The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Focus on the Arts

December 30, 2012

President: Board's role is to keep symphony on track

JOHNSTOWN — The mission of Johnstown Symphony Orchestra is to be an exceptional program for art assets for the region and to bring quality music and educational programming to its audience.

Bill Locher, senior vice president of corporate lending at Somerset Trust Co., is president of the board and believes the primary role of the board is to provide oversight, governance and guidance, give direction to the staff and carry out the mission of the organization.

“We want to remain on track with our mission,” Locher said. “We’re responsible for the formal policy of the organization and to carry it out.”

Locher started his presidency in June 2010, when previous president Jim Beener moved into the newly created position of chairman of the board.

Locher will be president until May 31, when he will be succeeded by vice president Dennis McNair, who will be officially elected.

At a 2010 organizational restructuring meeting, the board decided to establish term limits for members of the board and its officers.

“We agreed to reinstitute term limits,” Locher said. “There were none before. Over the past two years, there’s been so much action at the symphony.”

The board has adopted some stated goals and objectives, with the No. 1 goal being to insist on fiscal stability.

“We want to monitor costs and raise sufficient revenue to meet and exceed our goals,” Locher said.

“We want to be fiscally sound but have relevant programming. This is a not-for-profit organization but has to be run like a business.”

The symphony’s office moved from Franklin Street to the Zamias Building on Market Street in February in a cost-cutting move.

“The financial committee met to examine the cost, and the board wanted to make it more affordable,” Locher said.

“We saved $20,000 in annual rent. The space is smaller, but the staff can make it work. The role of the board is to be financially responsible.”

The second goal was to build staff capacity, and Locher believes that has been done by hiring executive director Brooke S. Welsh this year.

The rest of the staff is office assistant Doris Lapenski, orchestra manager Patricia Hofscher and music director Maestro Istvan Jaray.

“We’re a complex organization,” Locher said. “We have a lot of work every day and needed to strengthen our staff.”

The third goal was to provide a musical experience for adults and children as well as a nontraditional audience.

After the success of a Halloween concert on Oct. 27, there are plans for more outreach concerts at the Heritage Discovery Center.

The Halloween concert at Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center  was a revival of something the orchestra had done more than 10 years ago.

“It was popular, but lost its funding and sponsorship, so it was discontinued,” Locher said. “We thought it was important to bring it back. We received funding to partially underwrite the concert, which is family friendly. We feel it was a success and hope to continue it.

“We want to provide more community service.”

The fourth goal is to build board capacity, and board members are being added.

Locher said one new member was approved at the November meeting, which leaves one seat open.

“We have 13 seats and have 12 filled,” Locher said.

There are five standing committees on the board – finance, executive, programming, development and marketing, and governance.

Each committee leader is a member of the board who must report to the board.

Locher said a separate advisory board promotes the orchestra within the community and supports it financially.

“They provide ideas and expertise,” he said. “They have fewer established responsibilities, and their time commitment is more flexible.

“Both the trustees and advisers are chosen based on their skills and experiences.”

The vision of Johnstown Symphony Orchestra is to provide all citizens with regular opportunities to experience the beauty, joy and delight of transcendent music and to respect all who seek to build a region vibrant with economic and artistic opportunities.

“If you think the JSO is only the orchestra you see on stage, you’re mistaken,” Locher said.

The Community Strings, one of its newer components, was formed in 2009 for adult players of stringed instruments.

“Their leader is Beth Pile, who plays for the symphony,” Locher said.

“They have had outreach concerts throughout the years.”

Inclined to Sing, the orchestra’s children’s choir, was formed in 2001.

Founded by Kim Rauch, the group joins the orchestra in concert.

Johnstown Symphony Chorus was founded in 1958 and is now directed by Sam Coco.

“They’re all volunteer and rehearse at UPJ,” Locher said. “They perform two concerts, a holiday one and one in May.”

The symphony’s youth orchestra also was founded in 1958 and performs two concerts a year – in the fall and spring.

“They rehearse Saturdays and are directed by maestro,” Locher said.

When it comes to choosing music for the symphony’s season, Jaray has the final artistic say, but the board has the final business say.

“Art and business need to balance and form a partnership,” Locher said. “We have to consider the types of programming and what we can afford.”

It is the role of the programming committee to work with Jaray on ideas for future seasons.

Karen Azer of Johnstown has been a trustee for 22 years and estimates she has served in every office.

She is currently vice chairwoman.

“I can’t say no when I feel it’s so important,” Azer said. “We used to rotate positions. It was like a training process.”

Now with an executive director on board, Azer has been meeting more often with her and the office staff.

“We’re training Brooke to learn the organization,” Azer said.

Azer has been chairwoman of the opera festival for many years and knows that that venture takes a great deal of time.

The board is already planning for the symphony’s next season, working with Jaray and coming up with ideas for marketing.

In addition to the monthly board meeting, an executive committee meets more frequently, and there are other committees to serve on.

“It can be time consuming, but we like an active board,” Azer said.

Azer believes Johnstown Symphony Orchestra is the best cultural jewel in the area.

“I’ve seen the orchestra grow over the years,” she said. “It has the quality of a large city orchestra, but we take it for granted. We don’t have to drive to Pittsburgh or farther to hear them. They are a world-class orchestra.

“Even the opera stars who come are amazed at the quality.”

Azer said that, financially, the symphony is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

“We want to keep on top of it, ensuring financial stability and growth,” she said.

“We hope the symphony stays here for a long time to come, and we’ll do what we can to keep them here.”

The annual fund drive, which was formerly called the sustaining fund drive, will kick off in January.

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