Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra’s new executive director has local ties

A new recruit moving from New Orleans to Tuscaloosa might take a bit of adjustment, adapting to a different pace and atmosphere, but the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra’s new executive director, Natassia Perrine, has already lived in the city of druids.

“I love Tuscaloosa,” Perrine said. “I’ve lived there, other than growing up in Delaware, longer than any other place, since I was 17. All in all, I was in Tuscaloosa about 11 or 12 years” , first earned a pair of bachelor’s degrees, in advertising and vocal performance, then her master’s degree in music education.

‘AN EXCEPTIONAL YOUNG MAN’: Habitat for Humanity home to honor memory of University of Alabama graduate

She also worked for a few years teaching music in the Tuscaloosa City Schools system. After a semester in County Cork, Ireland, she taught choir and musical theater in Rhode Island, then extended her teaching journey at the Big Easy, beginning in 2017. After accepting this new role as leadership, Perrine is on the road, meeting with TSO’s Board of Directors and others, while finishing the semester in New Orleans.

Born into a Crimson Tide family, studying here was practically a foregone conclusion.

“I grew up wearing an Alabama outfit every Saturday, watching my dad scream on TV,” she laughed. “I had no context for it, but I knew it was something we were doing.”

Members of the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra perform during rehearsal Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018 at Moody Music Hall at the University of Alabama. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Her father, Bob Perrine, received his undergraduate engineering degree from UA; after passing it, his mother Voni Perrine completed her doctorate in supervising secondary education and music education at Capstone. So when it came time for their daughter to visit colleges, Alabama was high on the list. The beauty of the land helped sell it.

“Seeing the campus is like being on a movie set,” she said. “OK, this box is checked.”

A meeting with Susan Fleming, voice teacher at the UA School of Music, sealed the deal.

“When I met her, I knew she was the person I wanted to spend my time with,” she said. When Perrine noticed the opening of a position at the Tuscaloosa Symphony, following Jenny Mann’s departure to become president and executive director of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, seeing Fleming’s name on the TSO board, as well as those of other AU professors and familiar faces, seemed like a serendipity.

“It was icing on the cake of something I was already interested in,” she said. “I’m truly honored to have taken on this position, to work alongside people who have shaped me.”

As a student, Perrine initially focused on becoming a professional opera singer, but because “I have a really smart mum”, she extended her studies, including this degree in advertisement. After a vocal cord injury, she turned to education.

“My mother founded the first public performing arts high school in Delaware,” she said, and also worked as a choir and drama teacher. “Knowing the realities, she said, ‘I want to support your talent, but you have to support yourself.’

“So after a lot of sighs and tears with her,” Perrine said, she added on the publicity and education tracks. “And I loved it. I was so into it.”

His first professional gig, after school, with the Metropolitan Opera Guild in New York, would never have happened without that degree in advertising.

“The moral is this: Moms are usually right,” she said. So, with a bachelor’s degree in advertising in 2007, a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance in 2010, and her master’s degree in 2012, she worked as a music teacher, beginning with a stint from 2012 to 2014 with Tuscaloosa Schools. She had worked mostly in high schools and colleges until 2017, when she switched to elementary music in New Orleans, a “huge change,” she said.

“I always wanted to work in New Orleans,” she said, after traveling there during her years at UA. “It was a magical and wonderful experience.”

As with so many others, the pandemic has driven innovation. Perrine created a YouTube channel, initially to teach her children.

The Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra performs during the annual 4th of July celebration on the river at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Monday, July 4, 2016. Staff Photo/Erin Nelson

“But it ended up connecting with people all over the world,” she said. Her “Music with Mrs. P,” captioned “Virtual Music Lessons, Activities, and Brain Breaks,” has over 4,000 subscribers. Popular Lessons achieve this many times over, such as his “Body Percussion to Pharrell’s ‘Happy'”, which has been viewed over 85,000 times.

“So through this process, one of the really positive things to come out of the pandemic has been this creative fire, for content creation and marketing,” she said.

After 11 years in the classrooms, she had begun to wonder what her next decade would hold for her, and while talking to a mentor, she expressed a desire to run an arts organization.

“And right after that call, while I was on LinkedIn, I saw the (TSO’s) job and thought, ‘Well, I should apply for that. The ball started that day,” she said.

The job was attractive not just for returning to Tuscaloosa, but for working with many of his favorite people, such as Fleming, John Ratledge, and other musicians and educators, all involved with the TSO.

One of the council members told him that the symphony was Tuscaloosa’s best kept secret and that had to change.

“My challenge is to sing it from the rooftops, so that we are no longer a secret, but a household name,” she said.

Perrine praised Mann, COO Daivd Bradley and the TSO Board for moving the symphony forward, keeping it healthy even during the pandemic.

“The past few years have been difficult for all of us, for all involved in the performing arts,” she said. “Major symphonies and arts organizations have had to cut spending.

“But the Tuscaloosa Symphony maintained its entire season, both years,” including making performances available virtually. “So you have to applaud them for their incredible work to not only survive, but to thrive.”

While working the semester in New Orleans, Perrine comes to Tuscaloosa for meetings and to look for a house. She also communicates with Adam Flatt, the music director of the TSO for more than a decade, who lives in Denver, Colorado.

The TSO’s final concert of the 2021-2022 season will take place on May 9 at 7 p.m. at the Moody Concert Hall, featuring Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”, “Adagio for Strings” and “Knoxville, Summer of 1915”. by Samuel Barber. and “Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68” by Johannes Brahms.

That evening, the TSO will announce its schedule for the 2022-2023 season. Under Flatt’s direction, the seasons usually include, in addition to traditional symphonic works, a chamber-style concert, at the First Presbyterian Church, instead of the Moody; an extremely popular holiday concert, joined by the Prentice Concert Chorale and the Alabama Choir School; and a family and children’s concert.

The TSO also comes out of its usual home to play a pop concert for July 4 activities at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater and offers small ensemble pop-up concerts at various locations in western Alabama.

These and other innovations will continue, Perrine said.

“We hope to do some surprising things to get people new to music interested,” she said. Perrine plans to expand education and outreach efforts, including a new program that serves as a counterpoint to the concerts, explaining what the orchestra is, what its choices mean.

“It’s hard to appreciate something if you don’t know what it is, or why, or how it works,” she said. The TSO will also seek grants to help get students into concert halls.

Adam Flatt conducts during the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra's rehearsal on Sunday, September 16, 2018 at Moody Music Hall at the University of Alabama. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Communications with Flatt so far have been smooth, she said.

“He’s really excited about my education and marketing ideas, and I’m really excited about his musical ideas about collaborations,” Perrine said. “Adam seems really open to a lot of possibilities, and my job is kind of about bringing his ideas to fruition, supporting musicians, and encouraging people to hear how awesome they are.”

Although her personal YouTube lessons may slow down, Perrine is interested in what the TSO can learn from pandemic adaptations. Research indicates that virtual performances do not discourage in-person participation, but can actually stimulate it.

Many young people think symphonic music just isn’t for them, she said. others expressed fear of entering a concert hall not knowing what to expect.

“But we hear symphonic music in movies, on TV, in commercials,” she said. “It happens all the time. We just have to think of ways to package it up, so it’s accessible, the mystery can be unraveled, and you can feel like you’re part of it.”

More can be seen at www.tsoonline.org.

Comments are closed.