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Honorable Menschion: Beverly Clark

Journal Publisher/Editor

Beverly Clark is the founder and President of the Board of Directors of Symphony by the Sea, a professional orchestra now based at the Cabot Theater in Beverly, and a retired professional flutist. She is also a psychoeducational diagnostican with an expertise in assessing reading disabilities, a certified educational/school psychologist and reading specialist.

How did you get into the music business?

I played the flute from an early age, from age 10. In high school, I was auditioning for a role in the all-state regional orchestra and one of the judges was from the University of Connecticut. He heard my audition and wrote me a letter saying if I went to UConn he could offer what was the equivalent of a full scholarship. The only string attached was that I would commit to playing in their orchestra – I wasn’t even expected to be a music major because in those days orchestral performance was all about demonstrating your skill, it wasn’t about having a degree from a conservatory at all. You just had to have the talent.

So you were treated like a star athlete, you were recruited?

Yes, I suppose. I was trained as a flutist – I had a double major, and part of my training in college was to become a teacher, which I did at the beginning of my career, and the other was to become a flutist. We moved to this area in 1969 when my husband accepted a job at Salem State, and I very quickly learned that there were virtually zero performing opportunities for a flutists who are orchestral players.

The North Shore let you down?

Not really. I eventually ended up playing with a community orchestra, some of whom were professionals. The conductor eventually asked us if we wanted to get together and play, and he offered to conduct. So we pulled together a small orchestra of people who had a pretty strong musical background, and we put together a concert which was very successful. That eventually evolved into Symphony by the Sea, which has been going for 37 years.

Symphony by the Sea’s Beverly Clark

The symphony has moved around through the years. How did you end up in Beverly?

When we heard that the Cabot Theater had been sold and was under management by an arts group, we met with their board of directors and they invited us to make the Cabot our home, which we did last year. It’s a great space and we love being there and the musicians find it exciting to be there.

Why did you retire as an active flute player?

I was at Cohen Hillel for 13 years, where I was a reading specialist. After Hillel, I took a position as a full-time public school psychologist and I did that for 15 years. Then in 2012 I decided to retire, and at the same time I decided to retire from playing the flute. I no longer wanted to carry the burden of practicing all the time – I’d reached a different time in my life. At the same time, the person who was president of the board (of the symphony) retired. We tried to pursue someone else to takeover, but somehow I ended up doing it. I thought I’d do it for a year and then hand it off to someone else, but it’s been four years.

Do you feel like it’s time for someone else to take over?

I do. Honestly, I think what happens to an organization is that when leadership doesn’t change, new ideas don’t come in. I’m always looking with an eye toward recruiting new leaders.

Does classical music need something new to reach younger people?

Whoever came up with the idea to broadcast opera live into movie theaters – have you heard about this? It’s totally changed the experience of watching opera because you can read the words and you know what’s going on, it’s more like musical theater. We need something like that in classical music, something to get audiences exposed to the idea, so at least they can begin to experience it.

What has changed for classical music?

Well, in my childhood, you experienced classical music if you watched the cartoons on TV because they used all these famous classical pieces as the background music, so even if you knew nothing about classical music you’d hear a song and you’d say, “oh, I recognize that.” That’s the part that we’re working on, to get people familiar with it early in life.

The first time I saw Symphony by the Sea I loved how the performers who were playing the same instrument – who were playing in the same section – they seemed to be playing off each other and were very interactive and it made it fun to watch. I’ve never experienced that before.

I love that you noticed that. The fact is, that is something that happens in our orchestra that makes it different from a symphony orchestra. A symphony orchestra is usually 70 or 80 musicians and it can be as large as 120. In a symphony orchestra, the full power lies in the hands of the conductor – he’s leading everything. We consider ourselves more of a chamber orchestra, which is smaller,  because our music is more intimate for the musicians because they can look at each other and listen and try to imitate what they’re doing. You picked up on something very real.

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