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In the Spotlight - December 2012
“Wow.” That’s how Stephanie Brandow, newly-named president of the Volunteer Committees for The Philadelphia Orchestra, describes her first time hearing the Orchestra. “It was remarkable—like going to Disneyland for the first time.”
Stephanie grew up in Idaho, attending concerts of the Idaho State University Symphony with her parents. Her mother was a volunteer for the Symphony and her father was a loyal concertgoer and supporter. The youngest of four children, Stephanie was not allowed to stay home alone with her two older brothers while her parents attended the concerts. “I probably would have lost my life,” she says with a laugh. She has very fond memories of attending every concert, reveling in the music. Perhaps more important for a young child, however, were the cookies at the end! Her mother was the leader of group of women that served cookies and coffee after every concert, and she passed along that spirit of volunteering to Stephanie.
The opportunity to be president of the Orchestra’s Volunteer Committees is an exciting honor for Stephanie. “Volunteering is a labor of love,” she says. “It can be a thankless job, but if I can accomplish one thing in my two-year tenure it will be to make those remarkable women aware of how much they are appreciated. There is so much unbelievable talent in that group. To see what they can do is amazing: the number of events and the professionalism and thoughtfulness with which they do everything. I feel a strong connection with these women, and being a volunteer for the Orchestra has been, and will continue to be, a big part of my life. I’m having a tremendous amount of fun!”
Volunteer Committees President Stephanie Brandow with husband Kirk at the Orchestra's 2012 Opening Night event (Photo: Jessica Griffin)
Stephanie first became involved with the Orchestra on a Volunteer level a little more than a dozen years ago. She was approached by Alex Pennington (a former Volunteer Committees president) to help with a fundraiser for the Orchestra produced by the Chestnut Hill Volunteer Committee: Toys for Big Boys. She then joined the Chestnut Hill Committee (eventually becoming its president), and within a few years chaired one of their biggest events, Jewel Noel; another Toys for Big Boys; and the Orchestra’s 2008 Opening Night Gala (with current Board Chairman Richard Worley). Stephanie has also become actively involved with the Academy of Music, including as a co-chair of the 153rd Anniversary Program Book Committee in 2010.
In recent years Stephanie has choosen to become more involved with her son and his school, which has removed her a bit from her work with the Orchestra. But now that her son is older, she felt the time was right to come back to the Orchestra in a different capacity.
“Yannick was definitely part of the reason I agreed to step into the president’s role at this time,” Stephanie says. “We are poised for such great things. We have all the pieces and we just have to put them together.” She says the excitement surrounding Yannick is palpable. “He is unbelievable. If his energy isn’t contagious, nobody’s could be. He’s just magnetic.” She remembers the first time she saw him conduct. “My face hurt after the concert. I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt ‘Wow we’ve arrived.’ The years to come are going to be terrific.”
An avid runner, Stephanie often does her best thinking while running. Her mind has been working overtime recently with all the ideas she has for her time as leader of the Volunteers. “We need to think about the future and more long-range,” she says. One of the things she would like to focus on is education, how children come to know the Orchestra, and how to make it friendly and engaging. “I’m here because my parents had classical music in their lives. In this day and age there aren’t a lot of music classes in school, if any at all, and if your parents aren’t interested in it, they aren’t playing it around the house or in the car. It’s not the soundtrack to your life.”
She continues: “We need to nurture young people. Kids today are overloaded with activities and if they can hear a bit of classical music it might be the thing that calms their minds, and centers them a bit more.” Her son used to go, begrudgingly, to Family Concerts when he was younger. But, like others, classical music wasn’t speaking to him at that time. “He told me that he didn’t want to come anymore, that he was done,” she says. But she brought him to one of Yannick’s Stokowski Celebration Concerts this past June at the Academy of Music and he loved it. “I’m back in!” he told her afterwards. Her 22-year-old daughter has become an eager participant in the Orchestra’s new Young Friends after discovering she also enjoys classical music now more than she did before.
Stephanie’s husband, Kirk, is also a lover of classical music. As an Orchestra subscriber when they met, he brought her back to regular attendance at concerts. Previously, she had been raising two kids, running a business, and trying to go back to school. “Things were moving very quickly, and I realized that music was really lacking in my life. I was grateful for Kirk’s influence in adding it back.”
Like Stephanie, Kirk grew up with music in his life, even though he himself didn’t play an instrument. Both his parents were musicians and played classical music all the time. Stephanie’s dad sang in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. While she played piano, flute, and piccolo, her studies dropped off in high school. “It wasn’t cool to play music, and, like many adolescents I was struggling to be cool,” she says. “At some point, you decide that either you’re a musician or you’re not.”
“Music is so important to me,” Stephanie says, “and so powerful. I often get touched by something in a concert and begin to cry.” She comes back to Yannick: “He said it very well, that ‘music has a way to take you out of the moment and put you somewhere else.’ There aren’t many things that do that anymore. Listening to great music is magical. It re-energizes you from your soul. And to watch Yannick and the Orchestra perform together is so joyous. He’s real. He’s passionate. You can see that he loves what he does. And observing the musicians interacting with him with smiles on their faces, you can see there is a symbiotic relationship there that is neat to watch.”