A Closer Look: Sophia Ahmad
Director of marketing & public relations for the Des Moines Symphony and Academy
Friday, August 15, 2014 6:00 AM
Sophia Ahmad lives a life filled with music, a passion that blends seamlessly with her role as director of marketing and public relations at Des Moines Symphony and Academy.
Education: Bachelor of Music in piano performance, Gordon College, Wenham, Mass.; Master of Music in piano performance, Eastman School of Music, Rochester, N.Y.
Family: Husband, John Helmich
Ahmad, who combines a background in administration and journalism as well as music, has been in her role with the Symphony since April 2011. Her career path stems from both music and business. Upon graduating from college, Ahmad interned with both the Boston Symphony and the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, which exposed her to both arts marketing and administration. While working as a classical album critic for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in upstate New York Ahmad helped found the Women in Music Festival, now in its 10th year.
Ahmad moved to Des Moines and worked for The Des Moines Register for three years as a staff writer for Juice magazine and as an online entertainment reporter before joining the symphony. During her tenure, the symphony has seen a 15 percent increase in ticket revenue, as well as record attendance at performances. She also helped the symphony secure the 2013 Encore Award from Bravo Greater Des Moines.
In addition to teaching piano and chamber music, Ahmad likes to perform as much as she can.
“Helping to share my love of music with others always seemed like something I wanted to pursue later in life,” Ahmad said. “I feel very lucky that I can do what I really love here (at the symphony) and that I can be involved in administration, teaching and performing. It’s a unique thing to have.”
From where does your love of music originate?
A few things happened. My sister started taking piano lessons, and I wanted to be like her. I also had a good teacher who was very diligent about making me practice. He was tough, and I was a 5-year-old who needed that. He always challenged me, but it was good for me. It’s good to take children deep into learning so they can experience this great imaginative world of sound. Our church also had a choir, and I remember asking my mom how voices can sound like instruments, even though there were none playing, and I remember how fascinating that was to me. There is something transient about music that appeals to me because it’s effervescent and in time.
What brought you here to Des Moines?
My husband is originally from Iowa, and he moved to Des Moines. Also, I was at a crossroads in my career. I could have taken over a friend’s studio and taught there for the year, but it was a dead-end job, so I thought I could try my luck in Des Moines. I’m forever grateful for The Des Moines Register for giving me that chance.
What specifically drew you to this job with the symphony?
It was a puzzle piece that just fit. My interest had always been in classical music, performing arts nonprofits. Having that administrative and writing background, I figured I had three things going for me. I believe very strongly in journalism, so it was difficult to be torn away from that. I don’t know if I would have done it for another job. This was the one for me.
Which accomplishment here are you most proud of?
I’m very pleased our paid attendance has increased as much as it has. It means more and more people are learning about the symphony and wanting to experience it live. That makes me so happy on a personal level. Another is how we’ve reached out to the student market. We created the Collegiate 7, which is a college student subscription plan. I had the same thing in college, and it cost $40. Ours is the same price for students to attend all seven Masterworks series concerts. I feel like it is a foray into the world of possibly becoming a subscriber, but it also benefits them as students. It’s such an integral part of the learning process.
What are your longer-term goals?
We just solidified our three-year strategic plan. We’re also looking to expand our concert offerings. We certainly want to add more pops concerts to our schedule, and we’ve also created new public relations initiatives we feel are important to our mission, as well as to the success and vitality of our organization.
What do enjoy doing outside work?
I teach music and coach quite a few students outside of work. My husband and I really do live in a musical world. He is a violinist with the Des Moines Symphony, the Belin Quartet and the Des Moines Metro Opera. But I also love traveling. I’m a member of a book club, and my husband and I also love the trails in Des Moines. We also spend a lot of time with friends.
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