Name: Kristi Mann

Age: 59

Title: President

Organization: Augusta Symphony Orchestra

About: A nonprofit community orchestra that provides affordable live classical music in central Maine as well as an educational service to both its members and the community.

Website: augustasymphonymaine.org

What’s your biggest challenge?

Right now, it’s audience growth and member growth. We are not playing in Augusta right now, which is probably one of the biggest things we face. We did years ago, playing at churches. When I started with the orchestra, we were playing at Hope Baptist Church in Manchester.

A year ago, we were invited to play at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney. The advantage there is that we’re playing on an actual stage and you play better because you are in concert mode. It’s farther from Augusta (than Manchester) and it’s still not in Augusta. It’s been limited success in terms of the audience following us out there.

There has been some talk with the people restoring the Colonial Theatre that they are interested in having us play there. It would be awesome to play in Augusta.

We have a community orchestra, so people come and go. With the exception of the first two years I was involved, we have struggled to have string players. We have 35 to 40 members and it fluctuates by season and by music. The members are mostly adults, and half of them are toward retirement age. We are not a professional orchestra. We have teachers, doctors, a couple of students — not very many. The University of Maine at Augusta doesn’t have a string program. Colby (College) has a string program, but they have an orchestra up there. We may a get a couple of people who may play in both. Sometimes, we need ringers, so we may try to nab some string players.

What’s the best advice anyone has given you?

I want to say: Keep it simple. Or make it look as if it’s simple. I don’t know if I have had a lot of people give me advice. Phil Tedrick (board member, violinist) would be the person I have sought advice from.

Usually, I try to figure out how do I do the best job I can. I don’t try to complicate all of those tasks I have.

How do you foster creativity in yourself and your staff?

I run the board meetings, I represent the orchestra on various things and I hopefully provide direction to the orchestra in terms of keeping them on task.

I am the principal cellist, so I have somewhat of an investment in the symphony because I play in it.

I try to let the board members do their thing, but rein them in if they get too far off track. We have one member who is big into fundraising and another who is into fundraising through GoFundMe (an online fundraising platform) and merchandising and another person who is big-time in to grants. I have learned that what I need to do is step back and not be so hands-on and to be the encourager and to be a cheerleader to those members who need it.

I have a practical personality, so I have to remind myself to let go and see where it takes us.

Being a cellist, I have a vested interest in wanting to play some place and play symphonic music. If I am not happy with what’s going on, it’s because I haven’t been able to practice or to play. I have to be a musician first.

What’s your biggest fear?

It’s the finances. It’s that we’re going to come up short, and then what are we going to do? If we can’t pay our conductor or Snow Pond, what are we going to do? We’ve been lucky with grants and people stepping up to pay for things.

I think (financial insecurity) is common for nonprofit orchestras in small communities.

We have talked about doing a poll, standing in Hannaford’s and trying to find out how many people know we exist. Since I live on the coast (Rockport) and I study down in York, I travel with my cello. I’ll go into a store with it strapped on my back and people will ask where I play. People look at me like, huh? They don’t know Augusta has a symphony orchestra. If you did, maybe you would come to concerts. That brings me back full circle, that we need to be playing in Augusta. That’s the thing we want the most.

What’s the future for your organization?

It’s two-fold. For musicians, it’s a place to come play classical music. For the most part, we don’t have auditions and anyone is welcome to come play. That is really big.

I think also for the community, we’re providing live classical music. It’s enrichment. It’s part of the arts. It’s important for us who enjoy classical music.

We have actually gone to doing concerts for free with donations. Grants love free concerts. Also, we’re just trying to get the audience bigger, from 60 people to 100 people to 120 people. It would be lovely to have 120 people.

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