Climbing her own path
Updated: Jul 15, 2020
How Philomena Duffy, Associate Director of Orchestra Operations, keeps the music flowing
Putting on an orchestra concert is no easy task. In addition to the musicians, conductor, and ushers that the patrons see, there is a whirl of activity taking place behind the scenes, and Philomena Duffy is helping to hold it all together. As Associate Director of Orchestra Operations, Phil oversees all orchestra operations back stage, including the stagehands, the orchestral personnel, and the librarians. She makes sure that the ISO team working in the lobby and the team working back stage are all on the same page, from the warm-up to the final bows.
During Phil’s days as an undergraduate at Syracuse University, she had plans of being a band director for middle and high school students. But during her senior year, she got a unique opportunity to direct the Syracuse basketball pep band, a position usually reserved for a staff member. It was during that time that she began to learn more about the world of operations.
“I loved that fast-paced environment and the world of timing and choreography,” she said. “I had to watch the basketball game and listen to the venue staff and be prepared to make quick decisions, a practice that has proved useful backstage at a concert.”
Phil decided to earn a master’s degree in arts administration and after spending a year working as a substitute teacher, made her way to the orchestra world. Her career path at the ISO was a winding one, leading from an internship in the Learning Community to discovering more about the operations team during a summer at Kroger Symphony on the Prairie. “I was eager to learn as much as I could and help out anywhere,” she explained, “and that’s how I learned about operations. I’ve realized that it’s my niche. It’s been a great opportunity for growth and a chance to be part of something bigger than myself.”
Managing the communications during a concert and making quick decisions is her favorite part of her job at the ISO. She lets the front of house team know if there is a delay backstage, and likewise, communicates delays or issues in the theatre to the stagehands, musicians, and the conductor. “I like having to think on my feet and do quick problem solving when something isn’t going to plan,” she explains. “It’s a challenge, but this job can be unpredictable. We have a beautiful historic theatre with a very small backstage area, which can come with limitations.”
When she’s not making decisions at the ISO, she’s deciding which path is the best while rock climbing, a favorite hobby that she didn’t take up until she moved to Indiana from Massachusetts. “I’m always looking for ways to move out of my comfort zone,” she says. “Look around, see what tools you have and what could be made better, and then go do it.”