The Atlanta Opera Volunteers – We can’t do it without you….

Sara Frooman (right) accepts her Rachel Lehmann Memorial Award for her dedication to The Atlanta Opera.
April 10th through 16th is National Volunteer Appreciation Week. Non-profits all over the country will be honoring the men and women who help us stay afloat – in many, many ways. We will be honoring Atlanta Opera Volunteers at a reception on April 21 – stay tuned for pictures!

The history of volunteerism in America is rich and complex. As long as we have been a nation focused on helping and improving the lives of others, we have had volunteer opportunities. Without a doubt, The Atlanta Opera’s Volunteers are instrumental to our survival, and we are grateful for those who devote their time to The Atlanta Opera Family.

There are many loyal volunteers who make a difference. For Sara Frooman, volunteering for The Atlanta Opera is more than just a time commitment for a worthy organization – she has a profound and inherent passion for opera and a love of the community that opera creates. She even has a very creative way of expressing this dedication… through her famous, “conversation starting” lapel pins.

In this week’s blog entry, Sara Frooman, last year’s recipient of The Rachel Lehmann Memorial Award for her dedication and devotion to The Atlanta Opera, shares with us the many reasons why she volunteers, why she will continue to volunteer, and the secrets behind… “the pins.”

* * *

Why volunteer? To be closer to where the music is made and to give support and hospitality to the persons involved, whether in the office or on the stage. This is what “following one’s bliss” means to me. If I had not been in so many other careers, this is where I would have concentrated, earlier, using my skills. Meeting and working with others who give their time is an immeasurable pleasure. I think we are always learning from each other and we have an excitement and passion about opera that I treasure. Working on a project in groups also touches on something primitive and satisfying, I think.

On a purely personal note, I have always loved being able to watch the behind the scenes process of producing operas – the moments when something goes from being art to not art, then back to art, and so forth. That happens in master-classes and rehearsals, when the stop-and-start leads to growth and beauty.

Why opera? I once heard a conductor chastise an American singer for her Italian accent: southern rather than northern. She was letter-perfect in her music, was utterly prepared in her role, but this matter was not tolerated. That opened my eyes to how profoundly hard it is to do what these artists do and to how much respect they are owed for seeking, and giving us, that perfection. Bravo, indeed!

When opera? As a child of about six, I discovered how our big cabinet Zenith radio worked on the phonograph side. After a few false starts with the controls, and possibly destroying a few of our one-sided Victor Red Seal discs, I learned about inserting fresh needles and dropping the tone arm softly. Something wondrous came out of the grille-cloth: opera. The tone was a bit tinny, but who knew, then? Caruso and Galli-Curci were singing arias and I was hooked; the hairs on my arms went up at the gorgeous sounds of the human voice.

Later, the Columbia Record Club and I had a lovely thing going. The culture at that time brought Voice of Firestone and Bell Telephone Hour over the radio, giving the pleasure that, perhaps, only one who is truly vocally-challenged can know. An aunt in NYC took me to see Carmen at the old Met. Later, I started ushering for Chicago Lyric Opera, walking home on air after hearing Leontyne Price as Liu and Aida, Cossotto as Amneris and Eboli, and all the great male singers of the ’60s.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I was moved by a young tenor named Eduardo Villa who performed at the Met auditions. I had the pleasure of discovering how far he had developed, years later, when I visited family in Atlanta and heard him in an Atlanta Opera production of Otello. Following the careers of those who have devoted their lives to this art has been fascinating to me. They don’t know I cheer for them, but I do. In various forms, I think a spirit of hospitality is at the heart of everything in life that is good.

Sara Frooman wears her pin from this season’s production of La bohème.
The pins? I’m a marketer at heart, having had successful businesses, and a history of producing advertising and editorial illustrations that told a story in one image. I also have a love of charming jewelry. So, before every production I search on eBay to find figural ornaments with themes from the upcoming production, and put the elements together. I wear the pins (and make others for staff use, should they wish) for the powerful effect of person-to-person conversations stimulated by onlookers’ reactions. I carry Atlanta Opera handouts and materials and invite those persons to share the excitement of great music with us. In fact, while in a restaurant writing this, the waitress commented on my Così fan tutte pins, so I gave her the handout and we had a lovely conversation, recalling her best experiences. We shared this thought: opera is the only art that has moved me to tears.

Next? Gasoline is my drug of choice, so I hope to continue driving to the Center to help as needed to advance the opera’s mission, and to the airport, to give arriving artists the warmest and most personalized greeting possible, so they will remember The Atlanta Opera highly among the places they would always prefer to return.