Finding Savannah’s Groove
as seen in Savannah Morning News, May 23, 2013
By Mary Nestor-Harper
From humble beginnings in Australia to promoting the Sydney Orchestra, it took a job in Savannah to finally help David Pratt “find his groove.”
Pratt, the executive director of the Savannah Philharmonic Symphony and Chorus, was born in Bendigo Victoria, Australia, to an Australian mother and Welsh father. He and his twin sister, Debbie, were born on Aug. 17, 1964.
An older sister Sue, rounds out the family. His father, Graham Pratt, was introduced to David’s mother, Elisabeth Anthony, by her father, an Anglican Bishop. They were 21, and got married two years later.
Since his father was English, David had dual citizenship, which served him later as he crafted a career, traveled the world and pursued the many opportunities that came “out of the blue.”
His family lived in Bendigo until he was about 5 years old. With his father away serving in the military, the family lived in the rectory with his grandfather. Back from the war, his father was shipped to Sydney.
“We were fortunate to be moved to an area of Sydney right on the harbor. It was spectacular,” he said. “I spent my days at the beach or fishing, my true great loves when I was a kid.”
The family moved to Canberra, where Pratt finished high school. Unlike most Aussies, Pratt got a job as a bank teller instead of traveling abroad after graduation.
“My mother said she wasn’t going to send me to Sydney to study if I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he said.
He loved science, geography, physical education and music. He played piano and clarinet, but instead of practicing, he would rather be fishing or at the beach.
“Working in the bank was torture…so not me,” said Pratt. “I hated mathematics and anything to do with numbers, but I always balanced.”
After a year, he went back to Melbourne and the University to study outdoor recreation management and shared a house with his sister who was in fashion design school. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in recreation management in 1987.
“I was hell-bent to go to the United States,” said Pratt.
One of the American lecturers at the University helped him get a management position at a U.S. camp. In May 1988, Pratt came to the United States on a three-month work visa and worked in a camp in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.
“It was probably one of the most wonderful experiences of my life,” he said.
He later returned to Australia and got a job promoting the country’s film industry. He was on a plane to Los Angeles six weeks later.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I had to pinch myself,” he said. “I was in producer Gail Ann Hurd’s office (“The Terminator,” “Aliens”), who was married to director James Cameron (“Titanic,” “Avatar”), and all the top Hollywood producers, pitching to come and shoot movies in Australia.”
He spent the next two and a half years successfully running the Melbourne film office, traveling between Melbourne and Los Angeles. He moved to Los Angeles in 1997 and ran the office until 2004. The movie industry was interesting but really tough, dealing with the personalities, high emotions and politics.
“I don’t like politics, and this was politics on steroids,” he said. “I woke up one day and decided to leave the film commission. I couldn’t find my groove in L.A. and didn’t want to work for one of the movie studios. My parents were horrified, and my friends thought I was crazy.”
He resigned from his job, put everything in storage and traveled alone to Bali, surfing and meditating.
“I had just turned 40. It was a mid-life crisis thing,” he said.
“I did have a moment when I thought, ‘What have I done?’ Then I said to myself, get over it. You’ll work again; it will all fall into place, which was really stupid because I didn’t really have a plan.”
Eventually, he got a job running events for the Vienna Philharmonic in Australia. After about two years, he took a job as general manager of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music.
“I found my love,” he said. The Vienna Philharmonic was my new career path in music.”
When a headhunter tracked him down to head up commercial programming for the Sydney Symphony at the Opera House, he couldn’t say no.
“I just loved it. We had a $5 million budget, brought in stars like Roberta Flack and Natalie Cole.”
But his heart was still in the U.S. He applied for the U.S. green card lottery in Australia, and he got it. After just a year he gave up his job working for a premiere symphony orchestra and a six-figure salary.
“My mother was furious with me. I just had to do this,” he said. “The draw was so strong. I felt there was something (in the U.S.) that I hadn’t finished.”
He returned to Los Angeles in February 2009 and found a job working for a film festival and “G’Day USA.”
He kept applying for jobs, but was a realist.
“I wasn’t going to walk into the same job I had in Sydney. He applied and got a call to interview for the executive director position of the Savannah Philharmonic Symphony and Chorus in July 2010.
“I got on like a house of fire with Peter Shannon, and I knew I could work for him,” said Pratt.
“To be honest, I think I was a little naïve when I took this job. I didn’t know the situation, really.”
When he moved into his office above the Paris Market, there was a new computer in a box and not a file or anything else. He laid out a plan, called the board together and gave them the hard facts. Then he got to work.
Two and a half years later, the results speak for themselves. Under Pratt’s direction, he’s doubled earned income, tripled contributed income, increased the number of subscribers from 20 to almost 300, and increased the number of individual donors from 100 to more than 270.
“We’re in good shape. The numbers don’t lie,” he said.
Though he’s comfortable being a loner, he’s not alone.
“I have a partner,” said Pratt. “Ramon is very special person who can put up with my craziness.”
And after all those years of searching, he finally found his groove in Savannah.
“It’s the right kind of work,” he said. I’m passionate about the music and love the product. It hasn’t been easy. But hey, that’s life. It’s not supposed to be easy.”