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Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

What your Patron Services Specialists are up to…

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Patron Service Specialists Danny Hutchins, Samantha Gonzalez and Jessica Ford

Last fall, all of our donors received a letter and/or email introducing myself (Danny Hutchins), Samantha Gonzalez and Jessica Ford. The Symphony hired us as Patron Services Specialists in September in an effort to provide a more personal approach to customer service for our donors. I thought I’d give you all a closer look at what we do here at the Symphony.

As YOUR Patron Services Specialists, we are happy to help with questions regarding your contributions to our Annual Fund and with any issues you may have, such as ticket exchanges or ticket donations. During the day you will find us tucked away in our cubicles working on thank you letters for our gracious donors or making phone calls in an attempt to raise money for our many programs that fall under Music Matters!. For those of you that don’t already know, Music Matters! touches the lives of more than 125,000 children and adults each year through various outreach activities including instrument lessons for middle school students, family concerts, recitals at nursing homes, homeless shelters and fun-filled education concerts for elementary students.

Now, getting back to our effort to provide a more personal approach to customer service, one of the main goals of this change was to stop out-sourcing our tele-funding. As of last September, every phone call that is made regarding our Annual Fund is made by the Patron Services Specialists. As musicians ourselves (see our bios here), all three of us are very passionate about music education and do our best to raise as much money as possible for the Annual Fund. To achieve this, every day we make phone calls and send out letters and e-mails asking that you consider making or renewing your gift to the Symphony. Once we receive your gift, Samantha, Jessica and I send out thank you letters or make thank you calls to every one of our donors.

Attending events and concerts is another way for us to get to know our donors. The three of us attend every private rehearsal, attend at least two concerts a month each, and go to just about every other Symphony event. One of the most rewarding parts of our job is meeting our donors face to face, so next time you see one of us at a concert or event, please stop by and say hello.

Now that you know a little more about what your friendly Patron Services Specialists are up to, remember that next time the phone rings, it could be one of us calling to say hi or to thank you for your generous contribution.


Written by dannyhutchins

May 11, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Private rehearsals a real treat for donors

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Associate Conductor Robert Franz was a hit during the Pink Martini private rehearsal on April 29.

As I scroll through the past blogs of my colleagues, trying to move past the writer’s block that I am having, I can’t help but notice how great and intimate the blogs are.  Of course, you’re probably thinking that this is a really biased opinion. But seriously, we have done a pretty good job with giving you the inside scoop of what happens within this organization.  If you like these blogs, you would definitely enjoy our private rehearsals.

Thursday, April 29 was the final private rehearsal for the 2009-10 season. There is no better way to connect with the Houston Symphony than to go to our private rehearsals.  Throughout the year, we have 5 rehearsals that are opened exclusively for our Houston Symphony donors who donate $100 or more to our annual fund.  Three out of the five private rehearsals are for upcoming classical performances. However, the other two rehearsals are part of the Pops series. Since Samantha already gave you the scoop on what the rehearsals are in her blog a few weeks ago, I won’t bore you with any more technical details.

This private rehearsal featured the music that was played for the Woodlands performance and the first half of the Pink Martini concert this past weekend.  Conducting the concert was our very personable and quirky family and education concerts conductor Robert Franz.  The pieces performed during these concerts hold special significance, as Franz explains to the audience before the rehearsal starts, because they are tribute to Houston icon and arts philanthropist Cynthia Woods Mitchell.

The rehearsal began its very festive and exciting­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ journey through great works of opera with Overture to Die Zauberflöte.  The spirit of the music continued with the Triumphal March from Aida, and then we settled in to stay a while in Spanish territory (as portrayed by French composer George Bizet) with five selections from the opera Carmen.  After the first piece, I knew that I was going to be in heaven because I absolutely love opera.  It was so great to hear some of the best and most well-known opera scores played by the Symphony.  We rounded up our trip through the opera world with the Overture to Orphée aux enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld). The rehearsal was completed with selections from Evita, Flying to Rio, and Tchaikovsky’s Capricio Italien.

Robert worked hard to complete the program without an intermission, but he gave audience members and the musicians a break before conducting the Tchaikovsky.  I decided that this would be a perfect chance to mingle with a few of their patrons and get some reactions to the music.

I first approached Ms. Debra Ortega, guest of our patron John Beury.  Debra occasionally accompanies John to the private rehearsals.  She has been to a few classical concerts but this was her first Pops performance.  When I asked her what she thought of the rehearsal, she said that she really liked it.  She confessed that the classical music she normally hears when she comes to the rehearsals didn’t really appeal to her. “It moves a little too slowly, and I have to admit I have fallen asleep before”.  However, she liked this rehearsal because the music is upbeat and exciting.

Niki Demaio has been a contributor and subscriber of the Houston Symphony for about 5 years now.   When I asked her and her guests their opinion about the show, they had a lot to say.  “I have been to a lot of private rehearsals and this one was one of the best.  This is actually my first time seeing Robert Franz conduct a performance and he is so personable and inviting.  He gave a speech at the beginning to give us a little background about the concert and introduced each piece as it was being played.  Also, when he gave notes to the orchestra you could actually hear him.  A lot of the conductors speak in hushed tones during the other rehearsals that I have been to and it’s really hard to hear what’s going on.  Because Franz spoke loudly, I felt like he was inviting us into the conversation, and it wasn’t some big secret.  It really makes a difference when you engage with the audience.

“I always try to bring my friends with me when I go, and one of things my friend Jane likes about going to the rehearsal is hearing the process of what happens when you work on a piece.  During the first run through she will try to listen for mistakes.  After the conductor has given his notes and runs through it again, she listens out for the changes that were made and how the piece is making its way toward perfection.”

So it seems that our last private rehearsal was a success.  Even though it was a smaller turnout because it is the one daytime rehearsal we open to the public, all the patrons left musically fulfilled and excited about going to next year’s private rehearsals.  It is never too late to join in on the experience for next year.  Just contact any of the Patron Services Specialists in the Development Department, and we will be happy to assist you.

Written by jessicajf

May 10, 2010 at 9:56 am

Planting the seed for future generations

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Through our Development blogs, you all have been learning about a few of the events we have for our donors, relationships we have with our patrons and our responsibilities as a Development team.  Today, I’ll tell you about our Legacy Society Dinner held on April 9th. Legacy Society is very special because its membership reveals our patrons’ faith in the future of our orchestra.  Their gift to the Houston Symphony literally lasts a lifetime and beyond.

The dinner was held in the home of Mary and Tony Gracely.  The house was exquisite and just perfect for the event.  It had a beautiful water fountain up front, salt and pepper Bentleys parked to the side and my favorite part (because I’m a huge NBA fan) was the basketball court inside the house surrounded with autographed jerseys. On the court is where the recital and dinner took place. Mr. Gracely said they play basketball on Tuesdays and Thursdays … maybe we can all shoot some hoops together one day?  Needless to say it was “off the chain,” as Mrs. Gracely so pleasantly said.

The reception was really neat for me because I got to finally meet a couple of my donors who I have been in contact with pretty regularly since I began working here.  It’s a cool feeling when they ask for you at check-in and then you engage in these wonderful conversations that all stem from one thing you have in common: The Houston Symphony.  Thanks Mr. Michael George and Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Mueller for coming and finally meeting me!

Following the reception, everyone went to the basketball court and sat at their table for the recital.  We were so lucky to have James Ehnes come perform Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major. James was also in the midst of performing with our Houston Symphony through the weekend, so we are so grateful he played for our Legacy Society Dinner.  His playing was impeccable and it really set a nice mood for the wonderful dinner that followed his performance.

All in all, it was a great evening, there was a really good turn out, and our Legacy Society members had a great time.  I’d like to thank the Gracelys for welcoming us into their home and again to James Ehnes for performing.  Most importantly I’d like to thank our Legacy Society members for the commitment they have towards our organization and its future.

Interim CEO Dick Hoffert said it best, “Thank you for planting the seed in which future generations will enjoy the shade.”

Photo Credit: Jeff Fitlow

Written by smgonzalez

April 21, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Development

Concert Duty: How we get to know YOU!

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Working in the development department isn’t just about making phone calls and stuffing envelopes.  As anyone in the field knows, it’s about building relationships with your contributors, meeting with them in person.  In addition to getting together over coffee or lunch, we, at the Symphony, have another venue in which to meet with our constituents:  Our concerts at Jones Hall; or as we like to call it, Concert Duty.

For every concert, we have at least two development personnel working and each of us works 2-3 concerts per month.  This gives everyone in the department, regardless of position or responsibilities, the opportunity to meet the people that help keep the Symphony going.  And, maybe more importantly, it gives our donors the chance to see us as more than just a voice on the phone or a signature on a mailing.

One of the areas where we get to meet our patrons is in the greenroom and patron lounge.  On the orchestra level, the greenroom and patron lounge are open to our donors (of a certain contribution level) before concerts and during intermission.  And though we may not have as much time as we like with our donors, it really is a great opportunity for us to meet and to catch up since we last saw them.  Another place where we get to talk to folks is at valet.  Not so much before the concert, but afterward as they are waiting for cars, we can get in a pretty good conversation.  (Hint: the concert you just saw is good conversation starter).  And we promise we won’t leave until the last car has driven away.  And, finally, another great place to meet our patrons is right there at their seats.  If only for a minute or so, a seat visit has a very positive impact on our donors.  Also, it leaves a great impression on the people seating around them.  They are left wondering “Who are these people getting a special visit from this good-looking Symphony employee?”

So in addition to our regular behind-the-desk responsibilities, you can find us in Jones on evenings and weekends (we’ll save the off-site events that we work for a later blog).  And though it adds extra hours and, sometimes, makes for a long week, once we are there and meet our supporters and hear the great music, it reminds us why we do what we do.  So look for us the next time you’re at a concert.  We’ll talk.

Written by timrichey

April 13, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Development

Making friends through music

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Check out Symphony Supporter Ann Anderson's new book!

March 28th marked my first six months working at the Houston Symphony as a Patron Services Specialist.  In the short time that I have been here, I have forged special relationships with several patrons who have been willing to open their hearts and welcome me into their Houston Symphony experience.  There are so many different people that I could highlight in this blog—many people who not only made the commitment to support the Symphony through their various resources, but they have influenced my life with their passion for our organization and helping us share great music with the Houston community. This time, I think I will choose the woman who was one of the first to touch my heart.

The first day on the job making fundraising calls I was met with a few sneers and abrupt hang-ups. Then, I called Ann Anderson for a renewal gift to our annual fund.  During the course of the conversation, I found out that she was not able to attend the Beethoven’s 9th concert at the beginning of the year, as it was the anniversary of her husband’s passing.  The atmosphere of the conversation suddenly changed.  After a few brief words and her consideration to renew her gift, Ann quietly hung up the receiver.  I’m not sure why, but that particular phone call stuck with me that day.  Even though I hardly knew this woman at all, I felt compelled to write her a note of encouragement.  I did not really know whether Ann would appreciate it or be appalled, but there was something in my spirit that wouldn’t let me let that brief encounter go.

A couple of weeks later, we received Ann’s donation to our Annual Fund.  When I contacted her with a follow-up thank you call, she was thrilled to talk to me.  She said she had been meaning to call and thank me for the note that I sent.  She had shown neighbors and friends, and was so touched by my letter.  We spent the next thirty minutes talking about her late husband and her latest project as a first-time author.  At the conclusion of the phone conversation, we agreed to meet at one of the upcoming concerts.

After that initial meeting, Ann and I have corresponded occasionally through mail, e-mail, during concerts and at private rehearsals.  I have had the privilege of meeting her friends and reading her book, A Blind Raccoon in the Family.  Aside from meeting Ann in person, I think one of the best gifts I’ve received was reading her book. Through the very descriptive narrative, the book allowed me to be able to become acquainted with her home life and with her late husband.  It really is a wonderful story of one woman’s relationship with a wild animal which reinforces her ideals of resilience, courage and the triumphs in motherhood.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Ann telling me that she is moving to North Carolina to be closer to family.  Although Ann said she will more than likely become a subscriber of the Charlotte Symphony, she will definitely miss the Houston Symphony’s world class performances. There is definitely a bit of sadness, even as I write this blog, knowing that a friendship I have made through the Symphony may come to an end.  I will definitely miss seeing such a warm familiar face during performances and private rehearsals.  When I asked her what she will miss most about the Houston Symphony, she responded, “I’ll certainly miss you. You’ve renewed my faith in human nature.  I’ll also miss the way the music enfolds me and lifts my spirits.  Live classical music played by the Houston Symphony enriches my life. It’s so much better than listening to a recording.  It’s a whole body experience that brings me joy every time I attend.”

There are probably hundreds of Houston Symphony patrons that could share similar stories of relationships that have begun with a trip to a performance.  Some patrons have told me that they became friends over the years because they have had subscription seats next to one another for so long.  One woman told me that she gets a pair of subscription seats every year because she likes bringing family and friends who really haven’t been exposed to orchestral music.

In the brief time that I’ve worked here at the Symphony, I’ve come to realize how important relationships really are and how natural relationship-building is in this setting.   Being able to share music with others is such a lasting gift.  However it’s more than that.  It’s about sharing life experiences with others through a common bond.  Music is only the beginning.

Written by jessicajf

April 1, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Private rehearsals — donor appreciation Symphony style!

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Here at Houston Symphony our donors are very special to us, so we always try to find new ways to thank them with a little “behind-the-scenes” fun – like inviting them to a Houston Symphony Private Rehearsal!

This season, we’ve hosted rehearsals for Beethoven’s 9th, Very Merry Pops, Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem and coming up in April we’ll be at Pink Martini.  The rehearsals have become quite popular and our patrons always have a great time.

We begin with snacks and refreshments in the Greenroom 30 minutes prior to the start of the rehearsal, where we all have a chance to get to know each other. Since many of our guests come right from work, we are always prepared with tasty bites, and even hot chocolate on those (albeit rare) winter evenings! Who knows, maybe it’ll be hot enough for snow cones in late April?

The neat thing about Private Rehearsals is that it is a really laid-back setting and it makes socializing so much easier, especially for Danny, Jessica and myself (your Houston Symphony Patron Services Specialists).

It’s also an informal setting inside the hall, as the musicians are not in their formal concert attire, Hans Graf included. Our guests get to see and hear the process of music in the making.  For the most part, the orchestra runs through the program without stopping and adjustments are made at the end.  It seems Mozart’s Requiem has been the favorite so far — Hans Graf had a lot to talk about as he made the final adjustments between orchestra and chorus. Our patrons just love to hear what the Maestro has to say!

For some of our patrons, the rehearsals are the only time they will hear the work being performed, as they don’t have a subscription, tickets or the piece is not in their particular subscription series.  We also have other long-time subscribers who enjoy coming to the rehearsal and the performance, because they’re able to get a “sneak peak” of what they are in store for the coming weekend.

No matter what the situation is, we appreciate our donors, their passion and commitment to the Houston Symphony.  Being able to share with them what the Maestro, orchestra and staff all do to put a concert together makes for a great experience all around.

We welcome back Pink Martini on April 29th for our final Private Rehearsal of the season … see you then!


Written by smgonzalez

March 19, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Posted in Development