Everything had gone smoothly for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra League during the days leading up to the mega-fundraising presentation ball Saturday night at the Meyerson. However, Ball Chair Lillie Young, co-chairs Sharon Popham and Annell Williams and deb coordinator extraordinaire Barbara Paschall Averitt were not letting up. There was definitely not going to be an encore performance of the previous year, when younger members of the audience got a bit overzealous.
No, this year was a deciding moment in the 26-year history of the Dallas Symphony Ball $500,000 fundraiser (or about half of conductor Jaap van Zweden‘s reported annual salary). It would either restore the traditional qualities of such an occasion, or it would be hijacked by youthful mob rule exuberance.
The organizers were also given the additional challenge of having the second largest number of debs in the program’s history — 50. As Honor Guard President Tucker Huth admitted, the stage could only hold so many and it would be bulging with 100 women in white ball gowns and men in white tie and tails.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing Lillie et al was how to maintain the unique personality of the DSOL deb presentation. Unlike the Idlewild, which is steeped in a 138-year-old tradition, the DSOL event has managed to combine the feel of tradition with a festive spirit. Last year’s spirit got out of hand, so the spirit factor was going to have to be ramped down. How do you do that without taking the air totally out of the deb balloon?
Despite the fact that the official start of the reception was at 7 p.m., the lower level of the Meyerson was already getting cozy with generations of family and friends by 7:07. But the check-in was not backed up, and a lone flute of champagne sat on the check-in table looking more like a decoration than liquid sustenance. Due to the cold weather outside, the cloakroom looked like a fur storage vault. While some opted to keep their coats to stave off the chill in the reception area, others were having too much fun and were too proud of their bare-shouldered looks to cover them up with coats.
While husband Scott chatted with Paul Stewart — who was looking about for wife Melissa — Gina Ginsburg sat on her fur coat. Was it the chill? Nope. She didn’t know where the cloakroom was. The Ginsburgs, like others, were old hands at the DSOL deb extravaganza. Their daughter Laura Ryan Ginsburg debuted in 2004, and this year they were here for Pam Denesuk, whose daughter Austin was bowing.
Community Partners of Dallas’s Paige McDaniel and Cindrette McDaniel were thrilled about Paige’s niece/Cindrette’s granddaughter Katie McDaniel’s being not only one of the debs, but being escorted by Air Force Academy Cadet Jack Murtha.
When asked about deb daughter Sullivan Franklin-Mitchell‘s double-strand pearl necklace (other debs wore a single strand), mother Honor said that the pearls had belonged to Sullivan’s great-grandmother. The bow was a family affair for the Franklin-Mitchell clan, with father Bob Mitchell escorting Sullivan on to the stage and Sullivan’s brother Hahn serving in place of an Honor Guard escort. Grandmother Jeanette Franklin wasn’t able to make the presentation, but Honor and Bob were making sure that a video of the presentation would be shown to Jeanette.
At one point, Honor laughed after talking with Elaine Agather: “Elaine understands. All of my family is part of the presentation except me.”
As more and more people arrived, it was a good thing that the 50 debs were nowhere in sight. Those mammoth white ball gowns would have suffered from squeezing conditions. No, the debs, like brides before marching down the aisle, were backstage donning opera gloves of kid leather, having makeup and hair checked and re-checked for their big moments center stage. But plenty of family and friends and Honor Guard escorts were making the rounds. BTW, Honor Guards were the young gents in white tie and tail with the ivory-gold sashes bordered in royal blue. The older gentlemen in white tie and tails with solid red sashes were the debs’ father/brothers who would escort them down the stairs of the Meyerson.
And, of course, there were plenty of deb friends on hand. Deb Sophie Lake not only had her grandparents Merrie and Sparkey Beckham in attendance, she also had her TCU Theta sorority sister Cathryn Yuille, Lauren Payne, Shannon Stecich and Abigail Wright on board.
To keep things moving smoothly, matrons with walkie-talkies, looking like Neiman Marcus special-event alumni, moved through the crowds throughout the area. Camera phones ruled the scene, recording groups of friends and family in attendance. Some young lovelies, who obviously had not gone through the rigors of debutante training, made their way through the crowd in beautiful gowns that were spoiled by dowager-hunched-over posture.
As the first chimes rang calling the guests like Lisa and Kenny Troutt upstairs, the masses obeyed in a very orderly fashion.
Once in the Eugene McDermott Concert Hall, it was noted that the orchestra and terrace were filled with older guests, except for the left side of the orchestra terrace, where rows of empty seats were made available for the deb fathers after their stage duties were done. It was interesting to note that deb moms were seated on the aisle seats on the orchestra floor. This design was to allow for their quick departure following the presentation. But more about that later.
The Meyerson’s upper levels were a mix of all generations of guests. In addition to the Meyerson staff of ushers was the very visible presence of Dallas police on each level. And, yes, before you ask, they did have guns — but that comes with the uniform, so don’t go getting any ideas.
At 8:10 p.m. the presentation was under way, with master of ceremonies Lee Carter tactfully advising the audience that a show of appreciation for each deb was welcome — to a point. Lillie then thanked the Honorary Chairs Sharon and Mike McCullough, the ball co-chairs and DSOL President Marena Gault for their support. Lee returned to the podium and introduced the Dallas Assembly and Honor Guard officers.
Before commencing with the presentation, Lee admonished the crowd one more time, “Your applause is encouraged. However, to maintain decorum, any further loud distraction is highly discouraged, and will be cause for removal.” In other words, there would be no shilly-shally about proper behavior. Mind your manners, or you’ll meet Dallas’s finest.
The words were evidently heard. . . at least to a degree. The 51 debs, fathers and escorts did magnificently against a fabulous backdrop of staging, floral arrangements, draping and lighting.
No two gowns looked alike, but they all had full skirts. No mermaids in this group. How would anyone manage to execute the infamous Texas dip in a tight skirt? And then there were the shoes. Under those long flowing skirts were everything from flats to pumps. This was definitely not the time for stilettos.
As for the bow itself, the debs had been preparing for this exercise of control. It was one thing to do it at home in their room. It was still another to do it center stage in front of thousands, holding a bouquet of flowers in a white ball gown and coming within inches of the perfectly white skirt. A slight miscalculation would result in makeup smeared all over the satin, silk and lace material. Catherine Carson had been practicing and was definitely wearing flats. . . Julia Thompson‘s experience as a dancer had her in shape for the bow. . . Sophie Lake was relying on her training and muscle exercises.
The only moments of hesitation came when big hoots came from a very small pod of young admirers for Natalie Chavez, Charlotte Coe, Erin Costello and Catherine Finney. (Editor’s note: The debs were introduced in alphabetical order. By the time the debs with last names starting with “G” were presented, the young guests realized that the warnings were not empty threats. Decorum was ruling. Oh, there were momentarily lapses by the peanut gallery when Adriana Kennington and Julie Skorburgbowed, but they were quickly followed by silence.)
One oops! that raised eyebrows proved to be a non-oops! Before deb Sarah Frazee had even begun her bow, her dad Dr. Lewis Frazee abruptly left the stage. Egad! Dads were supposed to kiss their daughters on the cheek and then stand nearby until the Honor Guard escort strolled in to offer his hand in assistance. But the good doctor was nowhere to be seen. Oh, wait! What was that? There he was at the top of the stairs again to escort his other deb daughter Laura down the stairs.
Following last deb Cristina Yoder‘s bow, all 50 debs and escorts paraded onto the stage — and fit perfectly — as the audience gave them a standing ovation.
Lee then asked the guests to sit down, as the fathers filed out of their seats and the mothers departed the hall. At this point, it was a little surprising to see the mothers, who had been seated on the floor of the hall, walking by themselves with little fanfare. It might have been nice to have had the mothers seated on the terrace across from the fathers, resulting in a cleaner departure. That said, there is also the school of thought that the moms who had been herding and managing family members and friends all evening needed to stay with their core group. Oh, shoot. Let’s not be so nit-picky.
As the guests left the concert hall, the couples on stage stood their ground trying to spy familiar faces. It was just too much for the guests in the upper levels. Like students supporting their
teams, the rah-rah support sprung up briefly.
The next challenge was the post-bow waltz. Photographer James French looked like a man who was opening the doors at Best Buy for Thanksgiving Day-after sales. He was worried. Last year’s dance floor had been a squeeze, with 41 debs in billowing ball gowns and their fathers in formal attire. Now the number was up to
50, and James and his team were supposed to shoot everyone dancing. And then for the second dance, the crowd was increased with Honor Guards dancing with moms. As the fathers surrounded the dance floor, looking like a herd of ambassadors, the debs floated in through a narrow walkway with their escorts. Well, they didn’t exactly float in. They hustled in, with James shooting each one as if he were shooting a college football team taking the field. But the girls were ready for anything and were delighted to see their fathers, who were glowing with pride.
As the father-daughter dancers started their waltzes, overhead on the balcony young friends started their cheers of support. But, nobody had said they couldn’t hoot and holler now. Still. . . Then there was silence, and a moment later where the youngsters had been were now men and women in blue.
While debs and friends connected and the dance floor continued to be filled, other guests settled down for a very good dinner of salad (winter leaves with garlic toast American Maytag blue cheese, tomato medley, citrus balsamic vinaigrette and toasted rustic focaccia), entree (anchor pepper chili rubbed beef filet, coffee infused bordelaise sauce, herb cheese and sweet potato tart royale and grilled asparagus and roasted red pepper) and dessert (symphony of chocolate with fresh raspberry coulis).
But the propriety of the event didn’t stop with the dancing debs. No. Most of the debs and escorts graciously visited tables, thanking guests for attending and in some cases for flowers and gifts that had celebrated the occasion. There was a polish and sincerity about their presence that reflected the confidence that was instilled in them thanks to the weeks of preparation.
As some guests decided to leave at 11:30, there was a slight hiccup in the smooth perfection of the night. The vehicles in the Meyerson underground parking lot were being held hostage. The roll-down gate separating the garage from the driveway was down and not budging. Seems that the Meyerson staffer who was in charge of the gate had only been on the job a couple of days, and the gate had closed following its usual schedule. Now it was in lock-down. Finally, the gate slowly rose with headlights playing peek-a-boo at waiting guests and engines revving to escape.
In reviewing the effort and money invested in her daughter’s being a part of the DSOL event, one deb mom didn’t hesitate, saying, “It was well worth it.” She went on to explain that it had not only been an education about what all is entailed for such special events, but it also provided a marvelous opportunity for the families to bond and to get to know other people within the community. She said that her daughter had known some of the gals in her deb class, but she had met others that she never would have had the chance to meet. She added that her daughter was going to join the Dallas Assembly because she realized that it not only supported the Dallas Symphony, it provided support for future debs to experience what she had.
Lillie Young, her committee and the professionals pulled off a marvelous evening that reflected the youthful spirit of the upcoming generation of DSO supporters with the legendary tradition of bowing to society. Congratulations on a nice come back