Philanthropy

Hitting the Perfect Note

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ANNE FOLSOM SMITH’S PASSION FOR MAKING THE FUTURE OF SARASOTA ORCHESTRA BOLD, BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL

As we sat in her exquisite home overlooking the bay on a stunning October morning, Anne Folsom Smith—owner of Anne Folsom Smith Interior Designs and Chair of the Sarasota Orchestra’s Board of Directors—explains that while she loves music, she’s “a passionate musician who doesn’t play well.” She grew up in a musical family where her mom was teaching her scales and fingerings on the piano at age five. “I have music in my soul because the school system, too, helped give it to me,” Smith says. “In first grade, we learned to sing. In second grade, we learned to sing in parts.

In third, we were all part of a full-blown choir.” The sense of purpose, of harmony and of beauty that music brings is exactly what she wishes us all to have. And the city and county school system simply aren’t able to provide the rich musical education for our young people that Smith enjoyed.

Even though we talk about her favorite oak tree in her backyard (“Samson” is its name) and she chats about the deal she made with her architect husband to allow cats in the house (they all have the name of Virginian US Presidents or their First Wives), she always turns the discussion right back to the Sarasota Orchestra, which is clearly one of her great passions.

The Sarasota Orchestra—now in its 68th year of operation—is the longest continuous performing orchestra in our state, I quickly learn. This 80-musician ensemble performs well more than 100 classical, pops, chamber, education and community engagement concerts each season. A lot of the group’s current popularity and success is due to Paul Wolfe, who began his 35-year tenure as artistic director and conductor in the 1960s. Along the way, he established a core chamber and four resident chamber ensembles, expanded the Youth Orchestra Program, and created the Sarasota Music Festival. “Paul’s efforts are a big part of the history here,” says Smith. “He did a lot to keep music alive, as did former music directors Alexander Bloch and Leif Bjaland. As Chair, it’s my responsibility to not forget that. And I don’t know a better way to do that other than to keep young people playing.”

Indeed, we spoke at length about the joys young people experience through learning music, including the efforts of my daughter Valerie, age 12, who recently decided she’d like to give trumpet a try. So this past June, she dusted off one of my old trumpets (which hasn’t been played since my marching band days in the early 1990s!) and participated in the Sarasota Orchestra’s Summer Music Camp. “I really liked learning music theory by playing games, and it was fun performing in a group,” she says. And before she hurries off to practice trumpet on her own again, she adds, “I can’t wait to go back next year!”

Smith points out that the success of the Youth Orchestra—comprising seven different orchestras that practice and perform over a 30-week season that runs concurrent with the academic school year—has created a problem. “We’ve got 350 students now, and no way to grow. As is, everyone has given up their offices just to come up with more space. It’s a serious problem for us as purvey-ors of music for this community.” While this facilities issue is one for the Board of Directors to tackle, there are other ways for people to make a difference. For example, every great performance needs a great audience, so simply attending an event or two of your choice is always a hit. Plus, there’s often a need for more volunteer ushers for concerts in the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center. And Smith adds that it doesn’t cost much to help support a young musician participate in the Youth Orchestra.

It’s clear that music is a lifelong enterprise in Smith’s family. Just ask her mother, who just celebrated her 100th birthday this summer. More than 50 nephews, grandkids and great-grand-kids traveled to Knoxville to offer their best wishes, and come Sunday morn-ing, they went to Riverdale Baptist Church where she still serves as the pianist. Yes, the choir director helps her up the steps to the piano bench, but once there, her hundred-year-old fingers know the joy of music each week and also help share that joy with others. That’s exactly what Smith wants to do with the Sarasota Orchestra.

Smith admits, “The reason that I am so involved with the orchestra and the continuation of music for our community is because if we lose the harmony, the rhythm, the soul of where it all comes from, we all lose.” But with her unyielding energy and a great Board behind her, the future of the Sarasota Orchestra will be bold, beautiful and bright.

For more information on the Sarasota Orchestra, please visit sarasotaorchestra.org or call 941.953.4252.

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