Farewell from the Harvard Musical Association

Special to the Times

“When Jim and Joni McDonald moved to Beacon Hill 34 years ago as Stewards to the Harvard Musical Association at 57a Chestnut Street they were asked for a 5 year commitment. Hundreds of concerts later, and more memories than you can tell, they are leaving HMA and the neighborhood for a move that takes them to Chicago closer to family and friends. I cannot begin to express how much we will miss them,” said Deb Hanley, President of the Harvard Musical Association.

Whether you know Jim or Joni personally or not, you know them as neighborhood fixtures. They are a familiar sight around the Hill, notably on Chestnut Street, two people we feel we know as with so many people we see daily.

The Resident Steward’s primary responsibility is event oversight, house management, and generally making sure everything runs smoothly on a daily basis at HMA. In 2015 Jim accepted the additional role of Administrator for the membership and its business operations. He has overseen all that goes into the production of over 20 concert performances a year. Looking forward to his retirement, Jim says he plans to focus more on his hobbies reading, cooking, trying to learn French, purchasing a piano and practice, practice, practice.

Joni, who has prepared the collations for 90 people following every HMA performance, will continue her day job from afar with the Unitarian Universalist Association where she is Publications Associate Director.

“For the past five years I’ve worked with Jim on the concert series for HMA members. In that time I’ve seen that Jim and Joni have both been singularly devoted to HMA members—always concerned that they be comfortable, feel welcome, and have delicious food after our concerts. Jim and Joni have worked tirelessly for the benefit of HMA and its members. We will so miss their warmth, dedication, and sense of humor.  They will be terribly hard to replace,” quotes Sally Rubin, Program Chairperson for HMA.

Over 34 years, the two, working in tandem, added their personal touch to HMA in a number of ways, most notably in the updating of collations after the musical events. In year one, they were tasked to prepare the famous Boston Baked Beans their predecessors had served since the founding in 1838. Welsh Rarebit is prepared tableside by its members in boarding school style dining. It was suggested that the menu be expanded and over the next 20 years Joni introduced menu item favorites that would include cassoulet and shrimp Cardinale.  Jim took pleasure in matching wines for the collations.

Jim and Joni credit their endurance at HMA to having “an amazing group of members, mostly overachievers, who all love chamber music, good food and conviviality. We will miss the membership, the concerts, the three grand pianos perfectly tuned, the lovely apartment, the commute to work – all of 46 steps, Beacon Hill and the many friends we’ve made, some only recently.”

HMA announced earlier this year in April the appointment of Janet Goff as Executive Director which will be officially effective July 1, 2024. The search for the new Steward is complete and will be announce shortly. The Search Committee for both positions was headed by Board President Deb Hanley along with local neighbors Thatcher Gearhart, Terry Stone, along with past President Tony Schemmer and Board member Nick Tranquillo.

The Harvard Musical Association is a private charitable organization founded by Harvard College graduates in 1837 for the purpose of advancing musical culture and literacy both at Harvard and in the City of Boston.

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