Pitching in

By Eric Gallippo

Volunteers lend ears, hands

After the final movement is played, the audience files out and the lights go off in the Wharton Center’s Cobb Great Hall following Saturday’s season-opening Lansing Symphony concert, there will still be at least one more job to do: count the ticket stubs.

It’s just one of many tasks for which the Lansing Symphony relies on volunteers, like Frank and Jeane McKowen.

“We go over some afternoon and dump a box on the desk, and we count them,” Frank McKowen said.

In July, the McKowens were recognized by the Lansing Symphony as its Volunteers of the Year for 2008-’09. Over the last 10 years, the McKowens have lent a hand with greeting visitors, distributing posters, moving the organization’s administrative offices, running a contest for young musicians and bringing educational programming into schools. Being chosen was “kind of a shock, or a surprise, I should say,” Jeane McKowen said. “There are an awful lot of volunteers.”

Catherine Guarino, spokeswoman for the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, said about 150 volunteers serve annually, which includes board members and a few auxiliary groups that host fundraising events for the organization.

Volunteers are used in a variety of roles, from ushering to helping at auditions and spreading the word about upcoming concerts and events in their own neighborhoods. “It’s all of that leg work that with a small staff of five we can’t really get done,” Guarino said.

When it came to selecting the McKowens as Volunteers of the Year, Guarino said it came down to the Williamston couple’s love of music and willingness to help with any job, no matter how mundane, like counting ticket stubs. “It’s important for us to know who is using the tickets,” Guarino said. “They are happy to do those tedious things, and they feel like they are a part of what we’re accomplishing. “They are the best kind of volunteers.

They are not there for any reason other than they love the music and love what we do and want to support in any way they can.”

Jeane McKowen, 67, grew up in a musical family, surrounded by classical sounds. “My folks both played instruments and sang, and they always had classical music in the house,” she said.

She first started working with the symphony while teaching music in the Webberville school system, a job she retired from in 2002, bringing choirs to sing at the Holiday Pops concert. After a while, she started getting involved in others ways.

Frank McKowen, 86, still vividly recalls getting hooked on “the world’s greatest music” while visiting the home of a high school classmate who played violin. “He put on a recording of the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony on his phonograph and then proceeded to get out his violin, sit down and play along with the recording. I was totally blown away, both by his obvious talent and the beauty of the music.”

McKowen taught music at Sexton High School for more than 20 years, before retiring in 1979 and starting his own piano tuning business.

The couple met while both were singing in the MSU Choral Union, of which Jeane McKowen is still a member. They will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary this October.

When it comes to volunteering, the McKowens said they enjoy meeting new people and sharing their love of music. “We enjoy helping out, and they’re wonderful people down there,” Jeane McKowen said. “We really enjoy working with them.”

But they don’t like people making too big of a fuss about them.

“We don’t volunteer so we can shout it from the rooftop,” Frank McKowen said. “I kind of think low key. I like the symphony, and I like the people.”

Those interested in volunteering can find more information at www.lansingsymphony.org or calling the symphony offices at (517) 487-5001.