Welsh enjoys position on JSO
Brooke Welsh, the new executive director of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, poses for a photograph in her office in downtown Johnstown. (Staff photo by Brian Schrock / March 17, 2013)
Trained since the age of 8 to play piano, Welsh has a bachelor's degree in music and psychology from Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, a master's degree in piano from Temple University, Philadelphia, and work experience with several orchestras.
"I think it's nice because it helps me relate to the musicians," she said.
Welsh, 34, admits that playing with the orchestra would be fun.
"If someday I was a soloist and they asked me to play a piece, sure," she said with a laugh.
But Welsh said being around professional musicians and aiding their efforts as the orchestra's executive director is equally rewarding.
"I love it. It's a lot of fun," she said. "Music has always been important to me. It's a part of my life and to now be working in such a wonderful organization that's close to my home with such talented people — I feel very blessed."
The Tyrone native got her first real taste of the orchestra as an intern for the Philadelphia Orchestra. The internship exposed her to the importance of educational partnerships.
"With schools cutting funding (for the arts), it was really impressive to me that orchestras were stepping up and saying it's important enough that we're going to offer programs at a discounted price or for free so students can come and really be exposed to music and enjoy it," she said.
The Johnstown Symphony Orchestra provides education and community outreach through its youth orchestra, symphony chorus, children's choruses and Community Strings, a networking group for adults taking lessons on string instruments. The orchestra also offers free annual concerts for fifth-grade students and reduced ticket prices for students in general.
"One of the things we're trying to do is not just reach the students through the programs but also get them to come to the concerts," she said.
Welsh said outreach is a good way to introduce classical music to young people.
"I think it's smart for them to do that because if they want to stay relevant to the community, they have to reach out to younger people or the audiences won't be there in the future," she said.
Welsh is convinced that more people would be fans of classical music if they could hear it the way it was meant to be heard: in a concert hall.
"I personally think that classical music can be like a great rock concert," she said. "The strings. The rhythm. It's very powerful. I think sometimes people write it off if they hear it on the radio because the radio just doesn't do it justice."
Welsh worked for the Florida Orchestra in Tampa, Fla., and the Altoona Symphony Orchestra prior to coming to Johnstown. A colleague told her about the position, which was being filled temporarily by a consulting firm as part of a staff realignment.
Jim Beener, chairman of the orchestra's Board of Trustees, said Welsh was one of the last candidates to be interviewed as part of a nationwide search. She was offered the job and began working in June.
"Brooke is coming to us from State College," he said. "She's got a fairly significant musical background and she brings kind of a different perspective on a lot of things. I guess I would call them 'new media' approaches to the way people seek entertainment."
Marketing — both through traditional and social media — is one of Welsh's responsibilities. She also is responsible for fundraising for the orchestra, which operates on an annual budget of about $650,000.
Less than half of that amount comes from ticket sales. The remainder is raised through an annual fund drive, donations, grants and corporate sponsorships.
"It's a fairly expensive proposition to put a full symphony orchestra on stage," Beener said.
As the head of marketing and public relations, Welsh also works to counteract common misconceptions about the orchestra, including the idea that its members are volunteers.
The truth, Welsh said, is that all 80 members of the orchestra are professional musicians, each paid per rehearsal and performance. The full-time staff, which includes Maestro Istvan Jaray, the orchestra's music director since 1984, numbers four.
The orchestra also pays rent to perform at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, its home on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.
For now Welsh is focused on finishing the organization's annual fund drive and preparing for the final two concerts of the 2012-13 season. That will be followed by a Mother's Day concert at Somerset high school on May 12 and a free Fourth of July performance — replete with synchronized fireworks and cannon shots — at Point Stadium in Johnstown.
"It makes for a wonderful night out," Welsh said of the orchestra in general. "It adds cultural value to the community, it enhances the economics of the community and it brings people together."