The Great Houdini's Vanishing Elephant

On January 7th, 1918, The Great Houdini performed his most famous illusion on the largest stage in New York City, the Hippodrome Theater. The “Vanishing Elephant” act was amazing. It called for three things: a huge cabinet, a team of twelve, strong men and (you guessed it) an elephant. Her name was Jennie, and she was the consummate performer. Right on cue, she strolled on the stage, graciously accepted a sugar cube from Houdini and walked into the large cabinet. The doors dramatically closed. When they opened again, the cabinet was empty; the elephant had vanished. How did he do it? Where did she go? I have absolutely no clue. 
However, I can spill another secret. We have our own disappearing act going on at the Phil. Tickets are disappearing fast. We nearly sold out our first two concerts, and we are well on our way to sell-outs for the remaining concerts. No mystery here. This is the Great Phil-dini. Great music. Great musicians. Great guest artists. Great fun.
I seriously hope you didn’t miss our season opener. After all, how often do you get to hear Saint-Saëns’ explosive Organ Symphony with one of the largest Phil orchestras ever? And, what about our Mozart vs. Salieri concert last month! The trumpeter from the Canadian Brass not only made Hummel’s concerto soar---his encore blew the roof off Plymouth North Performing Arts Center.
Tickets sales are sky-rocketing because people don’t want to miss the best entertainment on the South Shore. Period. It’s the FOMO phenomenon. Fear of missing out. 
Well, there’s a lot more music to go—and, you’re the first to know, we’ve just added more. On January 25, we’re presenting Sons of Serendip for our annual fundraiser at the Plymouth North Performing Arts Center. This incredible classical crossover ensemble has been wowing audiences since they were a finalist on America’s Got Talent in 2014.  Take a quick listen to one of their latest videos, a cover of One Republic’s I Lived.
Now, reserve your seats for this fabulous Phil Fundraiser. Just like Houdini’s famous “Vanishing Elephant Act,” there will only be one unforgettable performance, so tickets are going to disappear. Fast.
See you at the Holiday Pops!

We're breaking into the vault!

Picture this. You’re a professional thief. Your gang has just been tipped off that a local crime boss has a priceless artifact locked in a vault at a nearby factory. Your job is to break in and escape with the item. You have one hour. There’s only one way out. Oh, and one more thing –if you get caught, you won’t end up in prison, you’ll end up in the morgue. Time. Starts. Now!

Ever since escape rooms came out, I couldn’t wait to get in! Over the past few years, I’ve hunted down a mysterious inheritance, escaped from the Presidential command bunker and found the antidote to a lethal virus before Professor Moriarty could unleash it on Parliament.

What an adrenaline rush! These immersive, interactive and high-stakes adventures are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Hmmmm. Or are they?

It’s our 104th season. Another spectacular opening night has come and gone, the first of many immersive, interactive and highly entertaining experiences we’ll share this season. Nine world-class performances. Eighty-three fabulous Phil musicians. Ten amazing guest artists. Five children’s choruses. Ten musical masterpieces. Four cocktail parties. Three pre-concert talks. One amazing experience for countless Phil fans. There’s no need to escape. It’s all right here!

But there’s another important task at hand, and I simply can’t do it without you. Picture this. We’ve just entered another escape room, and the stakes are unusually high. Right now, we’re the furthest from our fundraising goal. Our mission is to raise more than $500,000 to cover the gap between projected ticket sales and this season’s operating budget and we have a limited time to do it. That’s a lot of money to put into the vault. A lot of red ink to turn black. But this isn’t anything new. It’s how all successful, nonprofit professional orchestras work. And, producing another season at the Phil is definitely worth the challenge.

Now, I can’t tell you how I cracked open the vault in the escape room and snagged the priceless artifact from under the crime boss’s nose. But I can tell you I didn’t do it alone. My fun-loving family and friends were right there with me. And, that, my friends, is how we’re going to meet this year’s fundraising goal. Together.

I’ve always believed anything worth doing is worth doing now. Please make a donation to the Phil today. Every gift matters. Every gift gets us closer to our goal. Every gift helps us escape!

The Biggest Challenge

Remember when everyone was looking for Waldo...that kid with circular specks, a bobble hat and a red-and-white striped shirt hiding out in puzzle book scenes? Well, one great idea usually leads to another. Last year, Brits Matt Everitt & Jim Stoten released The World's Greatest Music Festival Challenge, a rockin' "seek and find" for music lovers. 

Each two-page spread highlights an iconic moment in music festival history. Your job is to find Bob Dylan "going electric" at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and the entire Led Zeppelin Band at the Pilton Pop, Folk & Blues Festival circa 1970. 

While it's pretty easy to find Crosby Stills & Nash and The Who at Woodstock, it's much more difficult to find Pink Floyd, the Police and Public Enemy watching Nirvana blow the crowd away at the 1992 Reading Festival. You've got to be a serious music fan to take up that challenge.

But, seriously, you are.  You just took on one of the biggest music challenges in the Phil's history--and met it in record time.  At the beginning of the season, we announced a 16-month, $200,000 matching gift challenge from one of our generous donors. Well, we certainly didn't have to look very hard for Phil fans.  You didn't blend into the music fest background waiting to be found.  You stepped up and not only met the challenge--you exceeded it in less than six months.  I knew you could.  I knew you would.  Thank you.

Challenges like this don't come along very often, and they certainly inspire giving. During this challenge, 23% of the donors increased their gifts from the previous year; another 25% donated to the Phil for the very first time. In addition, 10% of the gifts came from Phil fans who had given in the past, but not in the last year. Wow! Impressive. Thank you for stepping up in such a big way. 

I wish the success of this challenge meant we could sit back, enjoy the music and stop searching for additional funding. But, every year, we need to raise more than a half million dollars above ticket sales to keep the orchestra thriving. Every year, we need to find new sources of revenue so that we can continue to bring world-class music and educational programming to South Shore communities. And, every year, we need to ask for your help. So, if you haven't made a donation recently, please consider making one now. Every donation matters.

Opening night of the Phil's 104th season is in less than two weeks.  It's the beginning of another magical music festival together. Every time I look out into our happy crowd, I am amazed and thankful for what we have accomplished together.  Trust me, this kind of ongoing community support is much harder to find than Buddy Holly hiding out in the Texas clouds or a kid wearing a bobble hat on a crowded beach. 

Thanks again.  It's going to be a great season. See you soon.

Up for a spin?

Last year, I got an unusual request: to be a guest DJ for a Plymouth Rocks’ event at the Mayflower Brewing Company. Music. Beer. Vinyl. Since I work for the Phil, come from the Brewing Capital of the World and am old enough to have one hour’s worth of music on vinyl, I blurted out: You bet! The next day, my first thought was: I’m dead.

Here’s the thing: my vinyl collection is from a very specific time period: my teens and my twenties. I just wasn’t sure how the Kinks, Cars and Waitresses would play with today’s audience. Not to mention Steve Forbert, The Police or The Pretenders.

Well, it was too late to back out, so I dug in. Over the next three hours, I took my dusty albums and turntable out for a test-spin. Joe Jackson, Al Stewart, Tom Petty. Nick Lowe. I not only remembered their music; I actually remembered THEM. Years ago, I had seen all these great recording artists in concert. And, as I settled in for a long drive down Memory Lane, I got my big “aha” moment: I’d only play the music I’d heard LIVE!

My big DJ day came, and I was nothing but nerves. I cued up Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes first, and it seemed to go over well. Danny’s All-Star Joint. More smiles and nods. For the next sixty minutes, I spun Thunder Road, Lilly’s Daddy’s Cadillac, Five Guys Named Moe, Check Your Bucket and dozens more oldies, along with a personal story to go with them. By the end of the night, I was surrounded by vinyl and a roomful of friends.

The Music is the Magic. That’s next season’s theme. But, it’s really every season’s theme. No matter what music we play, it brings us together in very unexpected, almost magical, ways. And, we’re not only spinning all kinds of great music. We’re doing it LIVE! We’re also doing it with you.

As we spin out another amazing season, I need to ask for your help. Please make a contribution to the Phil today. I know that request seems odd when we’re selling out concerts. However, even though more and more people are becoming fans of the Phil, tickets sales only cover 40% of our production expenses, and costs continue to rise.

Our goal isn’t to make money. It’s to continue making music... AND memories. Please make your gift before our fiscal year ends on June 30 so we can start next season on a good note.

PS. Thanks to a generous, anonymous donor, your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, doubling its impact.

An unexpected treasure at the British Museum

The British Museum in London is the first national public museum in the world. It was founded in 1753 and tells the story of human civilization from its earliest days right up to the present. With over 8 million objects in its collection and tens of thousands on display at any one time, it is both massive and daunting, humbling and inspiring. It is also free. From the very beginning, the Museums' founders granted free admission to "studious and curious persons." In 2018, I was one of them.

While, I had too little time for so many treasures, I counted down the top ten listed in the tour book: The Rosetta Stone, The Portland Vase, The Cat Mummies, The Elgin Marbles and other wonders, like the Colossal Granite Head of Amenhotep III, an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled between 1390 and 1325 BC, and the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial Helmet thought to belong to a 7th century king.

True to its slogan, this is a Museum of the World for the World. But it started with one man: physician, naturalist and collector, Sir Hans Sloane. To preserve the 71,000 objects he collected and prized during his lifetime, he bequeathed it all to King George II for the nation to enjoy from then on.

To date, more than 350 million people have visited the British Museum. And, thousands have worked to procure and preserve its mighty treasures. As I walked from wing to wing, I couldn't help noticing the plaques acknowledging the many generous donors who had given millions of dollars or entire collections to the Museum over time. However, I also noticed the small collection boxes. On each one, a small sign suggested a $5 donation to enter the exhibit. It made me realize that even a place with all this history and splendor relied on many small donations to continue to run. Just like the Phil.

Everyone has a part to play in this orchestra. Just like the British Museum, we count on thousands of people to keep the Phil operating every day. Our funding comes from a variety of sources, including ticket sales, grants, sponsorships...and donations, big and small. Every gift matters. Every gift helps us bring beautiful music into our community this season and the seasons to come. One man started the British Museum, and one person - you - can make a difference for the Phil.

Whether you can give $1,000, $100 or $10, every donation makes a difference. And right now, during our matching gift challenge, your donation goes twice as far. For every dollar you give, an anonymous donor will match it.

Please help today by making your gift. We simply cannot do it without you.

We're going down the yellow brick road!

We didn’t get a color TV until the late 1960s. I was around ten years old before I saw the Wizard of Oz in technicolor, and I must admit I was pretty disappointed. Not in the show. I was disappointed it had taken my parents so long to join the Color Revolution.

Every time this magical movie came on, I was glued to the set, so I knew Dorothy’s slippers were ruby red. And, I knew she had to follow the yellow brick road to reach the emerald city. But, when she landed in Oz and said “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” I didn’t know the entire film changed from shades of gray to brilliant technicolor until we finally got a TV upgrade. That year, Glinda’s dress was perfectly pink. The Wicked Witch’s face was fluorescent green. And a field of dark red poppies put Dorothy to sleep. I was literally over the rainbow. No going back now. A musical without color is like a world without music.

Kids need great musical experiences in their lives. They especially need music in their schools. And, take it from me, the more colorful these experiences are the better. Our long-running Music Immersion program brings Phil ensembles into the schools and 2,000 local students into Memorial Hall for a great concert experience. It alternates with Carnegie Hall’s Link Up program, which we brought to the South Shore community in 2018. This year-long, in-school, interactive music program for third, fourth and fifth graders also culminates in a live musical performance with the Phil. Plus, kids have been attending mini concerts with Phil musicians since 1977 through our Look, Listen, Learn! program.

But we don’t just expect kids to sit in their seats. We want them to test-drive instruments and get up on the stage. Every year, children’s choruses perform with the Phil, and the winner of the South Shore Conservatory Concerto Competition takes home a scholarship – and a place center stage.

Yes, Dorothy, there’s no place like home. And, there’s no place like the Phil. Because of you. Your donations ensure our concerts and musical outreach programs continue – and thrive. Your donations compose a beautiful soundtrack to accompany our children’s lives.

It takes the heart of the Tin Man, the brains of the Scarecrow and the courage of that lovable lion to make it all happen. But every year, you do. And, this year, you can do more because of a generous Matching Gift Challenge.

For every donation we receive, an anonymous donor will match it dollar for dollar until we reach $200,000. Please take advantage of this rare opportunity to double the impact of your donation. Every gift makes a difference. Every day at the Phil is a gift.

The Comic-Con Conundrum

If I'm not careful, you're going to think all I do is sit around watching Big Bang Theory reruns all day. Sometimes even I'm surprised by how much time I spend with Sheldon, Leonard and Raj, three nerdy Cal-Tech physicists and their equally nerdy friend Howard, an aerospace engineer. But if I'm channel-surfing and the sitcom's airing, I'm hopelessly hooked for the entire twenty-minute run.

In The Comic-Con Conundrum, the guys (like always) are gathered in Sheldon's apartment. They're hyped up, hovered over their laptops, waiting for the precise minute tickets to Comic-Con, San Diego's ginormous comic book convention, go live.

Howard counts down: T minus 45 seconds...35 seconds...15 seconds. Leonard takes a deep hit from his asthma inhaler. And, Raj tries desperately to hang in there without a potty break.

It's live! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!
Action: (The guys hit their keyboards furiously, repeatedly.)
Do NOT stop refreshing your screens.
Refresh! Refresh! Refresh!
I did it! I did it! I'm in the queue!
And they say firefighters are the real heroes.
Uh... what number in line are you?
...thousand two hundred and eleven.

Well, you probably have guessed that my small-screen friends didn't score tickets to their big-time fan fest. Raj is stunned. "So that's it? It's totally sold out?" Howard confirms, "I can't believe we're not going." And, at that very moment (right before Sheldon starts to cry), I realized this very same scene could have been about the Phil.

Our first three shows of this fabulous season SOLD OUT! WOW! No, we didn't do it in seconds, but we did it. WE. DID. IT. Right now, Valentines on Broadway (Feb 2), our new musical fundraiser/sans orchestra, is more than 3/4 there. And, because our Spring Pops concert has sold out for the past three consecutive years, we added an additional performance on Sunday this year!

Subscriptions have increased 43%. Total ticket sales are up 18%. For the past four years, we've been selling more tickets faster than ever before! Thanks to you, we're our own musical convention, one of the hottest tickets in town!

Now, I certainly can't promise you we'll sell out every single show we produce. But what I can promise you is that we'll always bring you the most unforgettable experiences we can: great music, great musicians, great guest artists. Guaranteed. I can also promise that if you miss a concert or two, you've missed something singularly sensational.

There's nothing like LIVE music. There's nothing like the Phil. Please come as often as you can. Our REFRESH button is a night out at Memorial Hall. But, avoid the ticket conundrum. Reserve your seats early--before we're SOLD OUT!

February 2nd, A Very Musical Day

February 2 is a red-letter day, a very musical day. On the evening of February 2, 1795, Haydn's 102nd Symphony in B premiered at the King's Theatre in London. In 1901, Jascha Heifetz, one of the greatest violinists of all time, was born on the very same day. In 1940, Frank Sinatra debuted with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and two years later Graham Nash made his first appearance into the world. Literally.

On February 2, '52, B.B. King's 3 O'Clock Blues hit #1 on Billboard's R&B hit parade. The Coasters signed with Atlantic Records in '56, and exactly one year later Fats Domino sang Blueberry Hill and Blue Monday on the Perry Como TV show.

It seems that the 2nd of February has always been famous for firsts. And, I'm tickled pink to share that the Phil will be part of this red-letter day with a first of our own. By Proclamation of the Plymouth Board of Selectmen, February 2, 2019 is Steven Karidoyanes Day. Cue music!

Yup, since Steven's been leading the orchestra for us for 25 years, it's time we served up a little entertainment for him. On February 2, Will and Anthony Nunziata will take a night off from Broadway to help us celebrate Steven Karidoyanes Day. Our Way. More music. More guests. More fun for everyone!

This concert is our biggest fundraiser of the year and benefits the Phil's concerts and programs - a great way to honor Steven's Silver Anniversary and continue his legacy of music.

So get your tickets today for this first-ever fest. I think Steven Karidoyanes Day will be among the Phil's very, very best.

Those Red-Letter Days

In the Sixties and Seventies, everybody got a variety show. Bob Hope. Tom Jones. Andy Williams. Bing Crosby. Bobby Darin. Johnny Cash. Every week, the celebrity host rolled out the red carpet for the singers, actors and comics of the day.  And, every week, the television audience was invited to a fabulous celebrity party. For me, some of the best parties were the holiday specials.

I can still remember Dean and Frank belting out “It’s a Marshmallow World” in the opening number of Christmas with The Martins and Sinatras in 1967.  And, every year, I watch the Judy Garland Christmas Show on YouTube for another chance to spend an “informal evening” in the legend’s “living room” with her family and friends. Seriously, even in the 1960s, who hung around the house in a full-length, fur-trimmed gown? But, when that pretend-doorbell rings and Liza Minnelli, Jack Cassidy and Mel Tormé walk onto the pretend-living-room set, I’m always willing to suspend disbelief and join them for an hour of camaraderie and great music. 

That’s why I love the Phil. Every year, we throw six memorable parties, red-letter days that add a punch of musical color to our lives.  And, for the past 25 seasons, we’ve been lucky to have Steven Karidoyanes help us paint the town red.  Year after year, our remarkably talented Music Director brings great music and great musicians to the Phil stage. In this season alone, you’ll hear one of the largest Phil orchestras ever as they take on Mahler’s Titan in March.

I also love never knowing who will show up at each Phil fest.  A red-hot pianist.  A violin prodigy.  A handful of shining, Broadway stars. Why, even the 6th Grade Chorus has been known to pop in from time to time and give us a burst of local color. But no matter who visits, I always know I’m going to have a great time. Every time. It’s the Phil!

These larger-than-life concerts are part of our everyday, smaller-town lives because of you. Every season, we need to raise $530,000 to finance six sensational shows, and every year I need to ask for your help.  Ticket sale are strong, but like all nonprofit, professional orchestras, ticket sales only cover a portion of production costs.  And, like all nonprofit, professional orchestras, we rely on donations to bridge the gap.  Without your support, we wouldn’t be able to roll out a little red doormat much less the grand red carpet we do.

So, please continue to donate generously to the Phil. Please continue to help us turn Memorial Hall into our “living room,” where we can listen to live symphonic music with family and friends. Please continue to help us host the best musical entertainment the South Shore has ever seen. Quite simply, the Phil – our Phil – wouldn’t be the same without you.

The Big Bang Theory!

The other night I was thinking about famous couples I’d like to have over for a dinner party. JFK and Jackie made the list, so did Harry and Meghan. But the couple I thought would be the biggest hit at my virtual bash was Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler from CBSs’ The Big Bang Theory. The socially awkward theoretical physicist and the needy, nerdy neurologist have not only had the quirkiest courtship in television history, they’ve also had the funniest. That’s the stuff that sparks dinner conversations.

I love the Fun with Flags episodes the most. The couple’s low-budget YouTube podcast is their offbeat forum to share their love for vexillology. Although they probably have a fan base of one, nothing curbs their flag enthusiasm. In the Bavarian flag episode, Sheldon dressed in lederhosen, while Amy showed up as a giant pretzel. In a salute to Colonial America, Sheldon portrayed a befuddled Betsy Ross. When they went Down Under, Amy hopped into the podcast in a Kangaroo suit and pulled the Australian flag out of her pouch. The time Fun with Flags wasn’t so fun was when Sheldon set up a giant domino display for a 4th of July flag spectacular and found out Amy hadn’t hit the record button.

The Phil has its own spectacular 4th of July, celebration. Music. Fireworks. Special guests. Thousands of new and old Phil fans fill the waterfront. Talk about a domino effect! This fabulous free-for-all kicks off the season with a very big bang indeed.

Like Sheldon and Amy, we put a lot of thought and enthusiasm into our “musical podcast.” However, this isn’t a low-budget production. It costs about $50,000 to produce; the bulk of the expenses relate to hiring the musicians, staging, sound, bus transport--and portable potties! (If 55 musicians had to queue up for public restrooms during intermission, they’d never make it back for the second act!) The free event is made possible by two funds that have been around for a long time: the Esther & Alcide Ruffini Charitable Trust and the James Spooner Trust. Both trusts mandate the revenue must be used to present free concerts for the people of Plymouth. (Talk about a musical legacy!)

For years, the funds produced enough income for the Phil to perform every other year. In 2015, we approached the Town of Plymouth’s Visitors Services Board and asked for funding to make live symphonic music part of every Independence Day celebration. The VSB said absolutely yes! and has funded the shortfall ever since. Thanks to these Phil supporters, this is our fourth year in a row making music along the waterfront. And, if our funding continues, we’ll celebrate the holiday together every year to come.

This is also our 103rd season of making music in the concert hall and the start of another big celebration: Steven Karidoyanes' Silver Anniversary on the Phil podium. Knowing what he’s got planned, I’ve come up with my own big bang theory: the musical fireworks are just beginning!