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Grants, contributions help Maryland Symphony fulfill its mission

July 14, 2008|By THAISI H. VELASQUEZ

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of occasional stories about local nonprofit agencies and how they are dealing with difficult economic times.

HAGERSTOWN - Ask anyone associated with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and you will be told that music and music education are at the core of its mission.

Orchestrating a successful year lined with grants and contributions also is key.

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Western Maryland's only professional orchestra, was founded 26 years ago by a group of Washington County music aficionados. Australian French horn player Barry Tuckwell was the orchestra's founding music director.

Elizabeth Schulze, who has performed as guest conductor with numerous American orchestras and opera companies, now leads the local players as music director and conductor.

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Year after year, the orchestra has entertained thousands of people in the quad-state region with programs such as "MSO Pops!," "MSO Home for the Holidays" and the annual "Salute to Independence" concert at Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg.

Today, the ensemble is made up of about 65 contracted musicians who help support the orchestra's goal.

"Our mission is to educate and entertain the citizens of the region," said MSO Executive Director Andrew Kipe. "We're committed to artistic excellence and music education."

This commitment could not be possible without the help of the supporters, Kipe said.

Made up of 140 volunteer members, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra Guild is one of these supporters. It is second only to the Maryland State Arts Council as the orchestra's largest contributor.

"We support the orchestra financially through fundraising," said Barbara Henderson, the guild's immediate past president.

The guild has two main fundraising events a year, a ball and an auction.

In the past, money raised from fundraising efforts has been distributed to sponsor Masterworks Series concerts and educational programs, and to provide additional concert support.

"We rely heavily on contributed income," Kipe said. "Only about 25 (percent) to 28 percent of our income comes from ticket sales."

In light of current economic conditions, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra is faring well, but it still needs the support of its subscribers, Kipe said.

"Yes, giving is down slightly, but it's not down considerably," he said.

He noted that the decline is not in the number of corporate sponsors, but in the amount of money those sponsors donate. Gifts have been more conservative this year.

"You sort of expect giving to come down a little bit in an economic downturn," he said.

MSO Director of Development Vicki L. Willman said that when the economy is up, giving is strong and when the economy is down, giving decreases.

Willman said grants from the City of Hagerstown and Washington County have remained the same or have increased slightly.

When donations aren't pouring in, Kipe said he believes you have to be smart about how you go after them.

"You have to work harder to get the contributions," he said.

The organization has had to widen its network of support. Different sponsors are being sought for assistance.

In addition to seeking new patrons, the MSO has encouraged current donors to keep the spirit of giving alive.

"To help meet goals, we have sent out some more of the donation reminders," Kipe said.

Contributions from the top of the giving ladder continue to be consistent, he said.

"The donors who give larger gifts are the people who are very committed to the organization and what it does," he said. "The considerable drop-off is at the bottom of the ladder with the smaller donations."

People who typically give smaller annual donations have mailed in notes stating that they can't contribute to the orchestra this year, Willman said.

Whether the gift is small or large, several avenues are available for individuals or corporations to contribute to the orchestra.

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra, which plays most of its concerts at The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown, has an Annual Fund Campaign that runs from October through the end of the fiscal year, June 30. The organization accepts contributions in any amount, and those who contribute receive a letter as a receipt for tax purposes.

According to its budget, 13 percent of MSO's income came from the Annual Fund Campaign.

Another avenue for contributions is performance underwriting, which is a direct contribution for a specific concert. Depending on the donation, donors receive concert tickets and recognition in the program book.

According to Kipe, these donations help with costs associated with putting on a show.

"Typically, direct costs for a Masterworks Series concert is somewhere in the range of $80,000 to $90,000," he said. "These costs put the orchestra on stage for that weekend."

Costs include payment for the players, mileage reimbursement, hall rental and rehearsals leading up to the concerts.

Willman said even though costs continue to increase each year, she is pleased with the support the MSO receives.

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