Madge Berman and her late husband, Bill, will be honored at the DSO’s seventh-annual Heroes Gala
A few years ago, Madeleine “Madge” Berman had an idea: Why not use the power of computer technology to benefit public-school children in Detroit?
Berman’s brainstorm, and financial backing from the foundation started by her and her late husband, Mandell “Bill” Berman, led to the creation of DSOLive: Classroom Edition. The program provides free webcasts of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Educational Concerts for children.
In recognition of their work on that program, as well as their long-term support of the orchestra (both have been board members), the Bermans will be honored at the DSO’s seventh-annual Heroes Gala on Saturday, June 10, at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center. The gala will include red-carpet arrivals, cocktails and a concert by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, followed by a formal dinner. Michelle Merrill will conduct Wei Yi on cello and Jon Kimura Parker on piano in a program that includes Bloch’s Prayer, “From Jewish Life,” No. 1 and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
“Bill and Madge remembered, as so many of us do, Leonard Bernstein’s televised Young People’s Concerts, and they wanted to do something like that for our children in Detroit,” said Anne Parsons, DSO president and CEO.
Madge Berman of Franklin said she was concerned that so many Detroit children have never heard an orchestra or even seen a classical instrument. She wanted to use technology to bring the joy of great music into their lives. The Classroom Edition program is modeled on Live From Orchestra Hall, which has been webcasting the orchestra’s classical series since 2011.
The DSO is the only major orchestra that webcasts children’s concerts, which can be viewed on any computer through the DSO’s website. Since it began in 2014, Classroom Edition has reached more than 50,000 students worldwide — in Canada, the UK, Brazil, Spain, Belgium, Mexico, Germany and Taiwan as well as all over the U.S. As of last year, it is available in every classroom of the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Classroom Edition also provides a detailed Teacher’s Resource Guide, available online, which educators can use to create lessons around the concert.
Bill Berman, a titan in the Jewish community, died in December 2016 at age 99. His interests centered on Jewish communal activities while hers were more involved in the arts and humanities, but they supported each other’s endeavors.
“I was proud of what he did, and he was proud of what I did,” Madge Berman says. “We both funded what we thought was important in the areas that interested each of us.”
At Madge’s suggestion, a $4 million gift from the Bermans helped create one of their most visible legacies, the Berman Center for the Performing Arts at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, which opened in 2010. Among other programs, the center hosts the DSO’s Community Concerts series.
Madge Berman has been involved in the arts on the local, state and national levels for decades. She was an original member of Detroit Arts, appointed by Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young. Gov. William Milliken appointed her to the Michigan Council of the Arts in 1983, she then became the council’s vice-chair under Gov. James Blanchard. She has served on many arts-related boards, including the Detroit Community Music School, Detroit Music Hall for the Performing Arts, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Michigan Opera Theatre. She’s now a member of the DSO’s emeritus board.
In 1994, Madge was appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities by President Bill Clinton. President Barack Obama renewed her appointment in 2009. In 2014, she received the prestigious Legacy Award from Americans for the Arts, joining past recipients Yo-Yo Ma and Richard Serra.
The Bermans have been significant patrons of the DSO for many years. They contributed to the Orchestra Hall restoration campaign in the 1980s, and later to the effort that led to the creation of the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center.
Mark Davidoff, chairman of the DSO’s board of directors, worked on many projects with Bill Berman when he was CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.
“He and Madge knew music education was important and that it is not available today the way it was when we were students,” he said. “They wanted to leverage the power of technology to provide today’s students with a similar experience.”
The Bermans are a role model for philanthropy, Davidoff said.
“What I learned from the Bermans is the art of stewardship,” he said. “The manner in which they curated their finances and community commitments is a lesson for us all. They created a sustainable legacy in areas important to all of us, including community cohesion, education, and arts and culture.”
Barbara Lewis Contributing Writer
The DSO’s Heroes Gala will be held Saturday, June 10. Gala package tickets are priced from $1,000. Concert-only tickets range from $15 to $50. Tickets are available at dso.org/heroes.