ST. CHARLES – For Kathy Matthews of St. Charles, love and appreciation of music have always been a large part of her life. As a young girl, Matthews dreamed of taking piano lessons, but was never able to. From then on, she vowed to make music a part of her future children’s lives.
Matthew’s daughter, Sarah, began playing flute at the age of 4, and by age 6 was taking private lessons. Sarah continued to develop her skills, and, in her junior year of high school, auditioned for the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, and was offered a spot.
It prompted Matthews to begin working as a volunteer for the orchestra. And in 1999, Randal Swiggum, EYSO artistic director, offered her the position of managing the organization.
In that role, she oversees the program’s nine ensembles – managing publicity, development and staff operations. Matthews was influential in the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra obtaining the Illinois Council of Orchestras’ 2001 Outstanding Marketing Program of the Year Award and subsequent honors, as well as arranging EYSO’s regional and international tours.
After 17 years, Matthews will retire at the end of October and will be recognized at the orchestra’s Nov. 6 concert. She took time to chat more about her tenure at the orchestra with freelance writer Violet Marquardt. The following is an edited version of their conversation.
Violet Marquardt: What motivated you to begin working with EYSO?
Kathy Matthews: I took my daughter, [Sarah], before her junior year of high school for an audition. I really wasn’t familiar with the group, but I saw an advertisement for them and thought she should try out. I volunteered while working as a substitute teacher, and then one day Randal Swiggum offered me the position of manager, although now it’s called executive director. I remember him saying to me, “This can be as little or as much as you want.”
Marquardt: How much time have you dedicated to the role over the years?
Matthews: It’s really a 24/7 job. It’s interesting because we say that EYSO changes students’ lives, but it changes the adults’ lives, too. I’m going to miss that involvement.
Marquardt: What exactly did your position entail?
Matthews: I was in charge of all the operations, fundraising, marketing … now those have grown into separate positions, but in the beginning, I was doing it all.
Marquardt: How did EYSO change over the course of your 17 years?
Matthews: Together with Randal, the orchestra really grew both artistically and numerically. When I first started, we had two orchestras with 70 students. Now we have five orchestras with almost 400 students.
Marquardt: What was your favorite part about working for EYSO?
Matthews: It was the students who I worked with and traveled with who were just the best kids. And just all the people I got to meet because of it.
Marquardt: What is one experience that sticks out to you?
Matthews: Back 10 years ago, we took our orchestra to Scotland. I had never been overseas before. We had 90 students and 10 adults who went, and it was a great time. So, then I thought, “If I can get a whole orchestra overseas with instruments and everything, I can get myself overseas.” So I’ve been overseas several times to England and Scotland to study embroidery.
Marquardt: Does that mark your beginning in embroidery?
Matthews: I’ve been involved with embroidery almost my whole life. My grandmother taught me needlework as a young girl. I got my judging certification for needlework in 1991, and in 2011, I served as master judge. You have to do a huge project to become master judge, and I did my project on Scottish samplers. I also was the president of the Fox chapter of American Needlepoint Guild. I was also the area rep for the American Needlepoint Guild.
Marquardt: What are your plans for retirement?
Matthews: I want to travel more to study. … I have lots of unfinished projects to work on. I also am a gardener and a member of the Pottawatomie Garden Club. I also have a 4-year-old granddaughter who’s playing violin, so she has a recital in the spring, which I will have the time to attend now.
If you go
What: Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra to launch 41st season
When: 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6
Where: Elgin Community College Arts Center, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin