founded the Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra by advertising in the newspaper and holding tryouts at a hotel. Fearful he wouldn't get much of a response, he took 12 BSO members with him. But, much to his surprise, 70 people turned out.
The orchestra held several concerts in the Pennsylvania town but, because of lack of community support, it was quickly moved to Baltimore County. For the next three decades, its members practiced in Dr. Hart's old barn on Cromwell Bridge Rd. in Towson and held an annual series of free concerts made possible by foundations established by Dr. Hart and his family.
Dr. Hart has been a guest conductor for major symphony orchestras including the National Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic. But he said his favorite place to conduct was the Patterson Park pavillion, where he could speak to many of his listeners in their native language of Polish.
His Concerts Under the Stars series brought classical music to shopping centers and malls. And his Sunday radio show, "Concert Hall," later "Concert," had thousands of listeners.
Dr. Hart died of cancer in 1989, leaving a rich legacy of music in the Baltimore area.
The Baltimore Philharmonia Orchestra owes a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Hart, and we honor him, his spirit and his music legacy.