Conductor of the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra, Guy Fraser Harrison was born on November 6, 1894, in Guildford, England. At the age of eight he became a member of the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and at sixteen won a scholarship in organ at the Royal College of Music in London.
Harrison's first major professional position was as organist and choir master at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John in Manila, The Philippines, which he held from 1914 to 1920, also teaching at the University of the Philippines. He immigrated to the United States in 1920 to become organist and choir director at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Rochester, New York. In 1922 he joined the organ faculty of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, subsequently assuming duties as opera coach and later assistant conductor of opera.
From 1924 to 1929 Harrison served as conductor of the Eastman Theater Orchestra, leaving to become associate conductor of the Rochester Civic Orchestra and the Rochester Philharmonic. In his duties with the Civic Orchestra, an organization devoted to outreach concerts, Harrison developed the commitment to music education so typical of his career in Oklahoma City. There also he first conducted radio broadcasts, another tradition continued in Oklahoma City.
Harrison arrived in Oklahoma as conductor of the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra in 1951, succeeding Victor Alessandro. He continued Alessandro's leadership in developing the Oklahoma orchestra from its WPA roots into an organization recognized nationally for its quality. Harrison was a tireless musician, directing a regular subscription series as well as numerous concerts around the state while also fulfilling many administrative duties. He also conducted a highly regarded series of broadcasts on the Mutual Broadcasting System. Harrison was an ardent promoter of contemporary American music, regularly programming new compositions. Under his direction the orchestra also issued recordings on the CRI label. He retired in 1972.
Oklahoma City University awarded Harrison the doctorate of humane letters in 1959. In 1973 he was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. He twice received the Alice M. Ditson Award for service to American music. After retirement he taught at the University of Oklahoma, which established the Guy Fraser Harrison Chair for Visiting Artists. The Guy Fraser Harrison Academy for the Performing Arts in Oklahoma City commemorates his commitment to education. He died in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, on February 20, 1986.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Nicolas Slonimsky, ed., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (8th ed.; New York: G. Schirmer, 1992). "Faculty File," Vertical File, Eastman School of Music Archives, Sibley Music Library, Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York. "Guy F. Harrison Dies; Symphony Conductor," New York Times, 27 February 1986. Tracy Silvester, "That Sort of Guy," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 30 September 1951.
Sion M. Honea
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