Just Another Monday Night Conducting

by Rhonda P. Hunsinger

It happened again.

The South Carolina Philharmonic’s “Conduct the Phil” events are joyous occasions, as we pop up in various places around the Midlands and invite the public to try their hand at conducting. It’s just plain fun to watch the musicians adjust to the style of a new conductor every few minutes, and the giant smiles of wonder as our conductors realize that the orchestra really is responding to their every gesture.

Sometimes, however, my emotions go beyond “joyous.” It happened earlier this season when we visited the Department of Juvenile Justice and witnessed the courage demonstrated by the kids who conducted, and even one who performed with our orchestra – in front of his friends, and with their support. Goose pimples. Awe. Humbling. There is no single word that can describe this feeling.

Last night we went to Epworth Children’s Home. At first, it wasn’t that different from our typical “Conduct the Phil,” with children stepping forward, sometimes two and three on the podium at a time, waving the baton in rhythm (and sometimes not in rhythm) to keep the orchestra playing. Some were nervous and conducted gently. Others danced as they waved their batons wildly in the air. One little girl about two years old beat the baton up and down hard, hitting the music stand, and in perfect rhythm. I found out later that for most of these kids, this was their first exposure to a live orchestra, or even live music of any kind.

I didn’t have to do much “recruiting” of conductors last night, because the staff made sure there was always someone ready to take the baton for the next piece. So I took this rare opportunity to just sit back and watch.

Fairly early in the evening a little girl stepped up – she looked to be around eight or nine years old – and raised both arms up properly. She gave the orchestra a downbeat, and then established a rhythm with her right hand, which held the baton. Her left hand kept rhythm too, and she seemed to sense when it was time to cue the various sections with a flick of her wrist, or a nod of her head. She was very serious, but also comfortable with the task at hand, as if it was just another Monday night conducting a professional symphony. I could see by the expressions on the musicians’ faces that they had not expected this level of skill and seriousness from a young child, and perhaps especially in this setting, where children have been placed because of abuse, neglect or significant loss in their lives. With a history of fractured support systems for these children, one of the pastors told me, classical music wasn’t even in their wheelhouse.

The girl stepped off the podium to great applause and sat down on the grass to watch some more. She continued to conduct from her spot. More kids stepped up, and the fun continued. Attention finally waned, with some of the older boys drifting off to toss a football in the background. The sun was setting, the weather was beautiful, and the crowd of children of all ages, Epworth staff, counselors, parents and guests watched, played and enjoyed each other’s company as classical music continued to fill the air.

Close to the end of our time there, the little girl who had conducted with such care stepped forward again. For me, she was mesmerizing to watch and I wondered about her. Did she play an instrument? Had she ever seen an orchestra before?

As she stepped off the podium for a second time, one of our cellists reached out to her and said a few words quietly. He nodded and smiled, spoke a bit more, and her eyes lit up. She said a quiet thank you, and walked away with a smile on her face. I was certain she had just received well deserved praise for her talent and dedication that night.

And so the goose pimples came back and I felt that overwhelming sense of awe in the power of music. There is no doubt in my mind that every child that conducted will remember this day into their adulthood. I can’t know what the fate of that little girl will be, but if just given a chance, I can imagine her learning to play an instrument, or having a future as a school chorus, band or orchestra director. Or perhaps aspiring to conduct a professional orchestra. She already has experience!

I hope life brings her those opportunities to pursue whatever it is she loves, and for wherever her talents are greatest. I wish it for all these kids, and am thankful that, while we cannot significantly influence their futures, we at least had the privilege of introducing them to live classical music and giving many of them a moment to treasure.

“Conduct the Phil” is made possible, in part, through a Connected Communities Grant from Central Carolina Community Foundation.



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DJJ Juveniles Conduct the Phil

by Rhonda P. Hunsinger

With the support of Central Carolina Community Foundation, the SC Phil is able to take the orchestra out into the community and give everyone a chance to experience symphonic music from the podium. You might visit Soda City Market, the Irmo Okra Strut or the SC State Fair, and suddenly come upon a orchestra. There is no conductor – just a podium, a music stand, a baton and a sign that says, “Conduct Us.” What follows next is usually unpredictable and incredibly fun, as people of all ages and walks of life take their turn at the podium to Conduct the Phil.

This year we decided to extend the orchestra’s reach to those who might otherwise not have the opportunity to see, much less experience, an orchestra first-hand. First up was the SC Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), and quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It takes a fair amount of courage to step onto an orchestra podium for the first time. And it takes even more courage to do this in front of your friends when you are a teenager. Now imagine being a juvenile at DJJ. What kind of pressure is involved when you step up in front of everyone and conduct a symphony orchestra? You might embarrass yourself. They could make fun of you. Peer pressure is serious business, and at DJJ, I can only imagine what some of these kids have been through, and what courage it would take to step forward and conduct that orchestra.

Yet not only did these kids conduct with enthusiasm and excitement, but their friends supported and encouraged them with lots of applause and laughter, and even a few standing O’s.

“Hey lady!” I kept hearing, and I would turn and they would say, “He/she wants to conduct!” and would point to the person beside him. This person would then shake their head no quite vehemently. Then everyone else would encourage them, and the next thing we knew, he/she was standing in front of the orchestra, wide-eyed, with a baton in their hand.

The best part was watching each person’s face transform from nervousness to excitement and joy. I could see the realization hit that THEY were the ones making the music happen. Broad gestures brought loud music. Fast gestures made it all go faster. Stopping suddenly made the orchestra stop. And if you danced while conducting, the entire audience erupted in applause and shouts of support and laughter – and the orchestra members grinned so broadly, it was a wonder they could continue performing.

At one point a DJJ staff member turned to me and said, “I am seeing some kids here smiling and laughing that I never see smile. This is amazing.”

And if that didn’t already make the musicians and staff feel really good about being at DJJ yesterday, here is what made it exceptionally cool. There is one juvenile at DJJ that plays the violin. He used to perform in an ensemble in his hometown and has really missed the chance to perform with other musicians. DJJ reached out to us with a special request and we couldn’t have been happier to oblige. The music was sent to him advance and he practiced hard. And at the beginning of the performance, he was introduced and walked out to perform with the SC Phil to the sound of great applause from juveniles and staff alike.

He played beautifully. The support for him in the room was clearly there, and I can only imagine that this will be a day he will always remember. He played to the approval of his peers. And he played with the South Carolina Philharmonic.

These kids have had some hard times, but many of them have bright futures ahead of them. DJJ guides these juveniles through extensive rehabilitation programs to help them re-enter society and become successful in life.

I realize that a single concert at DJJ will not solve their problems. But I do believe that for many of them it was a chance to feel joyful at a time in their life where this is a rare thing, and it will be a day they will remember for a long time.











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A few cents on scents

Communications & Audience Services Director Jason Rapp dishes on the most common audience complaint he receives.

14212752_10209084084691974_7834985104947566439_nAnybody who’s been in a position, line of work in similar positions, or just been involved with something (anything) for a period of years can say with certainty that, after a time, patterns and consistencies develop. Sufficient observation/data can then lead you toward an informed opinion or judgment.

I’ve been in my position at the S.C. Phil for 10 years, much longer than I imagined, and also long enough to notice a pattern develop in the audience services portion of my role. There is one audience complaint I get, more consistently and in greater number, than any other. Continue reading

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30,000 Reasons to Love the Symphony League

by Rhonda P. Hunsinger

Yesterday afternoon several members of the Symphony League came by the office to present another check to us. I write that as if it is something we take for granted. “Oh yes, the League came by again with more money.”

Symphony League check 2016

L-R: Symphony League Treasurer Boyd Black, Symphony League President Anna Griswold, SC Phil Executive Director Rhonda Hunsinger, Symphony League Incoming President Cheryl Black

The reality is that we (you, me, our Board, the staff, SCP patrons and musicians) often don’t have any real concept of what is happening behind the scenes to enable this volunteer group to support an organization like ours. What do you envision? A few parties and membership meetings? Maybe they have bake sales, too. 

Baking and food are involved, but it is in the form of providing brunch to an entire orchestra two days in a row between our educational Link Up concerts at the Koger Center in February, as well as preparing a beautiful spread of homemade treats for a grand celebration party after one of our Masterworks concerts. This season, under the leadership of President Anna Griswold, Symphony League members also held numerous fundraising events and parties: an after work wine tasting event at M. Grille, a Christmas party at Harry and Betsy Mashburn’s home, a piano concert featuring Marina Lomazov at the home of Gillian & Helmut Albrecht, a Hand and Foot party, a Mah Jongg party, a Bridge luncheon, a past president’s luncheon and a grand Kentucky Derby party to finish the season.  (And I’ve probably missed something – there is that much to keep track of!) You can only begin to imagine the work involved in each of these events: planning, finding sponsors and hosts, coordinating logistics, decorating, and sometimes the hardest part because you are so darned tired – cleaning up afterwards.

Some of the funds raised go to the Symphony League Endowment. Distributions from this endowment, in turn, are given to the SC Phil. A portion of proceeds from special events also goes directly to the SC Phil. This year the Symphony League presented the SC Phil with two checks totaling $30,000 – an extraordinary level of giving for which we are not only very thankful, but that we are able to use to continue providing the youth education and concert programs the League works so hard to support. 

Beyond all this, the Symphony League has an organized structure that enables them to work efficiently and effectively, and they are strong partners with the SC Phil. In addition to the countless hours of work for the League, their president serves on the SC Phil’s Board of Directors. Their Education Chair serves as liaison to the SC Phil’s Education Committee.

In an era when orchestra volunteer leagues around the country are struggling with membership, the SC Phil’s Symphony League celebrated their 50th anniversary this season with 35 new members. They have a new website and a facebook page. They won’t tell you they don’t have their challenges. Continued increases in membership are critical to their survival and growth. And the League’s survival and growth enable their continued support of the SC Phil.

For more information: Symphony League Membership

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Remember the SC Phil on May 5 Through Midlands Gives!

The South Carolina Philharmonic is excited to take part in the second annual all day fundraising marathon that is Midlands Gives!

Q. What is Midlands Gives?
A. Midlands Gives is a local 24-hour online giving challenge, presented by Central Carolina Community Foundation, taking place on Tuesday, May 5, 2015. Contributions for Midlands Gives benefit your favorite causes and organizations right here in the Midlands, including the SC Phil. Gifts made on this day have the potential to go further as a result of prizes.

Q. How do I donate?
A. To participate, simply log on to MidlandsGives.org on May 5, complete the giving form, select the South Carolina Philharmonic and other charities you’d like to support, and make a donation using your credit or debit card ($20 minimum).

Your donation will help support the Philharmonic as we continue to provide various educational opportunities to schools across the Midlands, as well as fund our Masterworks Series.

For more questions on Midlands Gives please go to https://midlandsgives.org/#rules-faq

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A Look at Link Up – a Carnegie Hall Weill Institute Partnership


We sat down with new Education Director, Patrick O’Connor, for a more in depth look at the upcoming Young People’s Concert, The Orchestra Rocks.

Q What were you doing before you came to the SC Philharmonic?

Before joining the SC Philharmonic, I was the Music Director and Conductor for the District 214 Honors Orchestra and orchestras at Prospect High School in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago for ten years. I also served as Prospect’s Coordinator of Fine & Performing Arts at the beginning of my career.

Q What is your music background?

I started out as a trombone player in South Carolina’s Lexington District One. After graduating from Lexington High School in 1999, I attended and graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois with a degree in Music Education and emphasis in Conducting. I knew from a young age that I wanted to conduct orchestra, so I traveled to Illinois to study with a fantastic conductor, Steve Eggleston. My primary instrument is trombone, but I have also studied cello, piano, french horn, and tuba privately and performed with many orchestras, bands, jazz, and small ensembles across the country. I have also been fortunate to study conducting privately and participated in seminars with the current/former directors of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic of London, Tallahassee Symphony, Cincinnati Concert Orchestra, Oregon East Symphony, and the University of Illinois, Illinois Wesleyan, Boston University, and University of North Carolina Greensboro Orchestras.

Q  What are you most excited about regarding the Link Up programming?

When I was in middle school at Lexington, my music class attended a South Carolina Philharmonic concert.  I was inspired by the music and the orchestra’s sound, and admired the leadership the conductor displayed on the podium. The opportunity to hear an orchestra live had a huge impact on me as a child, and I am excited that the same may be possible for the students attending our Link Up program!

I am also excited that the Link Up program is engaging and interactive, providing students with the opportunity to play along on their recorder or sing with the Philharmonic. Two local school groups will also perform on stage with the SC Phil: the Dutch Fork High School Choir and Dreher High School Drumline. Dutch Fork’s choir will accompany the SCP, singing “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana, and the Dreher High School Drumline will perform a feature pieces for the students in the audience.

Q What is your favorite kind of food?

Definitely Asian food. I love Hot Pot, Korean BBQ, Pho…

Q Do you think being a dad will prove to be beneficial to you through this process? Any secrets you use in your parenting that will translate to the stage?

I was an educator first, so I really feel that my experience in education has helped me be a father. I think preparing for Link Up and being a father are very similar. Both take a lot of work, but are very rewarding experiences.

Q What is your favorite piece from this year’s Link Up selection?

My favorite piece on the Link Up program is “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana! It is a very recognizable and powerful piece that audiences love to hear, and musicians love to perform. I am also looking forward to hearing the SCP play Tchaikovsky’s Symphony IV Finale and Mars from The Planets.

Q Roughly how many children will be in attendance for Link Up?

 We will have more than 6,000 students performing in four concerts!

How often do you communicate with the folks at Carnegie Hall during the preparation process for Link Up?

The staff at Carnegie Hall has been fantastic! They hosted a Webinar last year, which provided a lot of guidance on organizing this year’s collaboration with the Philharmonic, The Orchestra Rocks! We also communicate often on the phone, via email, and through all of the resources on their website.

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SC Phil Extends Morihiko’s Contract for Four More Years!

by Rhonda P. Hunsinger

I am beyond delighted that the SC Philharmonic Board and Morihiko have agreed to a four-year extension of his contract. The relationship between an orchestra executive director and a music director can be tricky. Music directors are charged with moving an orchestra forward with great vision, and executive directors are expected to keep the budget balanced. With some orchestras, this creates a difficult friction between administrative and artistic. Creativity can be risky, and risk is difficult in the current economy.

I am fortunate that I work with a music director who understands the economic realities in Columbia. I also understand and fully support his desire to move the orchestra forward. We both want the same thing – the chance to bring a greater variety of musical programming to a broader audience in our city, and the funding to support it.

Morihiko is a wonderful partner, and I am excited to see what we can do in the next four years for our orchestra. To read more about the contract extension, please see the Free Times article at the link below:


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