Volunteer Profile: Meaghan McCracken

This story is part of the #UWCommunity National Volunteer week series, profiling University of Waterloo members who give their time and talent by volunteering in our community.

Meaghan McCracken has a serious love for music.

Meaghan McCracken with her flute

A recent graduate of Waterloo’s Conrad Grebel University College Music program, she is keen on using the knowledge she’s gained through her freshly minted degree to explore the field of music librarianship. Over the past year, Meaghan has been taking time off to focus her efforts on exactly that by dedicating her time to learning more about the role and what it entails.

Merging her hands on and theoretical musical background with a strong desire to help musicians and musical groups succeed, Meaghan has been able to quickly adapt to her current volunteer role in music librarianship with our local Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (KWS).

“I never really wanted to be a performer or be a teacher and was trying to find some other way to use my degree because I still am a huge supporter and lover of the arts; this role has been a great solution for helping me navigate the next steps after graduating.”

Formed in 1945, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony is a significant cultural resource for Waterloo Region. With 52 full-time, professional musicians, the KWS presents over 100 performances each season, with music from early Baroque composer Monteverdi through commissioned music by Arcade Fire bassist and Canadian composer Richard Reed Parry. The KWS is praised for its original programming and exceptional performances. KWS Music Director, Edwin Outwater, is one of North America’s most creative, dynamic, and engaging conductors. His ingenious programming has earned him international acclaim, in particular for his Intersections series.

Innovative and experimental in approach, the KWS works to redefine what an orchestra is today and to present music – much of it Canadian – in new and relevant ways. This approach resonates with many and has drawn attention to the KWS locally, nationally, and internationally.

Kitchener Waterloo Symphony

Chris Sharpe, Director of Education and Community Programs for the symphony, acknowledges how important volunteers are to their organization:

“Volunteerism is essential to the KWS. In its earliest years, the KWS was entirely run by volunteers. Today, our Volunteer Committee is over 125-strong. They, along with the help of additional volunteers, run fundraising events and assist in many vital aspects of the orchestra’s busy season. Meaghan’s work is an example of how a volunteer can make the complex duties of the orchestra librarian run so much smoother and easier.”  

A flute player at heart, Meaghan learned about this volunteer position through one of her favorite flute teachers, Barb Kaplanek, towards the end of her schooling. Barb also works with the symphony and was able to directly connect Meaghan to their Orchestra Librarian, Alex Clark. She’s been volunteering there 3 days a week ever since.

“I definitely feel like I’ve gotten really useful experience and I’ve got my foot in the door. I’ve met so many people that I would never have known otherwise.”

Meagahn McCracken writing on sheet music

Meaghan assists with collecting the sheet music, taking it off the shelves for upcoming concerts and then separating it all into folders for each individual musician. She’s been getting connected to other orchestras, as well as other regional music groups and choirs, and has been gaining hands on experience working with their digital archiving platform to keep track of music. On top of that, she attends their shows and helps clean up the music sheets from the stands on stage, getting it organized post-concert so she can take it all apart again and put it back on the shelves.

“One of the biggest reasons I volunteer is gaining experience and contacts in the field I’m passionate about, but it’s also about just getting the sense of helping and feel like you’re making a difference in the arts community.”

This May, she will be going to a conference in Montreal for the Major Orchestra Librarians Association, as her affiliation with the KWS enabled her to get a discount on the entry fee.

Chris Sharpe recognizes the special support a volunteer like Meaghan brings to their organization:

“The most remarkable thing is the fact that she has consistently been coming in to do work that has kept the library running smoothly while asking for nothing in return. Meaghan is responsible for the prevention of many library disasters this season and most of the orchestra doesn't even know it!”

Meaghan McCracken putting sheet music back on the shelves

Meaghan has been having such a great time learning and giving back to her community at the same time. And there’s no doubt that this opportunity has allowed her to feel more connected to our region’s cultural scene. She feels strongly that without this experience, she would still feel directionless, and is thankful for the ties our university has with external community groups in order to foster this kind of volunteer engagement.

“Volunteering with the symphony has made me feel more confident in having some sort of path and plan, and it’s really solidified what I enjoy and now I know that this is something I want to be a part of.”

Do you volunteer or know of someone who should be recognized? Help celebrate the many University of Waterloo volunteers by sharing their stories and positive impact online with #UWCommunity and #NVW2015, or contact us via email.