By Jules Jenners
Pamela Murchison was in front of the TV at age 6. Like many children, she watched Sesame Street. One day the show featured flutist James Galway. It made a lasting impression on her. So much so that when her mother asked if she would like to learn the flute, her answer “yes” led to a career. It took her to Ohio, West Virginia and now, to Syracuse to lead Symphoria, the Orchestra of Central New York.
“Sometimes I still have to pinch myself, you know, I can’t believe they let me do this awesome thing,” she said.
Murchison played in high school, college and eventually professionally. Her career included stops in Akron and Gallopolis, Ohio; Charleston, West Virginia; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she performed with the Resonance Works and freelanced, too.
In 2019, she joined Symphoria as executive director following a stint with the West Virginia Symphony where she played flute and piccolo and was also the vice president of development. The audience in West Virginia was amazing.
“People were so proud of their orchestra. All people deserve to have something beautiful, something that lights them up,” she said.
Murchison credits her music teacher and of course her mother, but she also gives herself credit, too.
“I feel like no one’s more surprised than I am that I’m here,” she said.
She is also an educator. She taught at Frostburg State University and as a graduate assistant at West Virginia and Youngstown State universities. She also taught advanced coursework in fundraising at LeMoyne College in Syracuse.
Murchison no longer plays professionally because of the time commitment. Instead, she puts in long hours guiding Symphoria. She collaborates with potential donors for funding the orchestra and supervises the overall day-to-day business of the organization.
She said it’s an exciting time to be in Central New York with new developments such as Micron. But in addition to new businesses, she said there needs to be arts and culture to enhance the quality of life. “Even though I’ve lived and worked in three really different markets — Pittsburgh is different from Syracuse is different from West Virginia — I feel like the same thing is true; the community is so proud and grateful to have something this great,” she said.
She is clearly passionate about Symphoria. But there were some rough spots, like dealing with COVID-19. Like many businesses leaders, she was concerned about the health of her employees and the organization. However, the group was able to secure Payroll Protection Program loans and a venue that was set up for live streaming.
Starting in September 2020, they were able to live-stream that whole season. The 2020-21 season was hard because of quarantines and travel restrictions.
“And then this season (2022-2023), we were able to go back to fully in-person performances,” Murchison said.
Unlike some arts organizations, Symphoria was able to retain all its employees and did not layoff or furlough any musicians or staff during the pandemic.
Asked about her vision for Symphoria in the next five to 10 years, she said she would like to see more awareness of the orchestra and its role in the community.
“We have 46 fulltime musicians that play over 40 concerts per year, the length of season is the same length as the Syracuse Symphony. We’re here to serve, to be the best orchestra for Central New York,” Murchison said.
Symphoria has its Pops Series, including popular music plus Broadway and movies themes. That series also features Holiday Pops for the Christmas season. The Masterworks Series showcases “traditional” classical music. There are also Kids Concerts geared toward families with young children.
As a benchmark of the organization’s success, Symphoria just celebrated its 10th season this spring.
And that feeling Murchison gets about her job with Symphoria? Well, she no longer needs to pinch herself.
New Concerts Coming Up
Pamela Murchison said that if you think you know what a symphony is about — just Beethoven and Mozart — she asks that you try it out.
“We believe that music is for everybody. We believe that everybody has a place here and we want to make sure that’s how the community feels,” she said. “Tickets are really quite affordable for series. They start at $24 inclusive of the fees. For series concerts you can bring your kids for free.”
Symphoria has started its 2023-24 season, which runs through May.
Here are upcoming concerts in October and November:
Oct. 7 Country Hits: Symphoria Loves Country. Classic hits of Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, to name a few.
Oct. 14 Westside Story: Symphonic Dances. Sterling Elliott plays a Concerto for Cello by Schumann.
Oct. 28 Musical Fairy Tales: Stories from your childhood come to life on stage. Costumes are encouraged in this especially kid-friendly performance.
Nov. 12 Mozart with Hannah White: Music composed by Jessie Montgomery and a Spring Symphony by Schumann.
Nov. 18 Carmina Burana. O Fortuna rounds out this performance by the Syracuse University Oratorio.
For more concert information and the full schedule, call 315-299-5598 or go to experiencesymphoria.org.