Compiled by Eric Dundon
For more than 100 years, the St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association has actively supported the SLSO in a variety of ways. More than 300 SVA members volunteer thousands of hours annually as they help make music accessible to all.
We asked several volunteers about life in the SVA and the highlights of their volunteerism.
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Debbie Dillon, SVA President
Occupation: Retired global sales executive
Any musical background? None, but music of all genres has always been part of our home. Our daughter began playing classical guitar at the age of 10 and still plays acoustic and electric guitars for her own enjoyment and with a group of women musicians. Her father and I like to think her early introduction contributed to her love of playing music throughout her life.
When did you join the SVA? 2017
What led you to volunteer for the SLSO? In 2016 after retiring, good friends suggested I might enjoy volunteering for the SLSO. I initially volunteered at an education concert as an education host to get a taste. I joined the SVA in 2017 and soon became the Chair of Powell Hall Opportunities. As a subscriber to Coffee Concerts, I found myself serving coffee and donuts at Friday morning concerts and working as a Group Host greeting buses from retirement centers. One of the highlights of my time with Powell Hall Opportunities and still today is working the Education Concerts that serve thousands of school children in October, February, and May. There is a great camaraderie among the volunteers who venture out to meet these eager and happy students making their first visit to Powell Hall.
What do you love about being a volunteer? This is an incredible organization made up of many dedicated, smart, people who love the SLSO, and the music we make in the orchestra and with each other. The mission of the SLSO and the SVA and what it means to this community is so important: the education programs, the joy of offering music to all ages, the economic vitality of the Symphony for St Louis and the community at large.
Any special memories of your time as a volunteer? One of the more memorable volunteer activities for me was the SLSO Sensory Friendly Concert in November 2019 at the Jewish Community Center. The SLSO performed a special Peter and the Wolf concert for hundreds of children and young people who had never been able to attend a live concert because of sensory and other accessibility challenges. It was gratifying to be part of such a special event for this audience and their parents and caregivers.
Patty and Jeff Kaplan
Occupation: Retired Cantor (Patty) and Project Manager (Jeff)
Any musical background? Patty has a Masters in Voice, performed in the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and had a 30-year career as a Cantor. Jeff played clarinet in his high school band. When did you join the SVA? In early 2013, soon after we moved to St. Louis. What led you to volunteer for the SLSO? We moved here to be SLSO supporters, and to watch our daughter—Andrea Kaplan, the SLSO’s Associate Principal Flutist. We joined the SVA as soon as we made the connection. What do you love about being a volunteer? Working with students to encourage their appreciation of orchestral music, getting to know the SLSO’s amazing musicians, spreading the word about the SLSO, and working with the wonderful people in the SVA.
Any special memories of your time as a volunteer? We’ve had great fun with Instrument Playground, helping young kids get excited about trying out real instruments.
Janice and Steve Seele
Occupation: Retired Marketing professional (Janice) and retired Corporate Counsel (Steve)
Any musical background? Neither of us has ever played an instrument; however, symphonic music was frequently played in our households while growing up.
When did you join the SVA? Janice joined the SVA in 2010 and Steve joined upon his retirement in 2019.
What led you to volunteer for the SLSO? Initially, a close friend invited Janice to join and it was easy to say yes. We'd recently moved back to St. Louis from California, had been long time subscribers to the SLSO before leaving and, of course, became subscribers again upon our return. Our extended absence had given us an acute appreciation for the SLSO as an extraordinary organization, one of the jewels of St. Louis, and an important asset of the community in terms of its musical excellence and the amazing outreach and education programs that benefit the entire St. Louis area and beyond.
What do you love about being a volunteer? The more we discover about the SLSO, the more we love and appreciate it. Through volunteering, we've learned much more about the orchestra itself, have gotten to know the incredible staff members and musicians, and have become tremendous friends with other volunteers. Whether we are helping at the concerts themselves, assisting with education programs, or working in committee, we've found great satisfaction in our volunteer experiences.
Any special memories of your time as a volunteer? One particularly fun memory is an evening that we volunteered to greet and chat with new patrons as they entered Powell Hall. After a while, one couple who’d been standing behind us, came around front and saw that we were wearing volunteer badges. “Oh!”, they exclaimed, “You’re official people. We just thought you had lots of friends!” We felt we did.
Occupation: Research Coordinator for the E3 Nutrition Lab at Washington University in St. Louis
Musical background: I’ve played piano from a young age and also played alto saxophone in both symphonic and jazz bands throughout college. While I loved my instruments, vocal jazz was my real passion!
When did you join the SVA? 2017
What led you to volunteer for the SLSO? Since I no longer perform, I was looking for new and meaningful ways to stay involved with music. When I learned about the SVA, I jumped at the opportunity to join.
What do you love about being a volunteer? I appreciate the diverse range of volunteer activities available. Regardless of background, there are countless ways to get involved in meaningful and exciting ways, from advocacy work to education. The individuals who make up the SVA are the most incredible group of people, too. They have truly become an extension of my family. You will not meet a more passionate, supportive, or knowledgeable group of people than the SVA!
Any special memories of your time as a volunteer? I had the honor of volunteering at the Youth Orchestra’s 50th Anniversary concert at Powell Hall in January 2020. I loved meeting the dozens of YO alumni who returned to St. Louis for the celebration and listening to them reminisce about their time in the orchestra. It was such a joyful experience!
Occupation: Retired special education teacher.
Musical background: I took piano as a child and played flute in my high school band.
When did you join the SVA? 2018
What led you to volunteer for the SLSO? I was encouraged to become a volunteer by a friend seeing how I loved classical music and was not liking retirement.
What do you love about being a volunteer? I’ve met such wonderful and warm people, encouraging me to do various activities within the organization and as a result they became friends and faces I looked forward to seeing at concerts.
Any special memories of your time as a volunteer? How much time do you have to listen? Working in the Boutique the night of the John Williams concert in 2019. The energy and excitement was palpable!
Eric Dundon is the SLSO's Public Relations Director.