Border stories: The International Symphony Orchestra

International Symphony Orchestra in Sarnia, Ont. and Port Huron, Michigan: Since its inception (in 1957) the ISO has been unique in that it is made up of an even split of Canadian and U.S. musicians and members, who have always been able to work and perform together as a unified community/"family." Post-9/11, this got trickier, as strict new rules inhibited some of the ISO's movement across the border. However, the ISO has managed to stay unified and strong, something members attribute to their shared love of music.

Speak to the International Symphony Orchestra’s members, and you’ll hear the pride they take in serving as "musical ambassadors" to Canada and the United States.  

Formed in 1957, after Canada’s Little Orchestra Society of Sarnia joined forces with the members of the Port Huron String Ensemble in Michigan, the ISO has been entertaining enthusiastic audiences on both sides of the border for the better part of 54 years.  

The ISO’s dual, cross-border makeup also accounts for its practice of playing both national anthems at the start of their concerts. To hear the ISO musicians tell it, there’s nothing more joyous than the sound of American and Canadian citizens belting out the Star Spangled Banner, united through song.  

But this easy, harmonious arrangement threatened to change after the events of September 11, 2001. Suddenly, crossing the border in 15 minutes no longer seemed possible, and ISO members were sometimes facing three-hour wait times at the Blue Water Bridge.  

"It was like the tap was turned off," the ISO’s Executive Director, Anne Brown, says of the way things felt in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Rehearsals were cancelled, attendance at concerts was down and the orchestra was forced to devise creative ways to carry on. Concerts that were previously offered once would now be held twice, to ensure that listeners on both sides of the bridge could still attend.  

Yet in spite of those complications, the ISO kept on playing, and has continued to thrive long after the days when the phrase "Homeland Security" was on everybody’s lips.  

Listen to Anne Brown, principal cellist Barbara Armstrong and music director Jerome Summers as they describe the ISO’s border experiences in the days after 9/11.