Williamsport Symphony names new executive director
Janet Harris said that when she recently was hired as the executive director of the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, it was like her personal mission was coming full circle in the community.
In fact, her office has a circular window that overlooks the “Inspiration: Lycoming County” mural, a project she helped bring to the community years ago when she was on the Our Towns 2010 committee.
Behind her desk is her new mission, the WSO’s mission statement: “The mission of the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra is to be a cultural asset to the community by providing quality music, education and performance opportunities for regional talent to an ever-expanding audience.”
And Harris knows she has big shoes to fill to see that mission continue. As executive director, she will be responsible for managing the functions that keeps the musicians on the stage.
“And that’s a really good goal,” she said.
She and Hind Jabbour, executive assistant and marketing coordinator, both stress that they are thankful for the dedicated volunteers who allow the symphony to do what they do so they can expand programming to a wider audience.
Jabbour said Harris was selected after an interview process that included several international applicants. Jabbour said Harris was selected because of her already-established presence in the community, along with her background in finance and leadership. Harris has served on several community boards and was president of the Junior League of Williamsport for two years.
Although Gerardo Edelstein, WSO’s conductor, is responsible for putting the programs together, Harris will coordinate the calendar, which includes working together with the different directors from the various symphony outreaches, such as the Billtown Brass, Williamsport Symphony Youth Orchestra and Williamsport Symphony Junior Strings, and the Close-Up Concert Series in conjunction with Lycoming College.
Harris also will be responsible for fundraising events, such as the Masquerade 2013, which will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Community Arts Center. The “magical midwinter evening of masks, music and merriment” will replace the “Dancing Under the Summer Stars” fundraisers the WSO has held in previous years.
Fundraising is nothing new for Harris, of Williamsport. A graduate of Vassar College in New York, she has been involved for 17 years with the annual fund for the college and was class fund chairwoman.
She also was a member of the Junior League of Williamsport for 10 years, where she was treasurer and chair of the community relations committee.
A former bank executive, Harris was involved with business development at JPMorgan Chase in New York City and local financial institutions. She also was instrumental in helping the Pajama Factory create the Center for Creativity, a nonprofit “creative incubator” for emerging and established artists in the Williamsport area.
She has served on the Community Theatre League’s board for six years, along with the United Way’s Funds Distribution Panel and helped establish the Bonny Troisi Fund with the Red Cross. She was on the Planned Giving Council for three years and was a graduate of the class of 2006 of Leadership Lycoming.
One of her focuses in this new position will be on development and grant-writing.
“We’re ready to bump it up,” she said about the WSO. “We’re going to keep growing and moving as the area grows.”
Harris said she’s excited to explore the regional aspects of the WSO, such as the partnership with the Susquehanna Valley Chorale for the “Epic” season opener on Oct. 2.
“I’d love to bring in more guest artists,” she said, adding that Edelstein has done a great job focusing on local and regional talent.
A former singer, Harris sang with an a cappella group while she was in college and became involved in the CTL when her daughter, Hannah, now 19, was younger.
Harris grew up in northern Ontario and was a competitive ice skater who recently put her talents to the rink as a volunteer teacher for several weekly ice skating classes at Airmen Pond at Bowman Field.
She was actively involved with the WSO before applying for the job; she was a Friends of the Symphony member for 10 years and has been a season subscriber with her mother for many years.
“My vision is for the organization to be financially viable and increase the subscriptions and number of people coming to the performances,” she said. “I would love to get younger patrons involved.”
She stressed the role of the WSO in the community as one of outreach and education, adding that students ages 4 to 23 can get free and discounted tickets to all performances.
“It’s free for the balcony for students and $5 for orchestra seats,” she said.
She encouraged patrons to attend the pre-concert socials where Edelstein discusses the music before each performance.
“Gerardo makes the symphony fun, he talks about the piece, gives the background,” she said about why people should go to a WSO performance. “He turns around and talks to the audience and gives a bit about what the composer was doing.”
Harris is assisted by Jabbour, the other full-time WSO employee, and Becky Ciabattari, the part-time orchestra manager and librarian. To help guide her in this role, former executive director Barb Velez has been consulting with Harris to assist with the transition.
“Considering the number of programs here, it is amazing this gets done with such a small staff,” Harris said. “This group of people is a joy to work with.”
The WSO’s next performance will be “Music of the Spheres” at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Community Arts Center. This production will include a female choir from Lycoming College, along with two Williamsport-area natives, flutist Pamela Stahel, from Zurich, and harpist Ruth Hunter.
Shortly after that, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18, the WSYO and Junior Strings will hold a combined winter concert at the CAC.
For tickets or more information about the WSO, visit www.williamsportsymphony.org.