The Northern Symphony Orchestra first performed in June, 2002, as the Anoka Community Orchestra. For years, orchestra teachers and musicians in the Anoka area had talked about the possibility of organizing a community orchestra, just as others had formed a brass band (Lake Wobegon Brass Band), a concert band (North Suburban Concert Band) and a concert choir (Two Rivers Chorale) in the area. A few string players traveled to other communities such as Bloomington, Burnsville, or even St. Cloud, while others simply did not play in an orchestra.
In May 2002, Michael Halstenson and Ed Schaefle, orchestra teachers in Anoka-Hennepin School District #11, invited a group of colleagues, private teachers, students and former students to play a concert of music for strings. Twenty-eight musicians responded to form the "Anoka Community Orchestra", with Halstenson as conductor and Schaefle as concertmaster. A program of Mozart, Telemann, Corigliano and Grieg was chosen, and Bethel College teacher and conductor Lynda Vacco was asked to be the viola soloist. Four rehearsals were held, and the inaugural performance was given on June 26 at Faith Lutheran Church in Coon Rapids. The concert was a success musically, and the audience response was enthusiastic, as over 200 attended.
Later that summer, the musicians met to discuss the future of the orchestra and decided that:
1. Three performances a year, with five or six rehearsals each, was a reasonable time commitment for the first year(s) of the orchestra.
2. Auditions would be held to ensure the musical integrity of the group. Audition excerpts would be taken from repertoire to be performed, rather than requiring solos, scales or sight reading, in order to make the auditions a realistic experience and a good measure of a musician's ability to contribute to the orchestra.
3. The orchestra would add winds, brass and percussion as soon as possible, with the goal of becoming a full symphony orchestra.
4. The name "Northern Symphony Orchestra" would be adopted, to reflect the orchestra's mission to serve audiences and musicians in and around Anoka, in all the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities.
5. A decision making board was needed to manage the organizational aspects of the new orchestra.
The Northern Symphony has successfully met all five goals. Auditions for new members are held each fall for the upcoming season and individuals may also join in mid-year by playing for the conductor. The first concert as a full symphony orchestra was held in March 2003, and there are now nearly 70 musicians, including winds, brass and percussion. A symphony board was formed in February 2003, and there are NSO members who have taken on responsibilities such as music librarian, orchestra manager and webmaster for the orchestra.