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Bill and Judy Scheide - In the Spotlight

December 03, 2013

A Monthly Series of Donor and Patron Profiles

How many among us can say we heard the Fabulous Philadelphians way back when the great music director Leopold Stokowski was conducting? Bill Scheide can. The philanthropist, musician, book collector, and humanitarian—who celebrates his 100th birthday this January—has been a lifelong fan and supporter of The Philadelphia Orchestra. As a freshman at Princeton University (class of ’36), he took the train to Philadelphia every Friday afternoon, never missing a concert. “Bill admired Stokowski when he was a young man,” says his wife, Judy. “Later, when Bill started the Bach Aria Group, he got to know him well.”

A Bach scholar, Scheide had a special love of Bach arias and wanted to share his passion with a larger audience. In 1946 he founded the Bach Aria Group, a vocal and instrumental ensemble which, under Scheide’s leadership, performed and recorded for 34 years. He also served for 27 years on the board (many of them as president) of Westminster Choir College (where Yannick studied choral conducting). The reach of his philanthropy through the Scheide Fund is broad, extending from the arts and education to civil rights, health care, and poverty relief, but those closest to him say music is his lifeblood.

This past summer, for example, the Scheide Fund paid for The Philadelphia Orchestra to perform in Princeton with Bill’s “dearest friend”—conductor, Mark Laycock—on the podium. It was the Orchestra’s first performance in Princeton in 50 years. “We had the most wonderful summer concert. It was out of this world. The sound was like silk or velvet. It was almost liquid, the way the violins played. It flowed like a river,” says Judy. “We loved having The Philadelphia Orchestra in Princeton.”

She add, emphatically, “If you have a great symphony, you must support it. You must! And it’s the public that needs to support it. An orchestra can’t make enough money just by selling tickets. That kind of glorious music is a miracle and you can’t let it disappear.” 

Bill Scheide grew up with a love of music and a love of rare books inspired by his grandfather and father. The family’s private collection, the Scheide Library, is housed at the Firestone Library at Princeton University and contains, among other priceless works, historical documents, a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, and musical manuscripts of Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Wagner, and Scheide’s beloved Bach.

Judy’s own history with the Philadelphians goes back to the early 1960s when she was a young mother. She and her late husband would get a babysitter, drive from Wilmington to Philadelphia, wait in line at the Academy of Music for $1.50 tickets, “and climb way up to the top!” she recalls. “That was a thrill. And we did that as often as we could.”

Judy, who is originally from Minnesota, is heartbroken by what’s happening to the orchestra there. (Minnesota Orchestra musicians have been locked out for over a year in a contract dispute.) “Everybody’s weeping over it,” she says. “It’s truly sad.”

With that situation as a cautionary tale, she hopes more concertgoers will be inspired to support The Philadelphia Orchestra. And as a development expert herself, both as current president of the Scheide Fund and a former fundraiser for Princeton University, Judy knows gifts to an institution’s annual fund are best. “It’s good for people to support an arts organization without restrictions,” she says. “That’s the best kind of gift.”

Judy and Bill Scheide still try to get to Philadelphia to see the Orchestra as often as possible. (“Oh, we’ve seen Yannick,” says Judy. “I think he’s delightful. He has so much energy. He’s not tentative about the music. He throws his whole body into it.”) And even though it’s getting more difficult to travel, they have no plans to stop. “Bill and I are planning to attend as many more concerts as we can,” says Judy. “He loves going to Philadelphia. He loves the sound. Every time we go he says, ‘This was worth coming to!’” She adds, “It’s essential to cherish this orchestra.” 

It is clear that the Scheides do.