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A Man of Note: Glacier Symphony & Chorale’s Alan Satterlee
406 Woman, April May 2012
Alan Satterlee considers himself fortunate, indeed. When he was hired six years ago as Executive Director of the Glacier Symphony & Chorale (GSC), Satterlee not only landed his dream job in the Flathead, he received a golden opportunity to support an organization that enhances his community.

“I was humbled by the ability to make a decent living in the art world in a place like this,” says Satterlee, whose path to overseeing this popular nonprofit was—to say the least—circuitous. After graduating MSU with a degree in geology, Satterlee embarked on a 19-year career with Texaco. That job took him as far away as China, Burma, and Indonesia and though it held a promising future, it came at a high cost.

“I loved being a geologist but found the travel overwhelming. I felt like I was leading a double life. When my kids were young I was gone so much, I knew I needed to make a change,” he recalls. When Satterlee finally took the leap, he was amazed to hear several co-workers say, “I wish I had the guts to do that.”

“So many people get trapped in corporate jobs they dislike and won’t take the risk to leave. Although I would have been set for life if I’d stayed, I gave up my retirement security. You get chained to that stability if you allow yourself to,” says Satterlee, who grew up in Whitefish. “I was uncertain where my career would lead but it wasn’t hard to find something meaningful. It’s especially nice to be back in the Flathead. Stress here is on a whole different level. Instead of an hour-and-a-half wait on a freeway you have three cars in front of you.”

After leaving Texaco, Satterlee began exploring the non-profit sector looking for the right fit for his talents and interests. He eventually chose the human-services arena where he could use his well-honed business and people skills.

“Much of what I did previously prepared me for working with GSC. For example, when I was Texaco’s country manager in Burma, I was the only ex-pat in the office and the only person who could handle certain problems,” remembers Satterlee. “On any one day, I’d deal with politics, direct the secretarial staff, and fix the toilet. In a situation like that, you’re on your own. You have to work with the resources at hand and be creative with how you do things.” 

While he may now reside in America rather than a third-world country, he finds things haven’t changed all that much.

“People would be surprised to learn the different things I do in this job, from raising money; to finding volunteers to mow the lawn; to dealing with last-minute venue changes. Sometimes it seems like I shift from one thing to another every five minutes,” says Satterlee, who also trouble-shoots any audience-related problem that arises during concerts.

One time, he watched warily as a concert-goer with tear-glistened cheeks headed towards him during intermission. Thinking the woman might have gotten hurt, he steeled himself for bad news. Instead, he discovered she had targeted him for an entirely different reason. After explaining that she was attending her first Glacier Symphony performance, she told him she never dreamed the music would hit her so hard, that it would be so moving.

“Classical music is that important to people,” says Satterlee. “It adds a richness to life. Our mission is to promote a cultural capacity so people understand that.”

With his warm smile, calm demeanor, and business savvy, Satterlee is as adept at his behind-the-scenes job as Yo-Yo Ma is at bowing his cello. During his tenure as Executive Director, Satterlee has seen GSC’s budget almost double and helped the organization grow into a year-round attraction. Now music aficionadas can attend the week-long Festival Amadeus in the summer, performances of Handel’s Messiah in the winter, plus a wonderful range of concert and chorale programs in between.

“Our musicians are passionate about their craft. They do what they do for the love of playing music not for money or recognition. We’ve created an organization, which allows them to do that. Since they want to play as much as they can and be challenged,” he explains, “we put on twice as many orchestral concerts as other symphonies of our budget size.” 

Satterlee has also been pleased with how enthusiastically GSC’s professional guest artists have responded to the local musicians.

“Our guest artists play with the world’s major symphonies. After performing here, they want to return to the Flathead. They recognize the passion our musicians have to play their absolute best,” he observes. “Time and again, I hear them say it’s one of the most rewarding experiences they’ve had to make music together.”

On his days off when he’s not outdoors skiing, hiking, or fishing, Satterlee relaxes by creating pen-and-ink and acrylic paintings. His first public showing will be during May at the Colter Coffee House. Stop by to see his whimsical designs and discover yet another facet of this local gem.

For information about GSC, visit www.gscmusic.org or call 406/257-3241. Festival Amadeus kicks off with a free outdoor concert at Whitefish’s Depot Park on July 22. Mark your calendar!