Six months ago, I was an average symphony season ticket holder, attending the concerts, enjoying the music and admiring the talents of the players, guest artists and music director Mark Russell Smith. I had little idea of the efforts that lead up to the performance, nor of the far-reaching impact that the Quad City Symphony Orchestra has upon our community.
I was retired from WQPT Quad Cities PBS for only two weeks when board President Julie McHard called to offer me the opportunity to be interim executive director while they conducted a nationwide search to replace Jeff vom Saal, who is now heading up the Marin Symphony in San Raphael, Calif.
Realizing that this sort of opportunity doesn't come around often, I accepted the offer with little hesitation, not knowing that I was about to embark upon an incredible learning experience.
I soon became aware of the logistics of preparing symphony halls for a performance, the details of contracting with orchestra players and guest artists, and the countless items handled by the staff, such as preparing programs, making sure the players have the music they need for each performance, or selling tickets to patrons that visit the QCSO office -- just to name a few. I also discovered that the QCSO is one of the oldest, continuously-running symphonies in the United States, and that it will observe its 100th anniversary in the 2014-2015 season, an accomplishment in which we should all take great pride.
I learned that symphonies, unlike public broadcasting which receives some government funding, must raise nearly their entire budgets from local supporters.
Other than that distinction, there are more similarities than differences between WQPT and the QCSO. Both have small, but extremely dedicated staffs that make their budgets stretch further than you might imagine possible. Both have dedicated boards and volunteers to help achieve their mission, and both produce an end product that is vital for a society that values arts, culture and education.
WQPT's primary product is delivered into our homes over the airwaves, but the symphony depends upon our patrons to come to us.
And that they do, by the thousands, to 12 Masterworks concert performances each year at Davenport's Adler Theater and Augustana's Centennial Hall in Rock Island -- the only bistate symphony venue arrangement in the United States.
Even bigger crowds come to the larger venues of LeClaire Park and the i wireless Center for the annual Riverfront Pops and Holiday Pops concerts.
Because of my career in public TV, I was accustomed to working for an organization closely tied to an educational mission, but not until I was inside the QCSO did I realize that education and community outreach are critical components of a symphony's mission as well.
The annual Symphony Day (coming up on Feb. 12) brings thousands of fourth and fifth graders to the Adler Theater to experience a live concert by the Quad City Youth Symphony Orchestra, supplemented by comprehensive study guides that can be integrated into the school's music education program.
Outreach tours bring professional musicians into the schools, with string, brass and woodwind groups introducing children to music fundamentals and instruments. And to encourage students to pursue music education, the QCSO annually provides over $13,500 in scholarships.
It's been inspirational to see how the Instruments for Kids program collects used musical instruments for distribution to kids unable to rent or purchase their own instruments, providing an opportunity for a budding musician whose talent might otherwise go undeveloped.
We invite students to observe a full symphony rehearsal, allow them to go "behind the scenes," to see how the conductor and musicians interact, and meet the performers -- all part of the The Students@Symphony program.
The QCSO hosts Master Classes with guest artists and orchestra members throughout the season, and all this is offered at no charge to the community.
And for those students wishing to further their music education and have opportunities to perform, the QCSO offers the Youth Symphony Orchestra, Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, String Ensemble and Prelude Strings, all directed by professional music educators. Some of those students had an exciting opportunity to play at the Holiday Pops concert a few weeks ago with violinist Mark Wood, the Quad City Arts Visiting Artist.
As a part-time interim manager, my role was to assist the staff and board in whatever ways I could while the search was underway for a new leader. It's been a great experience for me, and I've learned so much about the depth of support that our community has for the symphony. Ben Loeb has now joined the Quad City Symphony Orchestra Association as our new executive director, and we all welcome him and his family to the area.
As for me, I'll go back to observing the QCSO's progress from my usual fourth row seat in the Adler Theater's balcony, with a newfound appreciation of all the planning and hard work that happens before the maestro raises his baton.
Rick Best, former general manager of WQPT public television, served as interm director of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra.