Center Line graduate keeps the harmonies in tune

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published May 7, 2012

 Paul Yee, a 1973 Center Line High School graduate, has been the retail sales manager and buyer for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra since 2003.

Paul Yee, a 1973 Center Line High School graduate, has been the retail sales manager and buyer for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra since 2003.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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DETROIT — Walking down a backstage hallway inside Orchestra Hall May 3, the melodic sounds of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians practicing led the way.

It was guaranteed to be a busy weekend for Paul Yee, the DSO’s retail sales manager and buyer.

“One of the great benefits of working here is hearing the orchestra,” the 1973 Center Line High School graduate said.

The DSO would perform that weekend, and Yee was ready for the classical musical fans that would stop by the Shop @ The Max at the Max M. Fisher Music Center inside Orchestra Hall on Woodward Avenue.

The center features a CD shop — decorated with hanging posters of current DSO director Leonard Slatkin — that primarily sells CDs and books. It’s probably the only place in town to find a bobble head of former DSO conductor Neemi Jarvi.

Just a few steps away is a gift shop that stocks DSO sweatshirts, T-shirts, umbrellas, ties and socks with music patterns, teddy bears that reads “DSO treble maker,” notepads, including one that reads “Gone Chopin,” and much more. There’s one other popular item.

“We sell a lot of chocolate,” Yee laughed.

The CD and gift shops are open before and after concerts, during intermission and by appointment. All proceeds from purchases benefit the DSO. Yee and assistant Mona DeQuis run the stores.

“I also have a large number of volunteers that help us in the shops,” said Yee, of Macomb Township.

He has been an asset.

“Paul is the grace of retail of the DSO,” DSO public relations manager Gabrielle Poshadlo said. “He’s one of those managers that does all the work behind the scenes. When somebody is so moved by a piece during a concert and they want to purchase a recording of it, he can direct them to the best recording we have available.”

Classical music first began to chime when Yee picked up the trombone while in the fifth grade at Ellis Elementary School in Center Line, which is now called the Ellis Building, and while no longer a school, it’s still part of Center Line Public Schools.

“That was the start of it,” Yee said.

The instrument, however, wasn’t his first choice. The budding musician wanted to play the trumpet.

“They had too many trumpet players and needed a trombone player,” Yee remembered.

Yee — a fan of classical composers Mahler, Ravel, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky — continued with the band while at Wolfe Junior High School, now Wolfe Middle School.

“I found it was something I liked learning, and I started to get pretty good at it,” the musician said. “I fell in love with all kinds of music, but classical, that’s the one I wanted to pursue.”

Yee became a member of the Center Line High School band, where he and the other music makers competed in competitions and took trips related to their craft.

After graduating in 1973, Yee enrolled in the University of Michigan’s music program “with the hope of making a living as a musician.”

“I found out pretty quickly how hard that was,” said Yee, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance.

Wanting to stay in music, Yee applied for a job in 1978 at the local music store where he bought all his classical music: Harmony House Records and Tapes in Warren.

He learned the ropes of retail and eventually became a manager for the company, working at several of the chain’s stores, including at Macomb Mall in Roseville, in Grosse Pointe on Mack Avenue, in Southfield and in Farmington Hills. But Yee’s true calling came in 1990 when Harmony House executives opened a “classical only” store on Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak.

“Having a store full of classical music and being able to serve customers who loved classical music as much as I did, that was a dream job,” Yee said. “It was a great privilege to work there. The (Detroit) Symphony (Orchestra) helped bring in a lot of people. We had artists from out of town who would come in and shop. Neemi Jarvi shopped there.”

A few remnants of the one-time classical store made their way into the DSO retail shops, including a listening station.

When all the Harmony House stores closed in 2003, Yee found a new gig as the retail buyer for the DSO right around the time the Max M. Fisher Music Center opened.

After getting married and having three children, Yee stopped playing music for several years. A couple years ago, he got back into it when, under former Wolfe band director Guss Moore’s guidance, Yee and other past CLHS graduates played an alumni show to raise money to help send students to music camp.

“It was a great time,” Yee said. “Once I started playing again, I got the bug.”

Yee now plays with four different outfits: the Birmingham Concert Band, the South Oakland Concert Band, the Southfield Jazz Orchestra and the Woodward Avenue Jazz Orchestra.

As the retail buyer, Yee has the opportunity to meet various well-known classical artists, but the name most recognizable was “Star Trek” actor George Takei, the special guest during “A Sci-Fi Spectacular” in March.

Yee also is looking forward to the May 12 concert featuring Kid Rock, with proceeds benefiting the DSO. At press time, the only tickets left were the VIP packages for $750 each.

The DSO finishes out its current season in little more than a month. Summer concerts also are scheduled. For a list of upcoming shows, visit www.dso.org or call (313) 576-5111.

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