The Smyrna Opera House has an empty office—and a position to fill—at the close of the day. With five years under his belt running all aspects of the historic venue, from programming to development, Executive Director David Keller has accepted a position as development director at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts.
Why the move? Keller said that the major reason is proximity to home. He makes the drive to Smyrna from New Jersey almost daily. That doesn't mean that leaving has been an easy decision, though.
"I love the Smyrna Opera House," Keller explained during his last days of tenure. "And, I've loved my time here. I've forged a lot of lasting friendships to go forward with."
When Keller joined the SOH staff in 2008, he was hoping to utilize his background in fundraising and grant writing to solicit more contributions while also raising the level of professionalism at the historic institution. Just this year, the Delaware Division of the Arts awarded more than $30,000 in grant money to the Opera House for arts stabilization and general operating support. To that end, Keller said that he can't help but be proud of what he's leaving behind.
"What we've done as a whole is to take the organization to the next level professionally," Keller said. We hired a facilitator to create a strategic plan that we could adhere to. It makes everything easier."
Part of that plan was to create a mission of serving the community through arts programming by making sure locals felt included.
"Along with the travelling professional shows, we've brought in and highlighted a lot of local talent and I'm really proud of that. People in Smyrna seem to love seeing the talent in their midst," Keller said, referring to shows like "Smyrna's Got Voice." "It's kind-of become of niche."
Not that SOH hasn't had good turnout for traveling artists. Still on the job, Keller pointed to this weekend's Tri-Alpha performance, which brings an internationally known musician—and a native Delawarean—to town for an overdue performance.
Tony Cimorosi grew up in New Castle, eventually marrying a Smyrna High School graduate before moving away to pursue a career as a working musician.
"I haven't played in Delaware as a leader in quite a few years," Cimorosi said. "I think the last time was at the Wilmington Jazz Festival. I'm really looking forward to being back and I'm hoping to see a few familiar faces."
Playing alongside Cimorosi are his bandmates Koko Bernejo and Nat Jannoff, both accomplished musicians. The group is also bringing along Saundra Silliman, who recently starred as Billie Holiday in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's musical biopic of the legendary singer.
Page 2 of 2 - "It's going to be an evening of music mastery," Cimorosi said. "The musicians I play with are into rock, blues, jazz and world music. It's a very eclectic show."
Cimorosi relishes the eclectic and nothing he does is "standard." The Holiday songs that Silliman sings will be Cimorosi's treatments and he purposefully picks an unexpected performance playlist.
"For this performance, I didn't want to pick typical jazz songs," Cimorosi said. "I wanted to be a little left of center and hopefully introduce people to some gems they're unfamiliar with."