Eight years ago, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra chose board member Pamela Chaconas to be the first director of education. They got a bit more.
A former elementary school teacher and amateur musician, Chaconas has proven to be a motivator, deal negotiator, team player, public relations expert, innovator - and skilled van driver.
She has pursued her belief in music education by creating programs such as a traveling music van, an instrument drive, an adopt-a-school program, student outreach, family concerts and preconcert lectures.
Chaconas might be called a practical idealist. She says she's motivated by her belief that "all children should be encouraged to play instruments, and music should be an integral part of the curriculum, not an add-on."
Convinced of the "wondrous effect" music has on intelligence and cultural growth, Chaconas says playing an instrument or hearing an orchestra can have lifetime benefits. "The sheer power and drama of hearing a full symphony orchestra can make a lasting impression on a child," she says.
Chaconas has been known to become absorbed in her work. "It's a combination of doing something I love and the goal itself being meaningful to me," she says.
She designed ASO's music van program after a traveling musician program she discovered while vacationing in California. She says she enjoys driving the van filled with musicians, docents and instruments to schools, where she watches musicians connecting with children.
ASO's instrument drive grew out of the music van's success. With so many children signing up for music lessons, an instrument shortage occurred. Instruments are collected for children whose parents cannot afford the cost of instrument rental.
Her adopt-a-school program introduces the symphony to children at selected schools, providing at-risk youth a basic knowledge of music and of the orchestra. A relationship is built through monthly visits by Annapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians, including conductor Leslie B. Dunner, an active participant in the program.
"The growth of an education program will develop on its own when it's good," Chaconas says. "My job is partially to educate and train, but more importantly to inspire and tune into the interests of children."
Chaconas, 51, who lives in Annapolis, has been married for 25 years to Dr. James Chaconas, a physician. They have two sons, both college students.
Sometimes she calls her college-age sons into ASO service. But more often she recruits her husband for jobs that include taking the stage up and down, building a puppet stage platform and directing school buses.
"I can't say enough about Pam," says Thea Pinskey, board member and chairwoman of the education committee. "If it were not for Pam, the ASO would not have the education program that it does. She's a perfectionist, and if it's going to have ASO attached to it, she wants it to be done first class."
The daughter of businessman Robert Miller, who was a music major and concert pianist in college, and Martha, an artist and teacher, Chaconas grew up with a respect for education and a love of music. She remembers sitting on the floor, underneath the piano, "overwhelmed by the music" her father played.
Dunner describes Chaconas as "an innovator who is super-motivated and super-organized. She is so involved and has a passion for education. She has her heart in it."