That’s how Cindi Pasceri describes her reaction to the news that her dear friend, the late Jane Kesson, had donated an astonishing $4.7 million to The Philadelphia Orchestra.
How did Jane amass such a fortune? Was she a captain of industry, a hedge-fund manager, a gilt-edged heiress? None of the above. For nearly 50 years, Jane Kesson was a public school teacher.
According to Cindi, teaching was clearly a calling. By age 12 Jane was pedaling her bike around her Frankford neighborhood, giving her friends piano lessons at 50 cents a pop.
Cindi and Jane met in the 1980s, when they were both teaching in the Abington School District. “But I’d heard of her even before then. Some of my 6th-grade students told me about this incredible music teacher they’d had previously at Glenside-Weldon Junior High. Once we were teaching at the same school, I was supposed to drop my kids off at her music class, then use the time for prep. But I ended up staying for the class because I wanted to hear what this amazing teacher was doing. That’s how we became friends, and we remained friends until the day she passed away” in 2017 at age 90.
When the two teachers were getting to know each other, “We just got to talking about a Philadelphia Orchestra concert coming up. She thought the Orchestra was the best thing since sliced bread. She relished every note that came out of every player’s horn.”
Jane’s generous bequest will enable the Orchestra to strengthen its HEAR initiatives that promote Health, Education, Access to the Orchestra, and Research. In addition, the Orchestra has named the Jane H. Kesson School Concert Program in honor of this devoted educator, patron, and volunteer.
Cindi calls the new name for the School Concert program “an incredible memorial to Jane. It’s something that will live on after all of us are gone.”
Jane’s passion for music education wasn’t limited to the classroom. Cindi says that throughout her career and even in retirement, Jane would regularly escort busloads of third to fifth graders to hear The Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music, on her dime.
“She felt it was her duty to expose children to the Orchestra who may not have had an opportunity to hear it. She felt that the arts were very, very important in their lives.
“When the Kimmel Center opened, that was fantastic, because her beloved Orchestra had a sparkling new home. When they were building it, I used to take Jane down to the site. We’d put the booties on, and the hard hats. They set up the auditorium seats outside so you could buy the naming rights. She bought one in her own name and one honoring her mother. We went for the sound testing. She was in on everything!”
Clearly, Jane Kesson loved The Philadelphia Orchestra. But how did she build up such a large estate on a school teacher’s salary?
“When I became the executrix of her estate,” Cindi recalls, “I was flabbergasted by the size of it! She didn’t talk or live like a rich person. She was an only child. She never married but her lifestyle was very family oriented; she was devoted to her parents.
She lived in a small, two-bedroom home that her parents had built. She didn’t have a fancy car; in fact she left her car to her mechanic! She wasn’t in any way a showy person. She lived very simply. Her joy in life was going to the Orchestra.
“She was just a very astute investor, and she got that from her father. He willed some stock to her, but he also taught her how to invest, and she was simply brilliant at it. And I had no clue!”
Cindi is certain that her friend would have been thrilled that the Orchestra’s School Concert program now bears her name.
“Nothing could honor her more. When we were discussing this bequest with the Orchestra, I told them using the money for anything to do with children would be the best gift you could ever give her. And that’s what they did.
“When we were working on this last year, my husband and I went to one of the School Concerts, and as we saw all the students coming in, it just made my heart swell thinking of Jane. She loved the Orchestra, and she was always devoted to music and the arts for her students.”