We tend to define people by their jobs, and Michelle Mullaly certainly has a challenging and important one as executive director of the Canton Symphony Orchestra.
But there’s much more to Mullaly’s life than what happens in her office at the new Zimmermann Symphony Center.
“It’s very hectic. I have three boys—18, 15 and 11,” she said. “My life away from here is spent at their sporting events and band and choir concerts. I do the scoring for the swim meets at (Revere High School), and I’m the marching band announcer. And of course my husband needs my attention, too, and my golden retriever named Henry.”
At night at the Mullaly home in Bath, “I just collapse on the couch from sheer exhaustion. I enjoy crocheting—that’s all I can handle,” she said with a chuckle.
Here, Mullaly, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music history and theory from Hiram College and is a pianist, talks about the symphony.
Q. Are you always battling the image of the orchestra as stuffy and highbrow?
A. “Always. A lot of the stuff we’re doing this year is trying to get our musicians playing out in different locations. It’s really important to us to try and get rid of that stigma, and show we can be young and light-hearted. You don’t have to be your parents in order to go to the Canton Symphony.”
Q. The orchestra is a young one, with a lot of student musicians from the Cleveland Institute of Music. What is that like?
A. “Our musicians are very young. They know they can come here to get good experience for a couple of years before they move on to bigger orchestras. We’re kind of like a farm team. They’re very excited to be here, fresh-faced and chipper and ready to go. A lot of the pieces we do, it will be the first time they’ve played them with an orchestra.”
Q. You work closely with (Canton Symphony Music Director) Gerhardt Zimmermann. What is that like?
A. “Gerhardt is an amazing man. There’s really not a lot of ego with him. When he is on the podium, it’s all about music, and he expects the musicians to know the music and pay attention. But he is also very funny and great with the audience, and he really is a brilliant musician. He and I work well together. When we’re planning the next season, it’s ultimately his decision, but he definitely listens to what I have to say. We are very fortunate to have had him here in Canton for so many years. That’s pretty unusual.”
Q. What qualities do you bring to your job?
A. “I like to think outside the box, and I definitely think that I’m a team player. I expect the rest of the staff to bring ideas. Just because I’m in this chair doesn’t mean I have all the answers. I hope in my time here that Canton Symphony will become one of the most innovative orchestras of its size. I want us to be known for pushing the envelope just a little bit.”
Q. Speaking of that, I see that The Speedbumps (a Kent-based band) are coming back for another Canton Symphony pops concert Feb. 7 at the Palace Theatre.
A. “The first concert (in 2012) went very well. I think the audience was excited about it, and we had a great crowd. It was exciting because it was so different. This time, they are going to debut four or five of their new pieces.”
Q. Do you have any good behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Canton Symphony to share?
A. “This wasn’t behind the scenes, but last season, Gerhardt’s baton actually flew right out of his hand during a concert and landed in the front row. A year or two ago, one of the string players broke a string right before we came back from intermission, and there was all kinds of running around backstage to find another string, and they had to hold the concert. But it went fine after that.”
Q. What kind of music do you listen to in your car during your drive to work?
A. “I don’t listen to music in the car, which drives my husband crazy. As a trained musician, I really listen to music, and it’s hard for me to have something else going on. When I do listen to the radio, 91.3 (The Summit) is my favorite because I like a mix of old and new. I love the Speedbumps, and I love classical music, obviously.”