Symphony in C may have moved from Camden to Collingswood, but the organization is still hitting all the right notes as they seek to educate disadvantaged students in Camden and Philadelphia while supporting the development of exceptional young musicians.
Having an office in Camden was geographically advantageous, said Interim President Pamela Brant, as the symphony provides an “essential link” for high caliber music students to practice performing professionally while also contributing to the local community by teaching disadvantaged students in Camden.
Last month’s move, however, was initiated out of necessity, but Symphony in C is still “very excited” about the many new opportunities they will have in Collingswood while maintaining their relationships in neighboring Camden, explained Brant.
Collingswood could boost awareness
The symphony shared their Camden office at the Victor building with Greater Camden Partnership until the group recently merged with Cooper’s Ferry Development Association. As the rent there was “substantial,” said Brant, the orchestra needed a partner to stay in that location.
Their lease was up too though, so they assessed the situation and discovered a very nice office in Collingswood with a reasonable rent. Another benefit, they realized was that being on “the main drag” in Collingswood would offer them a greater marketing opportunity, Brant said.
After meeting with Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley, who had “lots of good ideas,” said Brant, it appears there is “no end to the opportunities” in Collingswood. They will be able to expand programming to capacity with staffing.
Symphony will continue Camden programs
“We are passionate about what we do,” Brant explained and the symphony’s partnership with Camden schools is a very important part of their structure and philosophy.
Brian Santero is in his third season as principle trombonist for Symphony in C. He “can never say too much” about the symphony because “education is a feature of everything” with them.
Once a week, Santero teaches a group class of “sweet little kids” at St. Anthony of Padua’s in Camden. As a self-professed “nerdy white guy from rural New York,” coming in to teach at a predominately Black and Hispanic community seemed daunting, but music is a “beautiful, universal language” so the cultural and economic differences “doesn’t really matter,” explained Santero.
He said his students also impress him at every turn. One day recently, they had a few extra minutes at the end of the lesson. He did not want to burn the students out with additional work, so he told them they could get started on their homework if they wanted.
“Every single student pulled out homework. No one pulled out a cell phone or a game,” he said.He does not expect or even necessarily hope that they all pursue music as a career when they are older, just that “it informs them and helps them to realize there is more to life than gangs,” he added.
Symphony in C’s principle flutist Megan Emigh echoed Santero’s experience. She said it is “neat to see students blossom with help and encouragement.” Some are from “really rough neighborhoods,” but “music transcends all of that.” It creates a “great meeting place to bridge the cultural and lifestyle differences… Even if we don’t speak the same language or dialect, or have similar life experiences of not, we have a way to communicate through music.”
Music allows the students to “share some of themselves” by “opening up a lot of neat avenues of communication,” she explained.
“We can’t fix a broken city or broken homes,” said Brant, “but we can bring music and hope.”As much as Santero and Emigh learn from their experiences teaching, both said that being a member of Symphony in C helps them grow as musicians as well.
A chance to become a professional musician
After playing piccolo with the symphony in their 2006-2007 season, Emigh was accepted at Switzerland’s prestigious Musik Akademie Der Stadt Basel where she spent two years getting her Bachelor’s degree.”Symphony in C definitely helped prepare me” for the rigors of the school, she said. “Every musical experience builds on the next,” and the challenges of the symphony prepped her for jobs and opportunities in Switzerland where she had to be part of “real, professional orchestra.” In Switzerland, the orchestras had no rehearsals before the week of the performance. Emigh said she just had to come in the week of the concert, ready for intense rehearsals.
Emigh said that she is “really grateful for the opportunity to grow and develop” as a member of Symphony in C. It is a “special part of development as a person and a musician.”
Santero is also appreciative for the experiences Symphony in C has offered him because it helps keep him sharp after graduating from the Curtis Institute of Music. He explained that he is not just a musician – he also builds computers and websites and does video editing. “It is easy to get sucked into the internet… and forget to practice.” The commitment to Symphony in C is “a good little nudge” to “help me stay on my A-game.””It helped immensely this year. I don’t know where else I would regularly play excellent music at a high level,” said Santero.
The response to Symphony in C’s move has been “better than we imagined,” said Brant, “as Collingswood shares many of the same cultural interests” as Symphony in C. “It is remarkable how friendly everyone is. Even the mailman stopped in the new office.”