AUTHOR: HYNUM

HED:A magical night in Oz

By Rick Hynum

Daily Journal

It took a raging Kansas tornado to rip open the doors of space-time and propel Dorothy and Toto into the Land of Oz.

For Northeast Mississippians, a $40 ticket to the Tupelo Symphony League's "Oz Ball" next month will do the trick.

The Oz Ball, a fund-raiser for the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra, blends the elegance and sophistication of a black-tie affair (ruby slippers optional) with the wistful Oz theme. The event, to be held at 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 8, at the Tupelo Country Club, also features a silent auction, free champagne, live music and a chance to win a getaway trip to Las Vegas' MGM Grand Hotel.

Advance tickets to the event are $40 and can be purchased from Symphony League members.

"Although it's black-tie, it's a lot of fun," promised Pam Tucker, vice-president of the Tupelo Symphony League and co-chairperson of the ball. "It's a great opportunity to get into the festive spirit of the holidays, dress up and go see everybody."

"Everybody who's anybody will be there," she added.

It's also a chance to play a part in keeping Tupelo's cultural scene alive and thriving. A support organization for TSO, the Symphony League will turn over every penny of the ball's proceeds to the symphony.

"As far as I know, there won't be another symphony fund-raiser of this magnitude this year, so we're really depending on selling a lot of tickets and raising money," Tucker said.

Over the rainbow

And there's no place like the country club to host such a posh affair. From the moment symphony supporters step through the club's doors, they'll know they're not in Tupelo much less Kansas anymore.

The facility's exterior will be purposefully drab, reflecting the staid, dreary prairie realm of the early moments of the classic film, "The Wizard of Oz" before Dorothy went over the rainbow.

"Once you get inside, everything will be large and colorful oversized, colorful flowers, green lights, highlighted by a replica of the Emerald City," Tucker said.

In keeping with the whimsical mood of the theme, costumed Oz characters will greet the guests as they file through the door.

A silent auction will feature numerous items of value and interest, including a display of estate jewelry by the Empire Diamond Corporation of Encino, Calif.

"We think the estate jewelry will be a big draw," Tucker said. "The prices range from $225 for a small piece up to $1,500, and a great deal of the profits will be given to us. Since the ball takes place in November, it's a great time to buy Christmas presents, with a wide range of prices to choose from."

Guests can also buy chances to win a trip to Las Vegas, which includes a stay at the MGM Grand Hotel, an Oz-themed resort.

Meanwhile, as the free champagne flows and guests sample the offerings at the buffet table, Tucker will switch from her glamorous gown into casual duds and take the stage with the Pam Tucker Band. The newly formed group plays dance tunes from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Costs for the affair are underwritten by a group of benefactors, and all proceeds go directly to the Symphony League.

A new tradition

This year's event is a follow-up to last year's Silver Anniversary Masked Ball, the first of its kind hosted by the Symphony League.

"Last year's symphony ball was such a tremendous success that we decided to have a second one," said Symphony League president Tish Wright, who organized the inaugural affair in 1996. "It's something different and a wonderful social opportunity for those who believe in and support the arts in Tupelo."

"The big decision was whether to change the theme," Tucker said. "We finally decided that each year we will have a different theme for the party."

Tucker and co-chairperson Paige Kelly opted for the "Wizard of Oz" theme with input by interior decorator Tracy Proctor.

The Oz Ball is already generating excitement in the community, Tucker said. "Tupelo doesn't have a lot of black-tie affairs. Last year everyone came in, stood up straight, looked really pretty and really tall and everyone danced and had a good time."

"We had a wide range of people who came, from the very young to the very old. This year should be the same. I think we'll have something for everyone."

Last year's dance raised nearly $18,000 for the symphony. This year's target amount is $20,000, Tucker said.

All totaled, the Symphony League contributed more than $25,000 to the symphony from its various fund-raisers for the 1996-97 season, according to Tish Wright.

A typical orchestra performance costs about $20,000. The League pledges to cover the expenses of at least one major concert each season. Subscriptions and benefactors' contributions cover the remaining costs.

Past fund-raising projects have included live and silent auctions, dinners, a cooking demonstration, designer showcase houses and the publication and sale of the "Great Performances" cookbook to a national market.

The League also handles refreshments for orchestra rehearsals and performances, hosts social activities, and promotes music education in the local schools.

Paige Kelly said the symphony's educational programs including a children's concert offered once every two years offer Northeast Mississippi children a rare cultural opportunity. "Most of these kids have never seen anything like it, and they enjoy it," she said. "Some of them are yawning and bored, but most of them are really interested."

"Tupelo is very lucky, considering its size, to have a quality symphony, even to have a symphony at all," Tucker said. "We couldn't do it without paying the musicians and paying them well."

What: The Tupelo Symphony League's Oz Ball

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 8

Where: Tupelo Country Club

Tickets: $40 in advance

Entertainment: The Pam Tucker Band

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