​Donor Story

Joel Brauer: Inspiring a Legacy of Inspiration, Unity and Abiding Love Through Music

Joel Brauer enriched and blessed the lives of those who knew him.  As a fifth-generation pastor, Joel Brauer followed the family calling with a ministry that focused on compassion, forgiveness, and love. When Joel passed away recently, his family created a fund in his honor to enable Conspirare to create new choral works that reflect the values they share. In this way, they hope his legacy of acceptance, love, and community continues through new choral works that express the beauty and potential of our world.    

One of Mary’s favorite memories of her brother was the summer of 1970 when she toured Europe singing with the St. Olaf Choir and Joel, a post graduate student at Cambridge, was able to come along.  He attended every concert, “persuading” her to press his sport coat each evening and providing nightly unsolicited performance critiques.   

“Joel believed in the power of music to move people,” Mary recalls. “He particularly understood the potential of combining text with music as transformative in nature. Choral music brings Joel’s memory to life for me.”  

A favorite memory Mary Delk and Sarah Brauer, Joel’s daughter, share is when he visited Austin in 2016 to see Sarah sing in Conspirare’s world premiere of Considering Matthew Shepard.  

Sarah recalls of her father: “He was a good listener. I’d tell him about the spiritual discoveries I was having as I sang that work,” she says. Once he told her: “Singing is your ministry. What you’re preaching through your voice is love.”   

“Joel was vibrant and fully engaged in the presence of another,” Mary adds, “and he had a deep appreciation of beauty.”  Audiences will benefit greatly from the new music that Conspirare will bring to life thanks to Joel’s family’s thoughtful generosity.  

A Few of Joel Brauer’s Favorite Things:

    • Golf with close friends (though he fought with his clubs weekly)
    • Family gatherings (especially meals) 
    • Books (poetry and history especially) 
    • All things British (Anglican cathedrals, hiking in the Lake District, Helen Mirren) 
    • Conspirare’s recording of “Sure on This Shining Night”

Previous Donor Spotlights

A Lifetime with Music: Eva and Marvin Womack

Eva and Marvin Womack

Music was at the center of Eva and Marvin Womack’s lives. While sheltering at home during the pandemic, classical music was always in the background on the radio or from a favorite CD. That is still true for Eva who is mourning the loss of her husband Marvin who passed away in September 2020.

Back when the couple was raising their children, now adults with children of their own, music was literally at the center of the family’s life. The Womacks lived in Cincinnati in a traditional 1920s-era home with a wide central hallway where a large antique cabinet resounded with music from the turntable and record collection housed inside.

A family favorite was Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” commemorating Russia’s victory over Napoleon’s army. The children would sit and listen to the dramatic 15-minute orchestral work with its rousing theme culminating in cannon fire, bells, and a brass fanfare.

“Music is the language of the world,” Eva Womack says. Her earliest memories of music are memorizing classical works for fourth grade music class and attending concerts with her parents at the art deco music hall at Fair Park in Dallas where she grew up. Eva sang with the choir throughout school and as an adult. “I got to sing with Craig in the mid-1990s,” she recalls with fondness.

Marvin was also a life-long music lover, playing the clarinet with orchestras and bands throughout school and college. He enjoyed hearing pieces come on the radio that he once played.

As their two children grew, Eva became involved with their public school and saw first-hand how music could help children succeed academically against great odds. “Where’s there’s music and the discipline that goes along with that, there is success,” she says.

Since they made Austin home many years ago, the Womacks felt lucky to be able to invest in Conspirare and other music and arts education programs.

“Craig is a genius,” Eva says, noting his artistic caliber as a conductor, arranger, and composer. “I love the Russian sacred music,” she adds. “It’s so haunting and comforting. We heard some Russian chanting in Moscow and it reminds me of that experience.”

“Austin is very blessed,” observes Eva. “Not many cities have so many major arts groups of such stellar quality.”

Eva Womack and her late husband Marvin shared the belief that a strong arts community—including working musicians, composers, and others—is key to a strong city. Most notably, they gave to Conspirare to underwrite a creative collaboration with the world-famous Miro Quartet. This unique production of Beethoven choral works will be the first artistic collaboration from these two local world-class music groups.

“I suspect more people are listening to classical music during these stressful times,” Eva observes. “It’s up to all of us to do all we can to invest in our vibrant arts community.”

Favorite piece to sing: Requiem, Op. 54 by Camille Saint-Saëns

Favorite Conspirare CD: The Sacred Spirit of Russia (2015 Grammy Award Winner)

Musical legacy: Marvin’s clarinet is now being played by his grandson!

Susanna Finnell

Susanna Finnell

Susanna on Life in Switzerland

I spent my childhood in Switzerland on a small farm. There was no TV, record player, or car. And I had to bike to school over a small mountain range, sometimes in snow, twice a day. There was no such thing as a school lunch. Lunch was a home affair. Intensive farming meant that each of our 10 members in the family had precise tasks, and no one could be exempted, or another had to take up the slack. My tasks included looking after my younger brothers and sisters, preparing the evening meal, cleaning the men’s dirty boots on Saturdays, and baking a cake for a Sunday treat. It also meant drying the dishes my grandmother washed from the four times we sat around the table each day eating.  My mother gave me pass from this duty if I agreed to walk the one mother sow and her 10–18 piglets in the orchard. I always preferred this choice. Walking under the apple, pear, plum or cherry trees with the pigs gave me the chance to commit to heart the new songs we learned at school, or the poetry we were supposed to memorize. Those piglets were my captive audience. Singing at school meant learning all stanzas of a song by heart. I practiced those songs with the trees and birds, hoping no one else would hear!“

Bringing Passion for Music to the States

“Singing is ingrained in Swiss culture. Every child at my small school knew to sing from notes. Both my father and mother and later, my brother, sang in village choirs. It was when they passed on that I decided to take up the baton because at that very moment Craig entered my life. He invited me to sing with Houston Masterworks after a friend introduced us. He drove to Houston every week to conduct. Suitably shy as an untrained voice, I found that I could sing with him and the HMC because he motivated us all to bring our best. Not forcing us, but he led with heart and by example and inspiration.

With our move to Austin, I met back up with Craig at a CD release party at Waterloo Records. I mentioned to Craig that I was missing a musical home in Austin, and he invited me to sing in Conspirare Symphonic Choir. As I learned more about the whole spectrum of Conspirare music—the recordings, Conspirare Christmas, and the Poet Sings series, and especially the Considering Matthew Shepard piece—I  appreciated more and more how much treasure Craig brings to Conspirare, to Austin, and to anyone who cares about the most basic of instruments, the human voice.”

International Music Influences

“As a Swiss girl, listening to the radio, American music meant Westside Story, Porgy and Bess, and I remember Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson as distinctive, amazing American voices. Their stories made me dream and fueled my curiosity to move away. A bachelor and doctorate degree later, earned in Canada, and an American husband who brought me to the States…Academia has provided us with a rich and interesting life that includes two children who now also live in Austin.

In my way of thinking, Considering Matthew Shepard, Craig Hella Johnson’s newest composition, recorded and filmed as a PBS special, and toured across the US and so far in a few European cities, will enter the music panoply by representing the best of what America has to offer musically to the world now and into the future.  Yes, I support Craig, his artistry, Conspirare and its singers, and I am proud to serve on its board. There is a girl in Switzerland who wants to be moved and inspired by music from America. Considering Matthew Shepard does all of that.”

Casey Blass and Lee Manford

Casey Blass and Lee Manford

We tell each other stories so that we will remember

Try and find the meaning in the living of our days 

-Craig Hella Johnson, from “We Tell Each Other Stories”

“When we were first approached about being involved with Considering Matthew Shepard, we knew we had to do it. It is a beautiful way to commemorate this heartbreaking event.  Some question the relevance of a story nearly twenty years old, but we believe that telling stories to honor the memory of our forebears is crucial to our growth and healing. We also believe that great story-telling results in thoughtful conversations; there’s power and hope in those conversations that change and nurture our hearts.”

Casey Blass and Lee Manford have spent much of the past 35 years working to reduce the effects of HIV/AIDS, 25 of those years as a committed couple. Their shared goal is to improve the health of community by eliminating stigma, celebrating diversity and improving access to health and social services. They have worked to support collaborative programs and institutions that together enrich lives and change the way we see and relate to one another.

Casey worked in public health agencies for 31 years at the local, state, federal, and international levels with 25 of those years focused almost exclusively on HIV and STD prevention and treatment. From 2003 until his retirement in 2010, he oversaw a broad array of public health programs for the State of Texas. He served 11 years as a member of the board and a term as Board Chair of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors in Washington, D.C.

Lee, a banker when he moved to Austin in 1981, volunteered and served on the board of Waterloo Counseling Center and was the founding Board Chair of AIDS Services of Austin (ASA). He returned to those roots as Executive Director of ASA in 1997, serving in that capacity until 2010. During his tenure, Lee worked with community partners on collaborative initiatives that improved access to services, addressed the effects of poverty, and maximized utilization of community resources.

Today, Casey and Lee focus their philanthropic interests on issues of equality, diversity and social justice.

Jeannie Wyatt

Jeannie Wyatt

Jeanie Wyatt, CFA, is a patron saint of numerous not-for-profit organizations throughout South and Central Texas, deeply committed from a young age to the arts in Texas, and is the founder of the successful financial firm South Texas Money Management.

Founded in December 2000, South Texas Money Management (STMM) has garnered a host of honors under Jeanie’s leadership. Barron’s magazine named Wyatt to the Top Financial Advisors by State list (2017 and 2016), the Top 100 Women Financial Advisors list (2017, 2016 and 2015), and the Top 100 Independent Advisors list (2012, 2011, and 2010). She was also named to wealthmanagement.com’s Top 10 Women-Owned RIAs list (2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013). Financial Times Magazine named her as one of the Top 100 Women Financial Advisors (2014), and the firm was listed in the Top 300 RIAs (2017, 2016, 2015and 2014). CNBC named STMM to their list of Top 100 Fee-Only Wealth Managers (2014 and 2015), and Forbes named the firm one of the Top 100 Wealth Managers (2016 and 2015). Based in San Antonio, South Texas Money Management has additional offices in Austin, Corpus Christi, Houston, and Dallas.

STMM’s long-term support of Conspirare has served as a catalyst for Craig Hella Johnson’s engagement in the innovative artistic expression that propelled Conspirare from a local professional choir to one with a regional, national, and international presence. Conspirare’s 2017 performance at the Texas Medal of Arts Awards Ceremony represents the culmination of our joint efforts with STMM to expand Conspirare’s Texas presence. This season, Conspirare reached 8,000 listeners through season performances and outreach events in Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Victoria, and College Station. STMM’s support made it possible for Conspirare to build capacity through return appearances in Houston and San Antonio in season 17-18.

Jeanie’s business acumen, knowledge of the financial world, and success in her field of financial planning have enabled her to transform numerous not-for-profit organizations.  Conspirare is not the only organization to benefit from her generosity, but numerous organizations have found sustaining support from South Texas Money Management–Girl Scouts of Central Texas, Association of Fundraising Professionals, and the Food and Wine Foundation of Texas, to name a few. In fact,  South Texas Money Management has given over $5million back to the communities in which it operates since its inception in 2000.  STMM has supported Conspirare since 2007 and became its Season Sustaining Underwriter in Season 2010-2011. In addition, STMM will be Conspirare’s Season Sustaining Underwriter for the next three seasons. So, to Jeanie and everyone at South Texas Money Management, thank you. We are profoundly grateful.

South Texas Money Management

J.P. and Monica O'Sullivan and Per Stirling

J.P. and Monica O’Sullivan and Per Stirling

This season we recognize the wealth and portfolio management firm Per Stirling and John Per (“J.P.”) and Monica O’Sullivan, valued contributors whose generous support helps sustain Conspirare. 

Driven by a “client first” philosophy and guided by the leadership of Managing Director John Per O’Sullivan  and Director Robert Stirling Phipps, Per Stirling was founded in 2009 with the goal of creating a firm focused on bringing fiduciary standards to the advisor/client relationship. In doing so, the firm exemplifies commitment and integrity, as evidenced by its selection as finalist in the 2017 Recognize Good® Ethics in Business and Community Awards. A regular participant in charity events, including the recent Honduras Good Works Top Golf Chip-In, J.P. and the organization value giving back as well as supporting their clients’ financial goals. Quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswire, and Thompson Reuters, the partners and advisors of Per Stirling are at the forefront of their field, knowledgeable of the investment landscape as it shifts, and monitoring trends. They develop detailed understanding of clients’ specific goals, and the firm offers an array of services including targeted planning for retirement, taxes, education, and cash flow. Portfolio management services are as unique and varied as the financial objectives of the clients and include both custom-designed portfolios managed by personal advisors and company-sponsored growth portfolios. They offer strategies for asset protection, charitable giving, and wealth transfer in addition to risk and benefits analysis and customized portfolios. 

Please join us in thanking J.P., Monica, and Per Stirling for their dedication, contributions to the community, and their support of Conspirare. Visit the Per Stirling website to read their investment blog on capital outlooks and tips on identity security, and to find an advisor committed to your goals.

Eric Copper

Eric Copper

A member of Conspirare’s Symphonic Choir, Eric Copper is a force for good. He began his commitment to Conspirare by being part of an extraordinary group of people who have given Considering Matthew Shepard wings. Not only did he invest substantially in the success of the work, he also brought the music to his network of friends, engaged them in conversations about love and acceptance, and worked tirelessly to ensure the public has access to Considering Matthew Shepard. With his help, the second leg of the CMS tour begins on Feb 21, 2018, in Dallas, Texas; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Oxford and Hattiesburg, Mississippi. In addition to his support of Conspirare and several other organizations, Eric is also an active member of the Boards of Trustees for The Long Center for the Performing Arts and Zach Theatre. 

Eric Copper is well known in the Austin real estate arena. Growing up in a family of Realtors, real estate is part of his DNA. Gary Keller, founder of Keller Williams Realty International, quickly recognized Eric’s leadership and emergence into the Austin market, hiring Eric in 2006 as the Broker for his flagship offices where he led over 1,600 agents and was responsible for over 7,000 transactions and $1B in sales volume annually. Returning to his roots in 2010, he is actively selling again (https://www.livinginaustintx.com), and his accomplishments have continued to receive notoriety. Since 2012, Eric has been recognized as both the #1 Top-Selling Agent in his company of over 800 agents and ranked #5 by the Austin Business Journal. Eric is a proud member of the prestigious and exclusive Platinum Top 50 and Elite 25™ organizations.

Born and raised in Chicago, Eric relocated to Austin in 2000 and has felt at home ever since. He is actively involved in the community serving as a major contributor and volunteering his time and leadership to several non-profit organizations that he is passionate about.

In his free time, Eric enjoys a wide variety of activities such as traveling, riding his bike, boating, and skiing. You might also find him performing periodically in musicals and singing in various venues. His most treasured time is with family and friends. 

Conspirare would like to thank Eric for his contributions and ongoing support. 

Pastor Bob Karli

Pastor Bob Karli

Conspirare has been enriched by the service of its board members, and we are grateful to have benefited from the service of Bob Karli for 16 years. Bob was President/Chair for four years and also held the positions of Vice Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary during his tenure. His life beyond our organization has been rooted in the First English Lutheran Church, where he was pastor for 23 years. Bob is also a member of the bass section in the Conspirare Symphonic Choir. Now retired, Bob continues to be an avid runner, having participated in eleven marathons, including Boston (2006) and the “Goofy Race and a Half Challenge” (2011) at Disney World. For the last 8 years, he’s been walking dogs at the Austin Animal Center one morning each week, and in his spare time, Bob and his older son, Matthew, enjoy homebrewing (at present KarliHaus Brewery has a Hefeweizen bottle conditioning/carbonating and a KarliFest Lager, Bavarian style Oktoberfest, fermenting).

When asked about what he loves about Conspirare, his service experiences on the board and for his church unite: “No one, no one, does choral music at the level of Conspirare, or with the depth of spirit. It is as close to choral perfection as it gets. It touches my heart, it feeds my soul, its sheer beauty brings me to tears of joy. For many years, until I retired, Conspirare Christmas provided the inspiration for my Christmas preaching. Amazing people (Craig, musicians, staff, board, patrons) come together to create music that changes lives and, ultimately, the world.” Bob has continued his support of Conspirare through a qualified charitable distribution, and we are grateful for his legacy of giving and service.


A Word on Qualified Charitable Distributions

Qualified charitable distributions have been permanently extended. Individuals who are at least 70 and a half years old can donate directly from a traditional or Roth IRA to qualifying charities, including Conspirare. Why is this attractive to some people? Because qualified charitable distributions can be used to satisfy required minimum distributions from an IRA without having the distribution included in their income.