By Jamie Jenson
Accepting the position of executive director of Symphoria earlier this year felt like the next logical step for Dr. Pamela Murchison’s career. Her life has always been influenced by music, and from an early age, she had a passion for it.
“I grew up surrounded by music,” Murchison said. “My parents had everything on, from Beethoven’s symphonies to Mississippi John Hurt to The Eagles to Johnny Mathis, so lots of family sing-alongs on car trips and things like that.”
Murchison’s musical training began in kindergarten, when she began taking classes from her best friend’s mom, who played the flute. Her friend’s mom wanted to learn how to paint, so Murchison’s mom, an artist, bartered with her. They exchanged painting lessons for flute lessons.
“I had just seen James Galway on Sesame Street playing probably ‘Danny Boy’ for Big Bird and so my mom said, ‘Well, do you want to take flute lessons?’ And I said, ‘Well, sure,’ and that ‘Well, sure’ has gotten me pretty far in life,” Murchison laughed.
Murchison pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music before earning her Doctor of Music Arts degree in flute performance from West Virginia University in 2011.
“I loved being in high school orchestra and band and I never wanted to notdo it, and so I’ve had a really exciting career as a performer,” she said.
Murchison played in both the Akron Symphony Orchestra and the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and then about six or seven years ago, Murchison’s friend, who was playing with a group called the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, told Murchison her organization needed an executive director. She thought Murchison would be perfect for the job.
“I said, ‘Well, sure,’ and I really developed a love for being on the other side of things, as well, because it’s not really the other side, right? We’re all kind of doing the same thing, just from different perches.”
In 2015, that directorship led to a development job with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, where Murchison was also performing as a musician.
When Symphoria offered Murchison the job in Syracuse, she said she and her husband jumped at the chance to move here.
“What Symphoria is doing is really exciting to us, in terms of the passion of the organization, the commitment that the community has and that the musicians have, and so it felt like a really exciting next step for us, and so here we are,” Murchison said.
Murchison said she has much to be excited about here in Syracuse.
“When you come into a community through an orchestra or musical organization, there are people in the community who love it already, so you have a million friends — you just don’t know them yet — because of this thing that connects us all, and so it’s so fun for me to be in a new community and learning stories about people and hearing them talk about why they love the orchestra so much,” she said.
Murchison believes it’s a gift that people share their time with Symphoria and look to the organization as a place to share memories.
“When I see people’s faces light up when they talk about it — and it’s the people sitting in the seats, it’s the people on the board, it’s the musicians on the stage, it’s the kids who are participating in the youth orchestra — I feel a little bit like ‘Well, what can’t we do?’” Murchison said.
Murchison is also excited for the programs that are available next season, which include pianist Natasha Paremski, who will be performing Rachmaninoff’s “Concerto” over two nights, which has only been done one other time in the United States. Symphoria will also be hosting a concert called “Ellis Island,” where they’re partnering with Syracuse Stage in order to perform music that’s indicative of the experience of coming to the United States, and they’ll will be showing the Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 classic, “Back to the Future,” while the live orchestra performs the music.
Wherever one’s interests lie, Murchison is sure there is an event at Symphoria to peak one’s interest, because music, she believes, is something that unites us all.
“Regardless of any of our differences, everybody has this thing in common,” she said. “Every culture, every region, every person, we’re all musical. And that’s just a really universal thing. I love it — I love it so much.”