The Osher School of Music’s annual scholarship gala showcased the tragedy of opera and the comedy of musical theater. But the one sentiment that ran through the entire night was the gratitude that performers felt toward their guests.
“I’m a scholarship recipient myself, so it’s incredible to be able to come perform for the people that gave me this opportunity,” Kaleigh Hunter said.
Hunter is a senior Music major specializing in vocal performance. Her contribution to the gala on Friday, December 2, was a duet from “Don Giovanni” alongside Caleb Randall. They kicked off a 90-minute program which featured a new act every 10 minutes.
As part of the fun, guests followed the sound of music from room to room at the Cumberland Club in Portland. Performers and the audience often stood at no more than arm’s length from each other, more like a conversation than a concert. Adding to the coziness were the holiday decorations strung along doorframes and fireplace mantles.
“This is partly about raising scholarship money,” said Music School Director Alan Kaschub, “but it’s also a lot about connecting with these people who’ve been so important to all of us. For many of them, this is the kickoff to their holiday season, so we’re happy to be part of it.”
The holiday theme extended into many of the performances. A clarinet trio jazzed up the familiar tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” And the Osher Chamber Singers delivered a soaring rendition of “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord.”
Dr. Nicolás Dosman conducted the chamber singers, helping to manage emotions as well as voices. The gala was a casualty of restrictions on public gatherings during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. After being denied the opportunity for so long, this year’s performance is especially meaningful.
“For some of them, this is a very magical, real, first formal event,” Dosman said. “Many of them are very excited to be here and just be around people again in this kind of setting.”
The guest list was filled with many of the music school’s biggest financial supporters. The gala lets them see firsthand how their donations are helping to put a professional polish on raw talent. By drawing on their new skills, students seek not only to entertain their guests, but also to thank them.
Dan Crewe was one of the more familiar faces in the audience. He and his brother, Bob, built the Crewe Foundation to help fund art and music programs. The seed money for their philanthropy came from Bob Crewe’s career as a songwriter for legendary acts like the Four Seasons, Michael Jackson, and Patti LaBelle.
The Crewe Foundation has made multiple donations totaling $6 million toward construction of a new Center for the Arts on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland Campus. It’s the latest in a long string of University projects funded by the Crewe family dating back to the early 1990s. Dan Crewe came away from the gala as enthusiastic as ever about that relationship.
“It is without a doubt a real gem,” said Crewe about the Osher School. “It’s understood that one of the best music programs in the United States is right here.”
Anyone who felt inspired by the performances at the gala to make a donation had ample opportunities. A table in a busy hallway held information about the Take a Seat campaign, by which donors can pay $5,000 to name a seat in the new arts center. The night’s festivities ended with a pledge round of scholarship donations.
Kaleigh Hunter is proof of the impact a donation can make. She had more on her mind besides the usual jitters leading up to her gala performance of “Don Giovanni.”
“I just applied to graduate schools last night up until 12 o’clock,” Hunter said. “Yeah, the goal is to perform.”
Donations to the Osher School of Music can be made at any time on the University of Southern Maine website.