If you’re a regular at the Kimmel Center, you probably know her by sight: a petite woman in a snappy uniform, with her light blonde hair stylishly coifed, and a smile bright enough to light the way to your seat.
Antoinette DuBiel is assistant head usher at the Kimmel Center. She demurely says she’s “of retirement age,” adding, “this is a perfect retirement job. There couldn’t be any other that’s this good for me!”
Antoinette was born into a music-loving Italian-American family in South Philadelphia and grew up in Chestnut Hill. “Music was like part of breathing.” She was about 12 years old the first time she heard The Philadelphia Orchestra in concert at the Academy of Music. “I remember I walked way, way up and sat in the Amphitheatre. I think it was about two bucks!”
By this time, Antoinette had been taking piano lessons for several years, but life took her in different (non-musical) directions for a time. She worked in real estate, married, and started a family. And then, she decided to go back to the keyboard. She enrolled at Chestnut Hill College to get a music degree in piano performance.
“I loved it! I loved all the concerts, especially playing piano duets with my fellow students. But music as a career? It’s a lot of work to perform at that level, and by this time I was a wife and mother, a business owner [real estate]. I would have wanted to be at the top of the profession, and it didn’t seem to be in the cards.”
But in 1994 another door into music opened. By then, both her husband and daughter were working as ushers at the Academy of Music. One day she went there with them to hear a Philadelphia Orchestra concert. “And it turned out, the Academy was looking for ushers. My music degree certainly didn’t hurt; it’s definitely been an asset for me.”
Now, all these years later, she absolutely loves the job. “It makes my heart wiggle just talking about it; it’s just where I need to be!”
What keeps her going, after nearly a quarter century on the job?
“I get a lot of lovely comments from the guests. It’s heartwarming when they thank you and appreciate what you’re doing. They like your kindness, even if it’s your job. Plus, some of them don’t have anybody to talk to, but they know I know music. I can answer their questions, and appreciate what they like.”
And of course, there’s the glorious music. “Even if I’m not inside the theater, I can hear it. The Philadelphia Orchestra? There is none better! It’s like being in heaven for me. I’ve come to love Mahler, one of the best things that could have happened to me. I didn’t know Bruckner, but I loved the piece I heard the other night [Symphony No. 8]. Sometimes I look up, when I’m hearing this absolutely fabulous concert, and Yannick is so emotional, and I can feel the emotion, I just think how lucky I am!”