Classically Trained: A gift with no strings attached

His was a tale of tough economic times.

A construction worker in his 50s. Couldn't find work. Newly homeless in Laguna Beach.

But with help from the Friendship Shelter and the Pacific Symphony, his life had a moment of rejuvenation. He got to hear a concert in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall — Orange County's grande dame of a venue — free of charge.

Surely the music soothed his soul, but not probably as much as hearing it in the concert hall he helped build a few years before.

"He had never been inside the finished product," said Dawn Price, executive director of the Friendship Shelter, as she recalled the story to me.

The worker finally getting to hear the music is but one of many inspirational stories that could be told about Heartstrings, the Pacific Symphony program that partners with social service organizations to provide free concert tickets and musical activities for Orange County's low-income and underserved population.

Price and other representatives were at the concert hall in Costa Mesa on Wednesday evening to celebrate Heartstrings, which last season circulated more than 22,000 tickets to some 200 organizations throughout the county. Symphony officials said the tickets amounted to some $1 million in revenue.

The 6-year-old program — supported by the Nicholas Endowment, various foundations and individuals — has 17 partners, eight of which are new this year.

Heartstrings realizes Music Director Carl St.Clair's belief that "music is a birthright that must be equally shared by all" and the Costa Mesa-based orchestra's core purpose of enriching "the human spirit through superior performances of symphonic music and community engagement."

Pam Blaine, the Pacific Symphony vice president of education and community programs, oversees Heartstrings. For the symphony employee of 12 years, it's been an inspiring highlight of her tenure.

"The fact that the symphony can open its doors to the beauty of music, which we all are just so compelled by, is really so rewarding," she said.

Others called it extraordinary. Transformative. A self-esteem booster.

I heard such words while talking with a few representatives from Heartstrings partners Wednesday, including Jerri Rosen of Working Wardrobes.

She founded the Costa Mesa-based nonprofit that provides career development services and clothing for its 5,000 clients each year so they can confidently enter the workforce. Heartstrings provides Working Wardrobes with hundreds of free tickets yearly.

Rosen is no stranger to the power of music and the Pacific Symphony, having been a longtime subscriber to its "Classical Connections" series.

"I think what's important is to know that the arts can move people in ways that the written word doesn't," she said, adding that her client's families are able to enjoy the concert experience together.

Some from Working Wardrobes have even gotten to go backstage, Rosen said.

"There's such a sense of awe that they have," she said, "because many of them would never, ever be in this hall were it not for the Heartstrings opportunity."

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"Rhapsody in Blue," arguably the best of all Gershwin, is among the pieces on the Pacific Symphony's program for June 9 to 11. The 8 p.m. concerts in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall feature solo pianist Orion Weiss and will be led by guest conductor James Gaffigan.

The concerts conclude with Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2. Tickets start at $25.

A native New Yorker and New England Conservatory graduate, Gaffigan was recently appointed to lead the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra in Switzerland, where he lives. He last conducted the Pacific Symphony in 2008.

Weiss will also perform Gershwin's variations on "I Got Rhythm." Later this season, the Juilliard alumnus from Ohio is scheduled to be featured, with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, in a recording of Gershwin's complete works for piano and orchestra.

For more information, visit http://www.PacificSymphony.org or call (714) 755-5799.

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. E-mail him story ideas at bradley.zint@latimes.com.

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