Westmoreland Symphony manager shapes next generation of classical music aficionados
In his dapper suit and bow tie, Morrie Brand looks every inch the managing director of a symphony, which is the position he has held since 2000 for the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra.
He is a composer and former professional musician and college music instructor. He also managed the Green Bay Symphony. The Minnesota native and his musician wife, Michele Boulet, traveled southeast to Pennsylvania “to escape the hot summers and mosquitoes” and have found Greensburg to be a good fit.
Question: What does the managing director of a symphony do?
Answer: I’m the producer of concerts, fundraiser, grant writer. I manage the budget, hire staff, work with the board of directors and direct the academy of music. We have our youth orchestra, adult community orchestra, summer philharmonic, private lessons for all ages, and we also have a young people’s concert and competition.
Q: What is your greatest mission?
A: We’ve always had some education component; orchestras always do. With schools doing less and less for real orchestra music, orchestras need to be their own education source. What we are doing is creating the next generation of classical music supporters.
If I could sit down with people in this area, I could persuade half of those people that classical music is worth their time. The evidence is that, when you go to a movie and there’s full orchestra music, people are not even aware that it’s orchestra music. It’s not rock, it’s not pop; it comes from the classical tradition. And people love those soundtracks. People who do those arrangements have the background of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and Copland. The use of the music in movies is proof that people can learn to appreciate classical music.
That’s my end-of-life ambition — to persuade people that this is an exciting world, and they should enter it.
Q: Where did your life in music begin?
A: I started playing an instrument in fourth grade. I played the accordion and also picked up piano, but those weren’t cool instruments, so when I got to high school I got in the marching band and played snare drum. I eventually became a professional percussionist. Since I started conducting the youth orchestra in 2007, I’m really focusing on violin, viola and cello, because it makes me more effective to know about those instruments.
Q: What is your educational background?
A: I got my master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in orchestra conducting. My bachelor’s was actually in political science.
Q: What spurred your interest in politics?
A: I (grew up) in the ’60s, so I think I got the degree to figure out what was going on back then. My political science degree got me to look at the problems and to not look at the political parties to fix them. Political parties aren’t interested in solving problems, they’re interested in making the other party look bad. I’m interested in candidates that neither party wants, like a moderate Republican or moderate Democrat.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: About 40 hours a week, I’m a manager; and about 20 hours a week, I’m a musician, so it’s a pretty full load. All that’s left is CNN news and NFL football and taking care of the house.
Q: What’s that about football?
A: My wife is a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan, and I grew up as a Vikings fan, but living in Wisconsin I met (former Packers general manager) Ron Wolf and started reading about the Packers every day, and I fell in love with them. When I met my wife, we realized we were both Packer fans, and that was one of the main things we had in common.
Q: What about the Steelers?
A: Both of us have always liked the Steelers, too — I mean that! They’re my favorite AFC team.
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750 or email@example.com.