Interview with Abram Sirignano:
Q: You’ve been volunteering since the first or second year of the festival. What made you offer to help then, and what keeps you coming back 17 years later?
Vita Muir [The Festival's Founder/Director] used to come into Superior Foods in Litchfield, a little gourmet grocer with a deli counter and coffee bar on West Street where I worked during the summer as a teenager. I loved her energy and interest in people, and quickly found out that she was running a start-up jazz festival. I've always been fascinated by people with vision, and wanted to help this woman who had it in spades.
Today, I keep coming back because my role at the Festival is simultaneously a challenge and an utter joy.
Q: You’ve interacted with many volunteers over the last 16 years of the festival. Any individuals that stand out in your mind or moments you remember fondly?
Every volunteer that willingly invests their time, passion and energy into the Litchfield Jazz Festival has my admiration. One in particular stands out: Harry Vincent. A master horticulturist by trade with an eye for detail and a terrific memory, Harry has been the real secret to the main stage's success for almost 10 years. As far as moments go, I had the distinct pleasure to escort Eartha Kitt from her trailer to the main stage back in 2005. She was a bundle of nerves, holding onto my arm as tightly as she could. Right before she went on-stage, she said to me "I'm always like this before I go on-stage, always have been, but just wait until I get started!"
Q: How do you see volunteering and working as a team with other volunteers plays out in your work life outside of the Festival? Does it impact the way you lead teams at work?
There is a level of calm that is required for a festival main stage to be managed smoothly. When operations are closest to mishap, it's typically because we've lost our cool and consequently, the ability to prioritize and focus on what's most important. The Festival operates on literally a minute-by-minute basis, and while that level of detail isn't something that I, and few of my fellow volunteers, experience every day in our careers, it provides an invaluable perspective on what success looks like.
Q: You take your position as the Festival’s stage manager very seriously and have a sense of ownership – it’s “your stage.” What makes you feel that way?
The stage and its operations are pure theater. It's a maelstrom that somehow always manages to appear to the audience - and most performers - as a smoothly functioning machine. Together, the stage and technical crew, the wonderful stage volunteers and myself work hard to manage the gap between any given issue and the necessity that the performances - and overall show - run smoothly. I take ultimate responsibility for any mishaps, and for that, am proud to "own the stage".
Q: What would you say to others who’ve never volunteered their time to encourage them to volunteer for the Litchfield Jazz Festival? What makes it so much fun for you?
The Festival volunteers are truly a family. Beyond access to free music, the experience offers a tremendous sense of camaraderie and accomplishment. The Festival truly would not happen without its volunteers.
Q: The Festival truly feels like a family – from the musicians, to the staff and volunteers, and long time festival goers. What is it about the Festival that makes it feel this way for you?
This may not be well-known, but the Festival is a true "labor of love" that exists, in no small part, to serve as a source of inspiration for the young attendees of the nationally renowned Litchfield Jazz Camp.
Most years, the Festival is put on at a loss, but that loss is only in financial terms because the Festival always turns a profit in the hearts and minds of the young musicians from the Camp. Many of the students at the Litchfield Jazz Camp attend on scholarship, and for them the opportunity to be immersed in the joy of music can serve as a tremendously positive force in their lives. I have personally seen more than one young student from the Camp transform into vital, passionate adults, with some of them becoming professional musicians in their own right.
The opportunity to be a part of playing a role in changing young lives? That's more than reason enough for me.
Volunteer / Stage Manager
Abram's hard work is appreciated not just by Festival organizers and the musicians, but by WBGO's Michael Bourne who will be the MC/Host for the Festival for the third time this summer. After watching Abram in action he had this to say:
"Your volunteer workers work together better than some of the professionals I work with every day. Abram is the best stage manager I've ever worked with — and I've MC'd jazzfests in Bombay, Amsterdam, Chicago, and NY. Abram's kids backstage were my absolute highlight of the whole weekend."
High praise and a look into the true "family" aspect of the whole Litchfield Jazz team. Thank you Abram for your dedication to Litchfield Performing Arts and its mission.
Photograph of Abram and his daughter backstage at the 2009 Litchfield Jazz Festival by Fran Kaufman.