Five years ago while guiding the rebirth of a symphonic orchestra in Trenton, conductor Dan Spalding hand-selected Gloria Teti to lead the new board of trustees of the Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey.
He knew Trenton native Teti had a deep love for and understanding of classical music: she had studied intensely since childhood and then spent the late 1960s and early 1970s as a professional operatic vocalist with the New York City Opera.
He also knew she knew the local political scene: Teti was mayor of Lawrence Township from 1992 to 1994, and on the township’s council through 1996.
Furthermore, Teti was involved with the area’s business community as longtime co-owner (with her husband Joe Teti) of Triangle Art Center in Lawrenceville.
Put all this together, and it was a no-brainer for Spalding to offer her a leadership role in the new orchestra, which is now a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
“Dan came to see me and asked if I would be interested,” Teti says about rebuilding a symphony after the Trenton Symphony was unable to resolve a series of fiscal and administrative problems. “It was an exciting idea to be part of the arts community in Trenton, and I was happy to help and support — and before I knew it I was president. But I certainly understood what was involved and that it would be a struggle.”
She says the average cost to put the orchestra on stage ranges from $60,000 to $70,000: the rental of the War Memorial alone is about $5,000; union stagehands might cost $3,000, Teti notes. And that’s just the beginning.
Of course, the musicians and conductor have to be paid for the concert as well as the rehearsals. Special guest musicians and vocalists need to be paid as well.
Then there is the music that has to be rented, with a full score for the conductor and individual parts for each musician.
“When you start taking every little section of what it costs to mount a performance, it’s an expensive endeavor,” Teti says. “These are just some of the investments that people who come to the concerts take for granted. Those of us in the administration need to consider all this when we plan or program a season.”
Teti says that ticket sales cover about 40 percent of these costs, and corporate support helps greatly but only so much.
In addition, “We try to find the grants that are out there, from the Dodge Foundation for example, but unfortunately, every orchestra, choral group, etc., is going after the same grants,” she says. “We’re all trying to dip into the same pot.”
“We do get nice support from our audience, with some folks writing really generous checks — $1,000, $2,500, even $5,000 dollars,” Teti says. “We also get many, many donations of $25, or $50, or $100, and we appreciate it all.”
Another one of the challenges to filling a large concert hall lies with changing demographics. There is a generation gap between older adults who have disposable income for such pleasures as music and travel, and younger adults who are dedicating their income to raising families.
With this in mind, Teti says the CPNJ is trying to encourage more families to come to concerts, with a deep discount on tickets for children and anyone under age 21 with student ID.
“This year and last year we launched a program where any seat in the house for a student is only $10 — even $55 or $65 seats,” she says. “So if you have two or three kids and you want to bring them, you want to encourage their interest in symphonic music, it’s not cost-prohibitive.”
Teti was born and raised in Trenton. Her father was a heating and air-conditioning contractor and her mother was a homemaker. She says her mom’s family was interested in music, although not professionally, but everyone sang.
Her husband, Joe, is also a singer — a tenor — and the two met while singing in a Presbyterian choir.
“Although we’re both Catholic, we met through a Presbyterian ministry — who will pay to have a really good choir,” Teti says. “Joe and I met singing at high Sunday services.”
Teti has been in love with music since childhood and was a multi-talented young lady singing and playing piano at Villa Victoria Academy in Ewing from kindergarten through high school graduation in 1964.
“At the time Villa Victoria was known as a school for music excellence, and they had extraordinary musical performances at the War Memorial. The curtain would open and there would be six grand pianos on stage,” Teti says.
After high school Teti studied music at Marymount College — with her eye on operatic vocal performance — graduating with a bachelor of music degree, cum laude, in 1968.
Teti says her time at Marymount was akin to studying at the Juilliard School in New York.
“We had to learn orchestration, conducting, counterpoint, as well as all the instruments — it was a very intense course of study,” she says. “And then you had to take all the liberal arts courses. I graduated with 152 credits.”
After graduation Teti landed a job as a soloist at Radio City Music Hall. Things took off in 1969, when she was hired by the New York City Opera Company, sharing the stage at Lincoln Center with the likes of Beverly Sills and James Morris.
“It was a crazy, fun life,” she says, explaining that, as a lyric soprano, she would sing lighter soprano roles, such as Mimi in Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Marguerite in Gounod’s “Faust,” and various roles in Mozart’s operas.
Teti retired from the opera world in the 1970s to raise a family, although her husband encouraged her to continue her career. “I decided to put opera aside and commit to marriage and family, and it was the right call,” she says.
The couple, now residing in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, has three grown children — two sons and a daughter — all of whom are very much interested in music.
“It’s in the genes with them,” Teti says. (Hopefully the family’s 11 grandchildren carry those musical genes, too.)
Teti’s role as a councilwoman and mayor of Lawrence Township has turned out to be quite helpful in running the CPNJ’s board.
“I love to talk to people, and I’m pretty forthright,” Teti says. “I talk to the orchestra when they rehearse, I get to know them, let them know what they’re doing to make this project succeed. There’s a certain honesty in face-to-face sharing.”
“As far as the board, I work with them like I used to with the council, working by consensus, letting everybody put their ideas on the table,” she says. “We try to understand all the issues that face us and come to an amiable agreement.”
Naturally, Teti’s musical experience helps her role with the CPNJ, and she says her background in music drives her love for the orchestra and her desire to see the group succeed.
“The people who donate often include notes and letters to us saying, ‘Trenton needs this, please don’t stop, we want this to continue,’” she says. “Like them, I can recognize the culturally enriching side of the orchestra and what needs to be done (to keep it strong). For those who don’t understand, I can help them understand better.”
The Capital Philharmonic of New Jersey, conducted by Daniel Spalding, will perform its opening concert on Saturday, October 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton.
The season opener will feature Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture, Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 2 “Mysterious Mountain,” and Symphony No. 3 “Organ Symphony,” by Saint-Saens. The Saint-Saens symphony will feature the War Memorial’s famous Moller Theater Pipe Organ, which formerly provided lush sound at the old Lincoln Theater in Trenton.
New Year’s Eve concert. Sunday, December 31.
The Jazz Age. The orchestra will travel back in time to the Roaring Twenties, featuring cabaret-style songs from Kurt Weill’s “The Three Penny Opera,” as well as works by Stravinsky, Milhaud, and Trenton’s own George Antheil. Saturday, March 10.
Season Finale. Dedicated to the works of Serge Rachmaninoff, including the daunting Piano Concerto No. 2. Well known Morrisville-based pianist Clipper Erickson will be the guest soloist. Saturday, April 21.