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Spotlight on Volunteers in August & September

Volunteers are central to everything we do.  A 500-person usher corps, a 180-voice chorus, a 90-member Advisory Committee, a 34-member Board of Directors, student interns, a Teacher Advisory Committee, and countless others help us with strategic planning, special event planning, project-based assistance, backstage support, promoting performances, and putting up posters around town. We simply couldn’t do business without the support of volunteers, who collectively offer over 45,000 hours each year volunteering for UMS programs.

That’s why we’re spending the month of August highlighting the many ways in which volunteers contribute to the success of UMS.  Who knows?  Maybe you’d like to become a UMS volunteer yourself!

Volunteer Spotlight: The UMS Advisory Committee

Please note: Up-to-date information about the UMS Advisory Committee can be found on

Here’s an impressive statistic: Members of the UMS Advisory Committee donated over 7,500 volunteer hours to UMS during the 2009/2010 Season.  That adds up to an equivalent of 3.5 full-time staff positions!

Who are these people who dedicate thousands of hours greeting schoolchildren at performances, visiting elementary and secondary schools to share information about the UMS Youth Performances and Education Programs, fostering alliances with the multicultural communities and arts organizations of southeastern Michigan?   How can you describe the volunteers who freely donate their time to create successful fundraising events, who recapture, record, and archive the organization’s “story” and who lend their professional expertise to ensure that the UMS Advisory Committee is the gold standard of volunteer organizations in Ann Arbor?

As I read through the brief biographies each Advisory Committee member wrote, I am taken by the collective breadth of talent in our organization.  In our incoming class alone, you’ll find realtors, lawyers, educators, executive directors, department managers, doctors, engineers, choreographers, automotive designers, nurses, small business owners, professional decorators, consultants, foreign service officers, actors … even a published poet!

We have members who have authored books, organized and produced music festivals, started businesses, parented families, sponsored radio programs, founded non-profit organizations, chaired major organizations and fundraising campaigns, staffed high-level University searches – even sung in the Choral Union.  No one sentence could possibly begin to encompass the myriad talents and resources our members possess.

This past spring, I had the opportunity to meet many of the new members, and, over the past three years, to develop valued friendships with many of the current and retiring members. A few common threads weave through many of their stories.

As children, many of them were enveloped in the arts by their family.  “My mother brought my two brothers and me to children-friendly concerts when we were small”, writes one member, “and to Choral Union series concerts when I was a teenager. My mother and I have been going to UMS events together ever since.”  “I have had an interest in the arts since I was a child,” notes another.  “Both my parents were musically-inclined and we had music in our home regularly.” “In my childhood, there was always music, dance, and theater to be found,” wrote a member who grew up in New York.   Another member grew up in England and writes that she “was constantly exposed to the arts:  attending plays and musicals at the local repertory theatre, concerts at the cathedral or the guildhall, the ballet in Bournemouth or London.”  “Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” shares another. “My own upbringing was deeply influenced by the fact that I was able to experience various cultures and art forms through UMS.”  “Every member of my family was engaged in music throughout our childhood and schooling.”  Another adds, “I grew up falling asleep to the classical music my mother played on the radio as she read at night.” One of my favorites, “My family sang in the car when we traveled.”

Many of our members grew up dedicating countless hours to music and dance lessons.  “I learned at an early age to appreciate form, balance and movement through my ballet, tap, and Hawaiian dance lessons.”  “As a child, I took dance for many years and saw every dance company that came to the Detroit area.” Several members mention music lessons.  “I started saxophone lessons as a second grader,” reflects one member.  “I was a professional cellist for ten years,” writes another. One member took piano and recorder lessons and was a member of a “small youth orchestra practicing in my family’s dining room.”   But musical talent is not a prerequisite. “I LOVE MUSIC!!  Every kind of music!  But I have no training or talent,” exclaims one member.  “My wife plays the piano,” shares another, and then jestingly adds, “and I play the stereo.”

Another thread is a genuine appreciation for being introduced to the arts through school programs.  “One highlight of my elementary education,” a new member reminisces, “was to attend the Denver Symphony sponsored by the Denver Public Schools … This was my introduction to the symphony and I loved the music.” Another reflects, “One of my fondest remembrances of grade school is being bussed into Cleveland to Severance Hall to hear the Cleveland Symphony.  It opened a whole amazing world to me, I will be forever grateful.”

Forever grateful. This truly typifies an Advisory Committee member.  Although our members have forged many different paths, a recurring theme in their life stories is a desire to give back to their community.  “I believe that I can serve this organization and at the same time renew my love for music and its importance to young people.  I would appreciate the opportunity to serve.”  Writes another, “My desire to join the UMS Advisory Committee combines a lifetime of love and support of the arts with my dedication to Ann Arbor.  Most important for me is to continue building the cultural legacy that will be left to my children and others.” Another insightfully voices, “…what gives my life meaning is ‘giving back’ to others … the UMS Advisory Committee  will allow me the opportunity to give back by participating in projects that engage diverse groups through education, collaboration, and the POWER OF MUSIC!”

Giving back to others. Appreciating the opportunity to serve.  Building a cultural legacy.  “I believe art—including music, dance, theatre and all art’s various interpretations—has the ability to transcend differences, be they socio-economic, racial, ethnic or otherwise, and allow us to communicate in a common language.”  “It is impossible for me to envision life without art, music, dance and theater,” summarizes one member.

Those thousands of hours of volunteer service to UMS?  I like to think of them as 7,500 “thank you” notes.

If you’d like more information about the UMS Advisory Committee and how to get involved contact Becki Spangler, Advisory Committee Membership Chair.