May 01 2017

Mary Alice Monroe Pursues Charleston Symphony Orchestra Podium

By Amy Mercer , Island Eye News Editor

Mary Alice Monroe

Every year the Charleston Symphony Orchestra presents “The Sunset Serenade,” a free concert that’s held on the steps of the Custom House in downtown Charleston to kick off the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. The concert is sponsored by The City of Charleston and starts at sundown. This year the CSOL is adding a twist to the concert:

Four notable Charlestonians have been asked to “compete” for the opportunity to conduct a short piece during the Sunset Serenade.

The competitors will represent various dimensions of the community including arts, sports, local television and business. The competitors will ask friends, colleagues, and members of the general public to vote for them. Voting will continue for 45 days (April 1 – May 15), and the winner will be announced May 20 on the CSOL website. The winner will conduct the short piece near the end of the Sunset Serenade on May 26.

One of the “notable Charlestonians” is New York Times Best-Selling author and long-time Isle of Palms resident, Mary Alice Monroe who recently sat down to talk with us about her “Pursuit of the Podium.”

Q&A with Mary Alice Monroe

AM: What is your involvement with the CSO, or how did you hear about this project?

MAM: I believe a great city must have a symphony orchestra and am so proud Charleston has one! I was invited to join the project, delighted and immediately responded YES.

AS: You are a prolific author, what is your experience with music? Do you play an instrument?

MAM: My father was a proficient piano player. I grew up with classical music playing in my home all the time. My father would listen to his records with eyes closed and his arms waving as he conducted. So this opportunity to conduct an orchestra will be in his memory. I, too, play the piano, but not nearly as well as my father. In high school I played the French Horn in the school orchestra. When I drive and listen to music, you can catch me waving an arm conducting, too!

AM: Writing is a mostly solitary process, will you be nervous performing/conducting in front of an audience if you win the Pursuit of the Podium contest?

MAM: I frequently speak to large audiences so I do not anticipate nervousness about performing in front of a crowd. However, it will be a new experience for me to conduct an orchestra. My respect for both the musicians and the music will give me trepidations about doing the best job I can.

AM: Your latest book, “Beach House for Rent” will be released in June and you are preparing for book tour (and I’m sure you are working on your next novel!). How do you manage to stay involved with the local arts community?

MAM: All arts feed the soul and I connect with many forms of art. Though I am not gifted in them, I am inspired. Many of my best friends are poets and artists. We support each other. I try to go to as many concerts, readings, book events and art shows as I possibly can. My daughter, Gretta Kruesi, has moved home to Charleston and you’ll see more of her murals appearing throughout the city. Her work inspires me.

AM: Under the current administration budget cuts to the arts are looming, can you tell readers why access to and support of the arts (writing and music) is important for our country?

MAM: Arts in our culture is fundamental for society. Arts provide inspiration and pleasure to residents, beautify public spaces and strengthen the social fabric. Children especially benefit from arts education. Studies show that students with arts education are four times more likely to achieve academic success. It’s short sighted to think of arts as something only for the elite. The Arts benefit all of us and our communities.

To learn more about the Pursuit of the Podium and to vote for your favorite notable Charlestonian, visit

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