One of Charlotte County's most dedicated champions of the quest to make classical music more accessible to the listening public has died.
Janita O. Hauk, conductor emeritus of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, passed peacefully Sunday, July 29, 2012, surrounded by her family at her Lake Suzy home, after a courageous battle with cancer. She was 79.
Maestra Hauk led the symphony for 16 years, retiring in 2009. Under her tutelage she grew the local chamber players group into a full-fledged symphonic orchestra, often referred to as "the crown jewel of Charlotte County." Throughout her tenure, she won the respect and admiration of professional musicians and classical music devotees who delighted in her elegant presence at the podium and her spirited conducting style. At the time of her retirement, she was one of just 35 women nationwide serving as conductors of professional symphonic orchestras.
Mrs. Hauk was born July 23, 1933, in Sycamore, daughter of the late Virgil and Mabel (Honsberger) Riedel. One of four children growing up in nearby rural Tiffin, she showed an early interest and proficiency in music, studying both piano and violin as a youngster, later gravitating solely to the violin. She received her bachelor of music degree from Ohio Wesleyan University and later earned a master's degree in music and orchestral conducting from the University Of Michigan School Of Music.
Upon graduation from Ohio Wesleyan, she received the prestigious National Sterling Award for the most outstanding music student in the nation from Mu Phi Epsilon, an international fraternity of professional musicians.
After college, Mrs. Hauk taught elementary music and vocals in the Wyandotte and Wayne school districts in Michigan and played in the Detroit Women's Symphony, the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra and the Dearborn Symphony. Her first conducting assignment was with the Livonia (Michigan) Youth Orchestra.
Mrs. Hauk and her late husband, Marvin Hauk, relocated from Michigan to Charlotte County in 1987. She immediately joined the Charlotte Chamber Orchestra, serving as first violinist and later as concertmaster and assistant conductor. Upon the retirement of conductor and orchestra founder, Fred Blake, in 1993, she stepped into the conductor's role; as well as, assuming the responsibilities of executive director. In an interview in 2007, Mrs. Hauk recalled that "I quaked in my boots" when she was passed the conductor's baton, realizing the enormity of the task she was about to undertake.
"I knew what a difficult job I had in front of me, what a big responsibility I had," she said. "I thought, 'I can make a difference now - what I am here for is to make a difference.' And so each performance is a quest for excellence. I continuously strive to improve what we are doing, what I am doing, and what the musicians are doing. I want the orchestra members and me to stretch our abilities just a little bit more at every concert."
Under her leadership, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra grew to more than 60 musicians at each performance, and began attracting world-acclaimed artists who performed as guest soloists. While Mrs. Hauk was at the orchestra's helm, she established three annual concerts that have become staples of the area's popular musical events: Edison College's "Pops at Sunset" concert; the symphony's July 4 "Symphonic Fireworks" concert; and the annual "Peter and the Wolf" children's concert for fourth-grade students in the county's public schools.
Her serious approach to her music and soft-spoken demeanor belied an impish sense of humor, probably best illustrated in her 2006 "Beethoven at the Beach" concert at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center. Audience members received sunglasses to wear when they arrived, and when the curtains rose, the entire orchestra was wearing sunglasses. To the delight of the audience, Maestra Hauk then entered the stage with her own set of shades.
When Hurricane Charley struck in 2004 just a few months before the symphony's concert season, it left the orchestra's offices on Elmira Boulevard badly damaged and Mrs. Hauk's home on Lake Suzy uninhabitable. It required her to move to the home of a co-worker to prepare for the upcoming season. She determined, however, that the community needed the November concert more than ever, as a few hours of relief during the stressful aftermath that was to last for months. From a kitchen table she and staff members prepared the program, mailed tickets, planned rehearsals and contacted musicians. The concert that fall drew a full house, with the conductor and the orchestra receiving a standing ovation from the community.
She also participated that fall in a hurricane relief concert at the North Port Performing Arts Center sponsored by Turning Leaf Productions, the company owned by well-known vocalist, Valerie Sneade, who has performed several times with the Charlotte Symphony and at other local venues.
At that relief concert, Mrs. Hauk found herself drafted as Sneade's maid of honor when she and husband, Ed Loder, were married onstage at the concert's end.
In commenting on her passing, Sneade said she was always impressed by Mrs. Hauk's generous spirit, and called her "a musical genius, a shining star and a guiding light for her beloved Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Without her leadership and determination they would not be where they are today. When I reflect on my friendship and working relationship with Maestra Janita, I will always remember her infectious laugh and her beautiful smile. Charlotte County is certainly a better place for having known her. She was a class act and always a lady. I learned so much from her, not only musically, but how to live. She will be forever missed."
Mrs. Hauk also served as a professor of violin and viola at Edison State College, and taught classes in music appreciation at Florida Southern College. Besides offering private lessons, Mrs. Hauk also established a youth "Summer Strings Academy" violin camp at Good Shepherd School, Punta Gorda, through a grant to the CSO from the local Friends of Music organization. And for more than 20 years, she was a member of the Southwest Florida Symphony, performing with that orchestra when her concert schedule with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra did not conflict.
Throughout her career, Mrs. Hauk continued her education in orchestral conducting, studying with Elizabeth Green, an internationally renowned conductor's teacher, and for 12 years with Paul Nadler, conductor emeritus of the Southwest Florida Symphony and today an operatic conductor with the Metropolitan Opera, New York. She also completed courses in advanced conducting studies in Norway, Austria, New York, Washington, D.C., and Naples, Fla.
Mrs. Hauk served as a violinist under Nadler's direction, while taking conducting lessons from him throughout her tenure with the Fort Meyers orchestra. Nadler, a renowned conductor with worldwide credentials, said Mrs. Hauk "was a valued member of the Southwest Florida Symphony. It was my privilege to work with her in that symphony family, and to serve as her mentor and teacher for conducting lessons. Her love of the music and her ensemble spirit were very much appreciated within the orchestra. We'll miss her very much."
In 1997, she was selected as a Citizens Ambassador to China in the People-to-People International Exchange Program established under President Eisenhower. By invitation of the Chinese government, she was selected to study violin virtuosity in the country's conservatories and universities. That same year she received the Arts and Humanities Council's "Charlie Award" for outstanding artistic achievement in Charlotte County.
Mrs. Hauk was named a delegate to the annual International Congress of Arts and Communication conferences in Lisbon, Cambridge and Washington, D.C., and was a selected jury member for the International Music Festival competition, Dobrich, Bulgaria, in 2004. At that same conference, she conducted the Bulgarian Chamber Orchestra as a guest conductor.
She leaves a son, Todd Hauk of Westland, Mich.; a daughter, Alea Hauk DeNeau of Seattle, Wash.; a brother, Jan Riedel of Tiffin; two sisters, Karen Riedel of New York, N.Y., and DaLee Miller of Pittsburgh, Pa.; David Bewernitz of Wesley Chapel, whom she raised as a son with her husband; and three grandchildren, Amber Hauk, Natasha Bewernitz and Jeremy Bewernitz.
Visitation hours are 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, at Kays-Ponger Funeral Home, 635 E. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, FL 33950, (941) 639-1133.
Her funeral will be 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 2, at the funeral home. Burial will follow at Royal Palm Memorial Gardens, 27200 Jones Loop Road, Punta Gorda.
In lieu of flowers, friends may make donations in Mrs. Hauk's memory to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, P.O. Box 510476, Punta Gorda, FL 33951-0476, Visiting Angels Home Care Services, 25166 Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, FL 33950 or Tidewell Hospice, 917 N. Arcadia Ave., Arcadia, FL 34266.