Caeli Smith Raises Funds for Philadelphia Music Program

Caeli Smith and Tim Ribchester will hold a benefit concert May 10

Caeli Smith and Tim Ribchester

“I think a lot about how, as a classical violinist, I spend so much of my energy honing my skills in a very narrow discipline. I want to find ways to use my skills to help make the world a better place.” — Caeli Smith

This Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 10 from 3-5 pm in the Ethical Society Building at Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, 17-year-old From the Top violinist Caeli Smith and pianist Tim Ribchester are holding a recital to benefit the Academy of Community Music‘s Crescendo Music Program. The recital will raise money towards a $10,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. A reception will follow.

Suggested donation: $25 Adults, $15 Students and Seniors
Tickets are available in advance, by reservation, or at the door. View on Facebook.

Click the read more link below to learn more about the event and how Caeli put it all together.

FTT Green Room: How did this come about/what made you want to do this?

Caeli: I think a lot about how, as a classical violinist, I spend so much of my energy honing my skills in a very narrow discipline. I want to find ways to use my skills to help make the world a better place. My sister and I do some volunteer coaching for a children’s orchestra, which is really gratifying. But I also feel that since so much money is being spent on my musical education by my parents and through scholarships, that I should do something to help raise money for children’s music education. I was going to give a junior recital anyway, so I decided to use the recital as a way of raising money for this cause that I really believe in.

FTT Green Room: What’s your connection to the Crescendo Music Program? (and tell us a little bit about the program)

Caeli: My three sisters and I started Suzuki violin lessons at the Academy of Children’s Music, a small community music school (now called Academy of Community Music). This school has a division called “Crescendo” that brings group music lessons and music therapy to Head Start and other day care centers that serve children who are disabled or economically disadvantaged. I feel so strongly that all children deserve a musical education and I wanted to do something to help the program!

FTT Green Room: How did the NEA matching grant come about?

Caeli: The grant was obtained by the school administrators to help fund a program called “Celebrate the Children” that takes place on May 21, and the grant needs to be met by that time. Since my concert is on May 10, it seemed natural to direct the funds towards helping fulfill the matching grant.

FTT Green Room: How can people get involved and support this event?

Caeli: I have sent out invitations in the mail and made a Facebook event:

People can also support directly by going to the Facebook Cause page:

A number of people who can’t come to the concert are sending checks in response to the invitation.

FTT Green Room: Have you done other benefit recitals?

Caeli: Last November I was asked to perform at another benefit for the Crescendo program, a dinner-party concert where André Watts was the featured soloist. I played Sinfonia Concertante with Ellen dePasquale on viola and Mr. Watts on piano. Throughout my life I’ve played on benefits as an invited performer and I have also played many benefits with my string quartet through Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. But this is the first time I’ve organized a solo recital on my own to benefit a cause, and it’s very exciting for me!

FTT Green Room: So how did the Mother’s Day benefit concert go?

Caeli: The recital was on May 10, which was also Mother’s Day. I was worried that we might not get a big audience because of the holiday, so we sent out a big invitation mailing in advance asking people to donate even if they were unable to make it to the concert. We used my family’s Christmas card list as well as the mailing list for the Academy of Community Music. We also made a Facebook group and put posters around town.

Although most of the people who were invited did not respond, those who did were very generous. We had $2000 in donations before the concert started, although only 20 of those people purchased actual tickets. The rest just sent checks to help out with the cause.

The day of the recital was great weather and traffic into the city was very congested. Ten minutes before the start of the concert there were only about 30 people in the hall, which holds 100. But, in the next ten minutes about 20 “walk-ins” showed up, and a few trickled in after the first piece. The hall felt full “enough”. At the door we raised another $525, bringing the total to $2525. Because it is an NEA matching grant, the funds were doubled!

The concert was a success in part because of the all the generous help. My accompanist, Tim Ribchester, donated his time. Ellie dePasquale donated her time, playing the viola part of Sinfonia Concertante. My grandmother, Joanne Rile, made all of the food for the reception, and the chair of the board for the organization, Alice Fernley, brought all of the drinks. My mom helped organize the invitation mailing and did the programs for the recital. The day after the recital, I made thank-you notes for all who attended, and I included a copy of the program for the donors who sent money but did not come. (Many of them were from far away, such as a former teacher at the program who has since moved to Washington State, and my old choir teacher, who is in Oklahoma.)

FTT Green Room: Do you have any advice for other musicians who want to get involved in music advocacy or plan their own benefit recital?

Caeli: The hardest part (besides finding a date when a hall was available and my accompanist was free!) was realizing that I would have to invest money in the beginning, and trust that the benefit would bring in enough funds to cover my initial investment, and then raise more money for the cause. I needed my parents’ help to rent a hall with a good piano, and I needed money for postage. I sent invitations to family and friends and also to people on the mailing list for the school I am trying to help. Each invitation had a return envelope with a stamp on it, to encourage people to donate even if they weren’t coming to the concert, so all of that postage was expensive. So far the initial returns have covered the cost, but it was scary! Remember to advertise on Facebook, and follow up invitations through email, which is free. One thing to consider if you are planning a benefit concert: if you don’t need a piano on site (i.e., it is a string quartet and not a solo concert) there will probably be more options and less expensive hall options.) Some people might be able to get a hall for free through a local church or school.

Other advice: consider making the program slightly shorter than a regular full-length recital. Because it is a benefit, many members of the audience might not have the stamina to listen to two hours of classical music. Program pieces that are fairly accessible for listeners. Be sure to include information about the cause in your program book. Place brochures and posters about the cause around the back of the hall and have a reception afterwards with food (donated by friends and family) so that afterwards everyone can mingle and talk about the cause.