Michael Stairs Memorial Concert breaks precedent

The Orchestra, the Notables, and the Choir of the Church of the Redeemer perform together – Joey Kauffman ’23

The Michael Stairs Memorial Concert, an endowed series of musical performances and lectures aiming to commemorate and honor 25-year faculty member Mr. Stairs, took on a different form this year. Rather than have a musician lead a “master class,” the performance was more closely centered around remembering and celebrating Mr. Stairs, a mentor to many at Haverford and a world-class musician who passed away in 2018. 

Damian Ferraro ’22, Mr. Stairs’ godson, organized the concert because of a close bond he had with Mr. Stairs, as he welcomed Ferraro’s family into his home for the first nine years of Ferraro’s life.

“Ever since he passed away, I kind of knew in the back of my mind that before I graduated high school at Haverford I needed to do something for him,” Ferraro said.

The Michael Stairs Concert series was established shortly before Mr. Stairs passed away. A group of alumni and parents had wanted to create a concert series in Mr. Stairs’ name. After three rounds of fundraising, they hit the threshold necessary to establish the concert series months before Mr. Stairs passed. 

“[The fund for the concert] got up and over $100,000, and it established this endowed fund that generates a few thousand dollars a year, if not several thousands of dollars a year, to hold an annual concert,” Director of Development Jeff Day said.

The push to raise money was led by a diverse group of people who knew Mr. Stairs, including Dr. Andrew Helber ’12, a former Notable who went on to study music at Princeton University.

There were dozens of people who ended up donating different amounts to endow, including alumni, parents of alumni, and even people who weren’t even related to Haverford.”

Dr. Andrew Helber ’12

“There were dozens of people who ended up donating different amounts to endow, including alumni, parents of alumni, and even people who weren’t even related to Haverford,” Dr. Helber said. 

Mr. Stairs developed bonds with students that would continue throughout college and beyond. Dr. Helber even said that Mr. Stairs would visit him as an undergraduate at Princeton around five times a year, given that Mr. Stairs’ alma mater, Westminster Choir College, is also located in Princeton, New Jersey.

“Michael inspired countless boys during his years of service with his humility, natural joy and sense of humor, and his love for musical expression. He was a dear friend to all of us, and he instilled a lifetime of appreciation for music in generations of Haverford graduates. His legacy will live on,” Kevin Madden ’98 wrote in an email.

When the concert series was established, Mr. Stairs was alive to see the impact he had on the Haverford community.

“[Mr. Stairs] said it was one of his proudest moments of his career receiving a call from Dr. Nagl to be told this news [of the concert series],” Dr. Helber wrote in an email.

David Kim, the concertmaster of The Philadelphia Orchestra, performed at the first Memorial Concert in 2019. The pandemic interrupted the annual series, with a virtual performance in 2021 by Broadway singer Brandon Michael Nase. This year’s concert was both a return to an in-person, largely unmasked performance and a departure from past performances. The traditional programming of a masterclass led by a musician like David Kim was made harder to accomplish because of the pandemic.

“This year, Mr. [Darren] Hengst had actually gone out to one or two potentials [performers for the concert], but they couldn’t set a date. And then COVID was still a thing for some performers,” Mr. Day said.

Damian Ferraro ’22 addresses the crowd – Joey Kauffman ’23

Concurrently, Ferraro had been planning for over a year and a half to host a performance in honor of Mr. Stairs. Ferraro enjoyed the Stairs Memorial Concerts of the past, but he wanted to create a performance that informed the audience more about who Mr. Stairs was.

“I think David Kim’s performance was awesome. I thought it was great. But I think the one thing that was missing from the assembly… but no one actually knew who Michael was; nobody saw a photo of him or a video of him talking, and they didn’t actually feel like they related to him because they didn’t get to see his face,” Ferraro said. 

Mr. Hengst, The Grace and Mahlon Buck Chair in Performing Arts, and Mr. Day agreed that Ferraro’s concert with the Notables, the Church of the Redeemer Choir, and the Haverford Orchestra should be the official Memorial Concert.

“So we were like, ‘This is a win-win,’” Mr. Day said. “It was a success. It was great. For all the right reasons, that was the right thing for it to be, the Michael Stairs Memorial Concert in 2022. Going forward, next year, I think we’re planning and hoping and preparing for and really, for all intents and purposes, we’re going to do our regular programming. Next year, there’ll be another performer.”

While Ferraro’s concert was only recognized as the official Michael Stairs Memorial Concert weeks before the performance, Ferraro had started organizing for the concert nearly a year and a half prior. Ferraro worked with Ms. Loos, Mr. Hightower, Mr. Hengst, and Ms. Latimer to sort out the details of the concert. Ferraro wanted the proceeds from the concert to support a non-profit.

“Kids that are really involved and parents that love this idea and love the fact that their kids are getting master classes can donate to an organization to make sure that kids in underserved areas in Philadelphia and areas that don’t have the same proper musical resources get those materials,” Ferraro said.

Play on Philly, the original non-profit for the event, pulled out around a month before the show. However, the over $300 that was raised from the show ended up going to the non-profit Musicopia, which has long-lasting ties to Haverford and aims to provide children with music resources. In all, the concert was a celebration of all aspects of Mr. Stairs, with the Notables performing songs arranged by Mr. Stairs and multiple speakers who knew Mr. Stairs giving remarks.

“We just thought it would be fitting to go up there and sing a few songs that were arranged by him, just because I feel like his legacy is so musical, and it was about bringing people together through music, so it seemed like the best way to remember him would be to bring his music back to life.”

Caleb Cavazos ’22

“We just thought it would be fitting to go up there and sing a few songs that were arranged by him, just because I feel like his legacy is so musical, and it was about bringing people together through music, so it seemed like the best way to remember him would be to bring his music back to life,” Caleb Cavazos, a close friend of Ferraro’s, a Notable, and a viola player in the Haverford Orchestra, said.

Mr. Mark Hightower, who assumed the position as Director of the Notables after Mr. Stairs, was happy about the concert’s results.

“I just thought that [all of the speakers] had their own unique perspective. And whether it was a little funnier or a little more serious or more emotional, it really all came together as a beautiful tapestry. And I thought the music was well done and really supported Michael Stairs’s legacy in that capacity,” Mr. Hightower said. “I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, so there are certainly some really exciting guest musicians that we are hoping to invite [for next year’s concert].”

Author: Joey Kauffman '23

Joseph Kauffman is an Editor-In-Chief for The Index, a position he assumed in May 2021. He previously served as editor of the Features section, where he won a Silver Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for his features piece “Students Ponder The Social Dilemma.” His review of the movie "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" also earned him second place in the Pennsylvania Press Club Annual High School Journalism Contest. Before joining The Index, Joey spent a near decade in Lower and Middle school, workshopping with his peers. When not writing articles, Joey can be found at various restaurants across the Delaware Valley.