Making Music Matter: Helen's Story
Helen Hanson is a decades-long subscriber and donor to the San Francisco Symphony. After receiving her B.S. in Nursing, she became a member of the medical support staff for the NASA space program at Cape Canaveral, subsequently obtaining a master's degree, then a Ph.D. in Education from UC Berkeley with an emphasis in institutional research and development.
1. How did you get introduced to classical music and what has sustained your passion for it over the years?
It was the late forties, and I was in the fourth grade where we had "music time" listening to classical music on a portable record player provided by our teacher. Those experiences led to my decision to learn trumpet a few years later, and then playing French horn in high school concerts and marching band. A music scholarship to Florida State University followed. I owe a great deal to those early music experiences in public schools. They greatly influenced the direction of my life and contributed to the person I am today. I see how the Symphony is giving other young people similar opportunities and I want to contribute to those efforts. I want our Symphony to do for others what my little town band did for me.
2. What musical experiences have moved you through the years?
There have been so many peak musical experiences in my life, including at the age of seventeen, playing works of Holst and Vaughan Williams with the orchestral band at FSU. However, the most meaningful and moving experiences were in the last decade with the San Francisco Symphony. One was the September 13, 2001 performance of Mahler's 6th. MTT's introductory comments and the performance itself expressed the shock and violence of the previous Monday and provided comfort and connection shared among audience members. The other SFS performance that I will never forget was the 2004 performance of Mahler's 4th, highlighted by the pure beauty of the voice and expression of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Probably the most sensitive performance I have or will ever hear.
3. What inspires you specifically about the San Francisco Symphony?
When I hear an outstanding performance of a great work by our orchestra, the energy, expressiveness and pleasure that one senses from MTT and the orchestra members, individually and collectively, is truly captivating and inspiring. I think there is a clearly identifiable expressiveness in certain works when MTT and the Symphony "click." It is such a pleasure to hear that.
4. What inspired you to support the Symphony financially?
Besides its great performances, the centrality of the Symphony's educational mission, especially the quality programming of the Symphony's Adventures in Music and Keeping Score programs. These were the tipping points for me to significantly strengthen my support of the Symphony in a number of ways, including a legacy bequest. Such a gift, like education, looks to and addresses the future.
5. Has your thinking about the Symphony been shaped at all by your long-term donor relationship with the Symphony?
Yes, quite a bit. At first, I contributed just to say "thank you" for giving me the pleasure of the live performances. But then I became more familiar with the organization and the complex mix of responsibilities that contributes to making those performances happen. What caught my attention was a culture of "high performance" permeating the organization, a warm professionalism mixed with a pervasive attention to detail. These qualities are crucial to a successful business of any type, and it was noteworthy to find them in a nonprofit organization. Consequently, I view my financial support of the Symphony as a sound investment and tangible contribution to a worthy component of our music community. I am very happy maintaining this connection with an organization that knows what it's doing and where it's going.
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