Tim Zumwalt grew up playing trombone and tuba, but now he toots other musician’s horns.
The retired teacher is the publicist for the Vallejo Symphony Association, a volunteer job that began when he joined the group’s board in 2003. He is a tireless supporter of the symphony, doing everything from picking up the mail and selling ads to managing the organization’s databases and writing website content.
“For years, I held the door open when we played at Hogan because there wasn’t a doorstop to keep the door open,” says Tim, 59. “I’ve even gone to people’s front doors to thank them for donations.”
It’s all part of being a symphony board member, a position he enjoys and hopes others will consider. The board oversees the orchestra’s operation, and members worked to keep the organization viable during financially difficult times. Among the changes implemented to survive: the symphony performed twice the past two seasons instead of the previous four performances per season.
Tim takes particular pride in his work to promote the symphony. He begins working on publicity months before each concert, talking to the soloists and weaving their stories into press releases. “I treat the soloist as my client,” he says.
Tim grew up in Antioch, listening to pop music on KFRC radio and playing trombone beginning in fourth grade. “In symphonic band, it was boring for trombone, so I switched to tuba for symphonic band and sousaphone in the marching band,” he recalls. Tim was a teacher for the West Contra Costa School District until health issues forced him to retire in 2010. He and his wife, Theresa Gabel, live in Vallejo.
How did your love of classical music come about? Since I got to play Schubert and Sibelius and Neal Hefti (composer of the “The Odd Couple” theme) and Mussorgsky and Duke Ellington in symphonic band, I didn’t think there was a boundary between types of music I could enjoy. In 1974 or ’75, I went into a record shop and bought a classical guitar LP. I found I liked it and started building a collection.
What do you listen to at home now? That’s the myth when you are in classical music business, that you only listen to classical music. But we all listen to everything. … We listen to Edith Piaf and French café music. We listen to a lot of jazz, and we listen to KDFC now that they’ve changed from a commercial classical station to a listener-sponsored one. When they had to please their corporate sponsors, they only played music from 1770 to 1810. Very boring.
How did you become a symphony board member? I became involved because of my wife. She’d been on the board since 1995, I think, so I was the husband dragged along to lots of concerts and events, fundraisers. I got to meet a lot of people as she got more into it. She was the symphony’s operations manager. She left in 1999 to work for the Napa Symphony and now she’s director of operations for the Berkeley Symphony. In 2003, I was approached by an older board member, someone I knew well. I was still working, still getting up at 6 in the morning to teach, but I thought I could do it.
You don’t need a musical background to do this. We have a music director we pay to select music. We need people with a financial background, people with strong community connections to service clubs, civic organizations. It would be great to have someone from the banking industry.
How did the board manage the financial problems during the 2010-11 season? In January 2011, midway through our season, we had a concert on a Saturday night and then had an emergency board meeting on Monday. We were already under water and our toes were getting wet. We had to make a decision: Can we raise $50,000 in a few months or do we close down? We still had a little bit of cash, but we also had to pay for rent, our data plan, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, phone bill, equipment rental, sheet music. … We made payroll and then thought, ‘Geez, what are we going to do?’
In January and February, we were in damage control. I was in fi ve newspapers saying, ‘We are not bankrupt’ to everyone. We had no debt, so we could survive. We had a giant stack of letters telling patrons what their options were since we canceled the last two performances of the season.
Then we started fundraising right away, and the public stepped up.
What is the symphony’s annual budget? Our budget is $100-$105,000 a year, half what it was when we had a four-concert season. Other orchestras spend that on one concert. We are doing this on a shoestring.
Many people don’t realize that we pay our musicians. Everyone you see on stage gets a paycheck.
How long did it take the symphony to recover? From that January disaster, we came back in October that year with a concert featuring Paul Psarras, a classical guitarist. I got him eight interviews, including two on the radio. We were in the offi ce the Saturday before the concert and we thought that we might break 350 (in attendance). I said, ‘We need a laugh line’ to the president. So she came out that night and said, ‘We’re back’ (in the style the little girl says, “They’re back” in Poltergeist.) We were at the Empress with its 470 seats, and it was our fi rst sellout in 13 years.
Any other changes in the past two years? We started VSO Presents, where we bring in small groups to perform at Bay Terrace Theater in Vallejo. It’s a smaller venue, about 160 seats, and we brought in Squid Inc, a string quartet, in September 2012. On March 15, we’ll have Paul Psarras back. There’s no theme yet, and I’m not sure what he’s going to play but he wants to play the oud, an ancient instrument from Greece. He loves ancient instruments.
What’s next for the symphony? We’re feeling good. We want to have the season ready in late February so we can go public in April, 2014. We’re planning a threeconcert subscription series —keep your fi ngers crossed. It’s going to mean lot of fundraising. We’re starting a wine raffl e now, and we’ll draw at our concert in April. We are not that far away from a third concert.
What do you do to relax? I do a lot of cooking, often French food. I put the right music on to go with what I cook. Last night I cooked Italian, so I put on opera.
Upcoming Vallejo Symphony Programs
VSO Presents Paul Psarras, a classical guitarist, Friday,
March 15, at Bay Terrace Theater, 51 Daniels Ave., Vallejo.
(Details being confi rmed at press time.)
Vallejo Symphony Orchestra spring concert:
"Storms and Passions,” with guest artist Melanie Keller,
3 p.m., Sunday, April 7, at Lander Hall, Touro University,
Mare Island. Tickets range from $15 to $35.
Tickets for either performance: Available at
www.brownpapertickets.com or by
calling the symphony office at 707-643-4441.