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  • Writer's pictureLouise Casini Hollis

Spotlight Saturdays – Sponsored by the Sandler Center Foundation

Updated: Dec 5, 2020


Interview by Louise Casini Hollis. Images courtesy of Symphonicity.

This week Spotlight Saturdays spoke with Symphonicity’s Executive Director Lynette Andrews and Music Director & Conductor Daniel W. Boothe. Founded in 1981, Symphonicity is proud of their volunteers’ continued hard work and the high quality of programming they bring to the Hampton Roads community.

What is your mission statement, and how do you decide on programs that fulfill your mission? Lynette Andrews: The mission of Symphonicity is to provide high quality music for everyone, to afford an opportunity for performers, and to educate young musicians. We are a group of more than 200 auditioned orchestra musicians and chorus members who love music and voluntarily come together every year to present nine concerts including five masterworks performances, one children’s concert, the free annual Messiah Sing-Along and two Symphony by the Sea oceanfront concerts. Symphonicity is a proud member of the resident companies at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, the location where all indoor concerts are performed. Daniel W. Boothe: Unlike most orchestras around the country, Symphonicity currently programs and markets each season with a specific theme or focus in mind. In this way, each individual concert contributes to a whole multi-concert story that unfolds throughout the season. When choosing a season theme, there is a deliberate effort to look at previous seasons and even project future seasons to ensure an emerging balance can occur over the span of multiple years. The interests and capabilities of our musicians are of great importance due to our volunteer membership. The music we program must inspire their participation to ensure momentum and enthusiasm during the rehearsal process. Within that span of possibilities, selections are recommended by the Artistic & Repertoire Committee which consists of orchestra and board members. A deliberate effort is made to integrate the City of Virginia Beach “Arts Plan 2030 Goals and Strategies”. This resource from the city’s Cultural Affairs Office provides a framework for the collective success of all the arts in our city and we rely upon it to ensure our artistic planning is meeting our city’s goals for the community. In that spirit, we also seek ways to collaborate and support local businesses and artists in all of our programming considerations. This often includes education as well as we try to develop partnerships with area schools and educational cohorts. I take all these suggestions, including those recommended by any planned guest soloists, and combine them with other suggestions from sponsors, patrons, and possibly other community arts leaders into a proposed programming plan that also complement’s my repertoire strengths and vision for the orchestra. The final season program is then reviewed and eventually approved by all involved. The entire process takes approximately 18 months in advance of the start of the subsequent season.

Daniel and Lynette's headshots

Daniel W. Boothe and Lynette Andrews 

What or who inspires/ influences your work? Lynette Andrews: The greatest inspiration behind what Symphonicity offers the community are the volunteers. Volunteers who already contribute to society in professions that range from doctors and lawyers to engineers and military personnel. Together our 200+ musician and non-musician volunteers give approximately twelve-thousand hours (12,000) annually to produce excellent and innovative concert performances and pre-concert activities for our audience and other Hampton Roads residents.

What education programs are offered? Lynette Andrews: One of Symphonicity’s greatest strengths is providing opportunities for community members to experience “live” classical music in a state-of-the-art venue. For those who are not likely, or unable, to attend one of our traditional concerts, Symphonicity’s small ensemble program allows musicians to step off the stage and perform in such places as senior resident homes, special-need summer camps, schools, and hospitals. Sharing music is part of our mission, but we also recognize the need to create opportunities where we can support the advancement of music education. This is achieved through our Instrument Petting Zoo program – a program that offers children and adults a chance to try an instrument – as well as the Annual District Orchestra Preparatory Day where Symphonicity musicians come alongside local high school string players to help them prepare for auditions. Although these programs are important and have allowed us to reach this past year an additional 5900 residents, Symphonicity believes it can do more to help develop young musicians who may very well become the future musicians of Symphonicity and the Hampton Roads community. Thus, we are currently developing The Young Musicians Scholarship Program, a new effort designed to provide qualifying students private music instructions for one year. Scholarship candidacy is based upon socio-economic conditions, a desire to learn (via a student essay) and a willingness for parents & guardians to make transportation arrangements and oversee student practice time. The private teachers selected to instruct the scholarship student will come from a pool of qualified professionals determined by Symphonicity’s Community Outreach and Education committee. We are hopeful that even in a COVID-19 environment, we will be able to safely implement this program this year if extra funding is secured.

What makes your work unique to our community, and why is that important? Lynette Andrews: We present a wonderful opportunity for talented community members who serve in other occupations and vocations to also participate in a high-quality musical experience. By virtue of their volunteer participation, we are then able to offer that high-quality musical experience at an affordable level which creates tremendous value for our community. Our mission is the link between the various grassroots community music groups (such as in churches, schools, etc.) and the world-class quality of professional groups in our region. Together we help strengthen the fabric of a vibrant arts community by ensuring there will always be affordable and accessible classical music opportunities.

Symphonicity on stage at the Sandler Center

 Full Choir and Orchestra

How have you/ your staff been handling COVID/ what have you been doing since the shutdown? How are you helping your staff and artists during this time? Lynette Andrews: Symphonicity is comprised of more than two hundred volunteers, seven part-time staff members, and a board of directors. When the concert season was canceled in the spring, there was little effect on the day-to-day internal operations other than a host of emails and telephone calls. With five of our seven staff members regularly working at home, there was little disruption in our normal processes and even less about how we might continue to function virtually. Due to the generosity of our patrons and supporters and a small business loan, we have been able to continue to pay our staff as well as our general operating expenses. This has enabled us to continue planning for all the possible scenarios.

What adjustments has the virus caused to your schedule? Lynette Andrews: In addition to the cancelation of our final two concerts, Symphonicity is also unable to perform the annual summer concerts for the Neptune Festival’s Symphony by the Sea series. We are currently working out the details for our alternative plans for our upcoming concert season slated to begin this Fall. Even if we are unable to perform “live” concerts this year, Symphonicity will still be able to offer its audience quality experiences and celebrate its special 40th anniversary in a virtual setting.

What’s the biggest change to educational/ community programs? Lynette Andrews: This year Symphonicity reached an additional 5900 residents through its education and outreach program. Due to COVID-19, however, ten events scheduled in March, April and May were canceled, resulting in an estimated 2000 residents who were not able to enjoy the programs. Symphonicity is looking forward to having one of its small ensembles participate in the first concert since spring as part of the City of Chesapeake’s Patriots Day scheduled on September 11th. Although this concert could be subject to COVID-19 cancelation, we are pleased to be planning a live outdoor concert tribute to first-responders with also musical memorialization of the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

What’s the most encouraging thing you’ve learned during this time? Lynette Andrews: We learned that our patrons and supporters are committed to Symphonicity and its mission in both good times and in bad. Over 70% of our ticket holders contributed their canceled tickets back to the orchestra and several of our corporate sponsors and supporting foundations, including the Helen Gifford Foundation, Capital Group Companies and BIG Investment Services, allowed us to use their support to help with canceled concert expenses. It was particularly encouraging to receive the generous assistance of the city of Virginia Beach, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Sandler Center Foundation to help navigate through all the unknowns.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced? (Personally and/or as a company) Lynette Andrews: It was particularly challenging to stop mid-course during a successful season and begin to think about all the ramifications of not being able to do what we are meant to do. The continued existence of a symphony orchestra that cannot rehearse or perform is questionable and the data to support the viable alternatives is ever-changing. It is unsettling to know that so many across orchestras around the world have had to close their doors. The difference for Symphonicity is that we are a volunteer community orchestra where all of its members play for the love of music. It is honestly that love that has safeguarded us during this time along with the outpouring of support by our ticket holders, donors, corporate sponsors, contributing foundations and the city and state. They are the reason for Symphonicity’s continued presence in the community.

Symphonicity playing for some ballerinas on stage

Orchestra and Ballet Virginia

What are some passion projects that you hope to work on while we are “paused”? Lynette Andrews: Since Symphonicity’s concert season runs from September to May, this “paused” time is similar to the other times between seasons when we focus on the details of upcoming seasons and look to establish new partners and collaborators. The particular limitations to live performances have especially given rise to new ideas and bandwidth for creating online content.

What advice do you have to artists trying to work on their craft? Daniel W. Boothe: It’s important to stay connected to what inspires you. During this time with so many legitimate worries and obstacles, it is easy to become fixated on fear, anxiety or even just the basic need to emotionally, mentally and physically survive. But staying connected to what inspires you is what will give purpose to our continued and collective existence within the arts. Find new music and artistic forms that intrigue you. Read more biographies or study other historic examples of how artists continued with their mission during upheaval, strife and even war. Consider how aspects of the current situation could be expressed through artistic forms. And take time to breath and rest. This is a rare opportunity when the world expects little more than that during this time and taking that time for self-recovery and reconstitution can only lead to stronger output in the future.

What do you need during this time? Lynette Andrews: We need the continued financial support and patience of our patrons & sponsors as we work out the details of the upcoming season as well as determine the best way to maintain the health and vibrancy of the organization through the pandemic and beyond.

In what ways are you being proactive for re-opening? Daniel W. Boothe: We have been actively building different scenarios with other community partners to include other arts organizations and broadcast media. We have also been meeting regularly to discuss the latest public health updates followed by discussions on how to further adjust or recreate our contingency plans. On the basis of different budget projections and COVID-19 mitigation factors, we have a menu of options to execute responsibility.

Where are you in your planning for next year? What’s your plan for subscribers or members if you know that already? Daniel W. Boothe: Initially we have been planning to offer a new masterworks season entitled, “Breaking Barriers.” It would feature a myriad of minority, woman and other underrepresented artists and composers that have broken barriers juxtaposed with other familiar composers known for their iconic barrier-breaking contributions to classical music. Even without an audience, we have been planning a possible 360 degree presentation of the orchestra performing this music in the concert hall, socially distanced throughout the balconies, seats and the stage. This performance would then be streamed online for viewing with multiple camera angles. However, if concert hall assembly is not possible for our orchestra, we are planning some smaller chamber music live performances throughout the community and an array of online interviews and “virtual concerts” featuring previously recorded programs.

What do you hope to return to? What do you hope the future of the arts looks like? Are there specific changes you would like to see when we come back? Daniel W. Boothe: When we are able to return to the concert hall as a full orchestra, we hope there is a renewed interest and understood value of the performing arts. Oftentimes, it is not until the absence of something that it becomes appreciated the most. And with that new interest in the performing arts, we hope to build an even more diverse audience that can appreciate not only the established traditions of classical music but also the frontier of new and exciting experiences being created for symphony orchestras in the 21st century.

Symphonicity on stage outdoors

Town Center Jurassic Journey 2019

What conversations do we need to be having right now? Are you seeing those happening? Daniel W. Boothe: We think it is important to not forget about the arts during a time like this. When the arts are visible they are sometimes taken for granted. When the arts are not visible, they may be completely forgotten. However, it is the arts that have given the world such meaningful expressions of our history and our human condition. The arts have provided culture an effective platform for shaping the present and the future. The performing arts provide a way for many to come together as one in the expression of common ideas and shared experiences. In short, the arts make the world not just a better place, but a place worth living. We must have real conversations about the role of the arts and how the arts must be supported in order to be preserved.

What are you, personally, most looking forward to after the shutdown? Daniel W. Boothe: Without a doubt, the first thing that comes to my mind is what it will feel like to see my colleagues again in one place, at one time, with one collective purpose. Their very existence in my life gives intangible value. And it is that value that gives the music such life.

Lynette Andrews: We are looking forward to being together in one room rehearsing for concerts and performing beautiful music in front of a live, full audience at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.

Is there a specific upcoming project you would like people to know about? Daniel W. Boothe: We are looking forward to celebrating our 40th Anniversary in 2020/21, even if that means celebrating mainly through online opportunities. We have exciting plans for many interviews, streams of past concerts, special online guests and more. All of this will be unveiled within our brand new website to begin the 2020/21 40th Anniversary season. We hope everyone will join us at:

Anything else you want to talk about? Daniel W. Boothe: There are never enough words or feelings to convey our appreciation for the City of Virginia Beach and our many patrons, sponsors and volunteers who make Symphonicity possible. Perhaps never in our organization’s history have we been so challenged just to survive but also never have we had more support than we seem to have now. We want to thank everyone who continues to believe in us and our mission. And we want to honor that support by giving all that we can each and every day in any possible way.

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