A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family
Cackie Rogers has a very clear memory of her first Philadelphia Orchestra visits. When she was about seven, her grandmother, Grace Buck, would take her to the children’s concerts at the Academy of Music. “I was her first granddaughter,” she says. “She had all sons so she thought it was pretty exciting to have a little girl to play with.” They would go to Horn and Hardart’s for lunch, dining on the little sandwiches behind the glass windows before heading to the performance. “We would sit in the Parquet,” she says, “and I spent the whole time looking up at the chandelier just to make sure it wasn’t going to fall down on me. I remember that very vividly! Maybe I’d been told the story of the Phantom of the Opera.”
Rogers, it turns out, would have much more presence at the Orchestra than any phantom. With the start of the new season, the Haverford resident assumed the position of president of the Volunteer Committees, continuing a relationship that never ceased after those childhood concerts. She attended performances while a student at the Shipley School, and after college worked at the Academy of Music in a “little office behind the coat room—which is no longer a coat room,” she says. “That was great. I learned a lot—a lot, a lot—about development.”
When she left the job to raise her kids, she stayed involved, writing captions for the Academy Anniversary Concert and Ball program book. At age 33 she became a full-fledged volunteer with the West Philadelphia Committee, following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, and continuing a long family history of support and patronage. “I’ve stayed on for 25 years since then,” she says.
Now, a generation later, one of the challenges in her new role is to keep young members coming in. “Anyone is welcome,” says Rogers. “What I would say to almost anyone is—come give it a try. It’s so rewarding. These musicians are so amazing, not just their sheer talent, which is incredible, but they are so generous with their time. They are so dedicated to the education of children through music and particularly in supporting schools whose programs have been taken away from them.” And, “It’s just fun.”
The Philadelphia Orchestra Volunteer Committees are almost as old as the Orchestra itself. The first committee formed in 1904 and membership grew along geographic lines. Today there are seven committees—Central, West Philadelphia, Main Line, New Jersey, Rittenhouse Square, Chestnut Hill, and Chestnut Hill Musical Cocktails—with one main mission: to support and raise money for the Orchestra. Collectively they spearhead events including Opening Night, the annual Golf Classic, and, last spring, an evening of song and bluegrass at World Cafe Live. Each committee hosts individual events as well, such as the West Philadelphia Committee’s Morning Musicales—presenting emerging artists at Curtis’s Field Concert Hall; the Main Line Committee’s Notable Kitchen Tours; and the Chestnut Hill Committee’s Jewel Noel holiday fundraiser. “Just to name a few,” says Rogers. “I could go on and on but you don’t want to be talking to me at midnight!”
Today there are some 460 volunteers. “It’s been fun,” says Rogers. “When I first went on the Committee, I was very much the junior person. Over the years I’ve been able to bring a lot of my friends and associates on.”
Rogers, like many fans, is enamored with Yannick’s vitality and says she’s especially enjoying seeing the Orchestra present events that appeal to a younger audience. The West Side Story film with live orchestra “was just astonishing,” she says. And she wishes some of the Mann Center offerings, like the concerts featuring the music of Star Trek and Toy Story, had been options when her kids were small.
“I took my two youngest to the children’s concerts,” she says. “They didn’t love it. They would have rather been playing hockey or something … and that’s okay! But if I had taken them to the Mann Center to see the Pixar—they would have loved it and then maybe that would have been a little entrée to the Orchestra. “I am very happy to go sit in a concert hall and listen to Beethoven and Mozart. That doesn’t appeal to everybody. But the point is, we’re doing different and new things.”
In addition to heading her own West Philadelphia Committee, Rogers has, over the years, chaired Opening Night and the Academy Anniversary Concert and Ball. With 30 years of Philadelphia Orchestra commitment, is she ready to assume the Chief Volunteer position?
“Well!” she laughs, “I’m feeling pretty good about it. I’ve been in the wings for awhile,” adding, “Come to the Orchestra! Come see how great it is. Come hear the sounds … and try some of these unusual events.”