With eight children and 35 (and one more on the way!) grandchildren – plus a sprawling extended family with whom she is very close, Ann Donahue (pronounced Done-a-WHO) may not seem like someone who has much “spare time.”
Indeed, Donahue cites faith and family as being at the center of her life. However, four years ago, she found time to devote to one more important institution – the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Donahue will laughingly tell you the danger of saying “yes” to any question from Senior Vice President for Development Jodi Weisfield and President and CEO Melia Tourangeau. One yes often leads to the next…and the next…and the next.
“She [Tourangeau] is very motivating!” says Donahue. “Meeting Melia has really helped me understand the need for an active board and how we can preserve the symphony for future generations.”
Weisfield first approached Donahue and her husband, Christopher, both devout Catholics, about becoming involved with the Music for the Spirit series in 2011.
“It was a great introduction to the symphony and its board,” says Donahue.
Music for the Spirit evolved from the Pittsburgh Symphony’s 2004 performance at the Vatican, the group was the first American orchestra to perform for the pope. Events in the series take place at Heinz Hall and other venues in the community, such as churches, synagogues, mosques and community centers, and feature spiritual works that appeal to music lovers of all faiths.
In 2015, the Pittsburgh Symphony and Music Director Manfred Honeck presented Bach’s St. John Passion at St. Vincent College, a place with which Donahue has deep family connections. During her involvement with Music for the Spirit, she and her family developed a close friendship with Honeck, a man she describes as someone who “walks the walk of his faith.”
Four years ago, Donahue joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra board officially, a position that she says is continually inspiring for the opportunity it provides her to become closer to the musicians and staff of the organization.
She serves on the executive, board development, and learning, community and inclusion advisory committees of the board.
Donahue’s work on the learning, community and inclusion advisory committee — for which she serves as co-chair with Rachel Wymard, a friend who encouraged her to join the board — allows her to share her new and growing love of the symphony with others in the community.
“We need to make the symphony for everyone,” says Donahue, mentioning how motivating she finds the dialogue with community members about how the symphony’s programs could best meet their community’s needs.
“One of the most important things I want to be able to do as a board member is to help people who don’t have the exposure or opportunity to come to Heinz Hall to be able to access the gifts and talents of our Pittsburgh Symphony,” says Donahue.
In 2015, Donahue and her husband said yes to one more question from Weisfield, serving as chairs of the Cinema Serenade gala. They also served as honorary chairs of the Moonlight Masquerade gala in 2016. Donahue says her involvement in the gala has been wonderful as it allows her to get her adult children active with the symphony as well.
In fact, her children have surprised her two years in a row by successfully bidding on an auction item that brings two Pittsburgh Symphony musicians to her home to play a private concert and share a meal with the family (two of her grandchildren were serenaded before bedtime – pictured left).
“It was fantastic,” she says. “My husband decided it would be a black tie family event and we had a blast!”
While she has no formal education in music and mentions that she was a very “poor” pianist during her childhood, Donahue says she has a “deep appreciation for the Pittsburgh Symphony.” In fact, the only thing she asked for last Christmas were binoculars so she could focus on the joyful expression of principal cellist Anne Martindale Williams during concerts.
She loves the opportunities she has to immerse herself in the world of music, something she refers to as “magical,” and expose her grandchildren to community and educational offerings like the PNC Tiny Tots series and Fiddlesticks Family Concert Series, Presented by PNC, hopefully sparking a new generation of music lovers in her family. “That’s my goal,” she says. “To have my grandchildren enjoy the music as much as I do.”
“To me, it’s not an accident that the musicians have their talent,” says Donahue. “For us, the audience, it is transforming to listen to this music. I feel a connectedness to the Supreme Being. During a Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performance, I feel like I could enter into a prayer so easily. It’s awesome.”