Handling of JSYO business leaves donors, students puzzled

Handling of JSYO business leaves donors, students puzzled
Scott Gregg, principal conductor of the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra, shakes the hand of the concertmaster after the Major-Minor concert in May 2016.

For more than two decades, Scott Gregg, 51, has lifted the baton for thousands of young musicians – 2,250 to be exact – as principal conductor of the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Despite accolades from his students, Maestro Gregg, as he is called, was notified of his release from the JSYO just prior to his last concert of the season. Gregg was notified April 29 via email that his contract would not be renewed after 22 years of musical influence and impact.

The termination notice, impersonal or otherwise, struck a sour note with his current crop of students. According to Sammy Park, an English horn and oboe player since 2013, the email indicated Gregg would be retiring.

But Park, who immediately launched a petition on change.org to reinstate Gregg, indicated retirement was not on Gregg’s mind. “Mr. Gregg told us the real story later that day,” Park stated in the petition. “He had never planned on retiring after this concert.”

The petition seeks for Gregg to continue as principal conductor of the JSYO and, as of May 30, 633 had signed the online petition.

However, according to the Jacksonville Symphony, the plan is to hire a third full-time conductor to be both principal conductor of the JSYO and work with the symphony, citing the need to have an additional qualified staff conductor.

The Resident reached out to Kathryn Rudolph, director of education and community engagement, for comment on the petition to reinstate Gregg. In response, The Resident received an email from Brian Aull, an attorney with Cole, Scott and Kissane, which represents the Symphony. “The Symphony will not comment on this matter while it is under active investigation,” he said.

Parents of the maestro’s students don’t understand the move. Abby Howard Murphy, whose son, Brendan, played with the youth orchestra for eight years, was also very much involved with the group, serving as guest actress and chaperone. Murphy said she is disappointed in symphony management.

“Until recently an ardent supporter of the JSO as a season ticket-holder, I am for the first time deeply disappointed in JSO management and pray Mr. Scott [Gregg] can continue his extraordinary leadership and expertise leading these fine young musicians professionally,” she said in the online petition.

“It was always Scott’s vision and devotion that made the orchestra program, and especially the two top tiers, ‘world class’ youth orchestras. Scott and his wife worked tirelessly getting corporate sponsorships, engaging parent volunteers, and identifying conductors for each level, keeping it a viable program,” Murphy said in an email following the May 2016 Major-Minor concert. “I cannot imagine anyone else at the helm. Scott was brilliant and inspirational to so many kids who went on to study music seriously. He was credible as a great orchestra conductor and as a musician who still occasionally played violin.”

Supporters of the JSYO are not happy about the termination, either. Pete Carpenter, who together with Jim Winston and Larry Zenk formed the JSYO in 1993, said this was not what you would expect from a place “where you go to feed your soul.”

“Given what I know about Scott, I think the matter was very poorly handled. Having been around at the start of the youth symphony, I know how far he’s taken it,” said Carpenter. “We’ve been blown away by the progress he’s made with the orchestra. It was a ragtag beginning, but Scott and his team were able to pull together a first-class performance. It’s a major disappointment to have things handled in this manner.”

Susan C. Masucci said Gregg’s removal is a great loss for the JSYO.

“I think it’s a very bad move on the part of the JSO to retire Scott,” Masucci said. “The admiration, love and respect Scott has for his musicians and they for him is indescribable. Very sad for all involved and for our community.”

Gregg and his wife, Camille, were candid about their heartbreak over the Symphony’s action.

“I have been in this town for 22 years. My wife, Camille, has been in this town for 40 years. I met her at the symphony. If it were not for the symphony I would not be married,” said Gregg. “We have pretty much known everybody in town for decades. It’s not surprising that we have heard from many of them. They had no idea this had happened until they saw reports in the news and secondhand from the memo from the Symphony.”

Although Gregg is under contract until the end of June, his last activity as JSYO principal conductor was the May 14 final concert.

“It was a complete blur,” he recalled. “The kids were upset, but I wanted it to be a positive event as my last act and didn’t want it to be marred by any protest.”

At the very end of the concert, the members of the JSYO Philharmonic took roses they had stashed under their seats, marched to the podium and put them on the stand in front of Gregg. “That was an amazing gesture,” he said.

Ironically, Camille Clement Gregg had recently established a scholarship fund in memory of her mother and launched it with nearly $25,000 to provide $1,000 each to the two annual winners of the concerto competition. She has concerns about the future disposition of the fund.

“I am insistent that the Symphony makes sure that every year I can give each winner a thousand dollars,” said Camille, who has been a volunteer with the Symphony for decades, as well as Patron Services Manager. “My mom was always a very big donor to the JSYO; she always did that, and always sponsored retreats and would send money privately to kids who didn’t have an instrument.”

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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