Some cultural institutions are bigger than you think, and Women’s Symphony League is one of them. The 62-year-old organization — the oldest arts-support organization in Austin — has helped shape the urban space of downtown Austin and also the arts and music education of thousands of Austin children.
In fact, if your children have ever been to the Austin Symphony Orchestra‘s Young People’s Concert, where a giant screen helps them see the musicians up close; the Halloween Concert, which features a spooky story accompanies by a live orchestra; or attended Children’s Day at the Park, which offers children a chance to enjoy a “petting zoo” of orchestra instruments, hear form local musicians, dancers, storytellers, magicians, mimes and crafts people and just be present in a historic downtown space, all for just 50 cents a child… then they have benefited from the work of the Women’s Symphony League.
But these events would not even be possible were it not for the Women’s Symphony League volunteers before them who rescued and restored the current home of ASO, a historic downtown property that was once condemned.
The entire complex, called Jane Dunn Sibley Symphony Square, consists of four historical limestone buildings mostly built just after the end of the Civil War, and the 350-seat amphitheater. Sibley, a WSL member, led the charge to rescue and restore these four buildings, which now house the ASO and WSL offices.
WSL also puts on one of the biggest social-event weekends in Austin, and that’s the Jewel Ball.
It starts on Labor Day weekend with Soirée Dansante, s party to honor the “Belles and Beaux”, 10th grade junior royalty to be presented at the Jewel Ball. The fully chaperoned evening includes games, activities and an opportunity to dress up to kick off the school year.
Then later in September comes the Jewel Ball Fashion Show and Luncheon, at which guests enjoy lunch, a presentation of Jewel Ball royalty, and a fashion show featuring Austin boutiques.
The festivities culminate with the Jewel Ball, being held on September 26 at the Palmer Events Center. The evening will include dinner, dancing and an auction, which the highlight being the presentation of the Royal Court, King Brio and his diamond Queen, junior royalty and visiting jewels from Texas symphony organizations. Needless to say, this is a strictly black-tie event.
We talked to Women’s Symphony League president Karen Gernstein about the work it takes to put on this series of events.
Q. The scale of this fundraiser is massive! How many volunteers work on it? How many hours of planning go into it?
The WSL is made up entirely of volunteers, from business affairs to financial development and operations. All 250 active volunteers are required to fulfill a placement activity related to the festivities. It is truly a group effort!
Planning for the Jewel Ball begins more than an year in advance, so it’s difficult to calculate how many hours it takes, but our members contribute an estimated 15,000 volunteer hours annually towards all of our educational and fundraising projects.
Q. This event – from the luncheon to the Jewel Ball – is so different from other Austin fundraising events and so timeless. The scale of this event is unbelievable! Why do you think this event has been so timeless?
We truly attribute this to the dedication of our members. I think we all realize that Austin can’t be a great city without a great symphony, so the mission and purpose of the Symphony League is to provide service and financial support for the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the oldest symphony orchestra in the state of Texas. With generations of members of all ages, from 25 to 90 years old, we’ve done our best to appeal to all age ranges over the past 62 years as a league.
Q. Why is it important that young people and children be exposed to orchestras? What have been some of the most compelling anecdotes and stories from these programs?
Scientific evidence suggests that classical music has a positive effect on the listener, reducing stress and improving cognitive development in areas such as information processing, language development, and memory.
The Austin Symphony Orchestra does so much more than most people in our city realize. Beginning in kindergarten, kids begin learning and listening to the elements that make up an orchestra: strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and harp. By high school, students are exposed to interdisciplinary programs and full orchestra performances. For those that choose a musical path, competition finalists and young composers have the opportunity to engage directly and play alongside the ASO.
Exposing children, for the very first time in many cases, to classical music… there is nothing more important than that to me.