“We want to be led by musicians”

Talking with Matthew Koveal and Marjorie Goldberg of the No Name Pops about their October 28 debut, Let’s Groove Tonight: Motown and the Philly Sound

5 minute read
17 orchestra musicians surround Holloway, a Black woman, singing at center stage in a black skirt and top.
The No Name Pops onstage at World Cafe Live with singer Paula Holloway. (Photo by Bachrach Photography.)

Earlier this year, the Philly POPS, whom audiences haven’t heard since the 2022 holiday season, were evicted from the Kimmel for unpaid rent and filed an ongoing lawsuit. Last May, many former members of the Philly POPS launched a new nonprofit orchestra, the No Name Pops, and its official debut is coming up with two concerts on Saturday, October 28, at Verizon Hall, with a program dubbed Let’s Groove Tonight: Motown and the Philly Sound.

The No Name Pops are already feeling a groundswell of support from musicians, conductors, and patrons in Philadelphia and around the country, violist Marjorie Goldberg and executive director Matthew Koveal told BSR. Members have been playing unpaid, un-ticketed performances around Philadelphia, from quartets to full orchestra, to spread the word about their new organization and their mission to break down barriers around orchestra music.

Saturday’s program, hosted by Jim Gardner and conducted by Herb Smith, features Chester Gregory of Motown the Musical, Brik Liam, and Ashley Jayy. Smith and some members of the No Name Pops also played on many original recordings by the O’Jays, Temptations, and other artists whom the program honors. For more on the new Pops and its debut, here’s our interview with Goldberg and Koveal, edited for length and clarity.

BSR: When did former members of the Philly Pops decide to form the No Name Pops? How did that process work, and how did it feel for each of you?

Marjorie Goldberg: The Philly Pops announced they were going to dissolve around last November, and the musicians had started meeting pretty regularly to discuss options. Matt and I are friends, so I shared with him that we were meeting, and soon after, Matt came aboard. [The Philly POPS subsequently changed course, promising to make a comeback that has not yet materialized.]

Matthew Koveal: Yeah, as Marge said, they had a group that was monitoring what was going on, and rightfully so. Around March, they reached out to me, and they knew my experience, knew I cared about musicians and patrons, and they knew I may be crazy enough to join their group. It’s always been my dream to start a new organization in which we can do it exactly the way we want to do it, the way we think is the right way to treat people. So, I jumped at the opportunity, and I was working pro bono for a while just because I care about these musicians and this city.

MG: The music community is little and big, which is great, and we had so many people reaching out to us offering to help. I want it understood, [in case] other musicians were to do something like this—which other orchestras have done, where there have been problems, and the musicians have gone on their own—the generous offers that we got from Broadway singers, music production companies, conductors who have worked with us once, it was so moving and touching. And that’s from the heart, that’s not how the business is. That’s people wanting to see us succeed. People who are completely busy and don’t need to come conduct for free.

MK: We also are so fortunate to have a public-relations firm working pro bono, we have a law firm in Philadelphia that is working for us pro bono, we have an accountant working pro bono for us, marketing people working pro bono. So, it’s obvious the city of Philadelphia wants us to succeed.

BSR: How does the organizational structure of the No Name Pops compare with the organizational structure of other ensembles you have worked with?

MK: The organization was started by musicians, we have musician representation on our board, we have in our by-laws that there will always be two members that are musicians, and there will be musician representation on every committee, so we’re trying to create all these checks and balances. And musicians have great ideas! In a traditional orchestra organization, there’s a lot of dictating, there’s a lot of management and board telling the musicians what to do. But we want to listen to musicians; we want to be led by musicians.

View from behind the orchestra players onstage, some wearing Philly sports jerseys, with the conductor at center.
The view from the orchestra: The No Name Pops play at Philadelphia Performing Arts String Theory Charter School. (Photo by Bachrach Photography.)

MG: In my experience, playing in many different orchestras, there are some orchestras that value musician involvement, and there are some that just consider musicians a line item that can be deleted any time. So, there’s a spectrum there, and we appreciate that Matt recognizes that a collaborative environment with the musicians is a good thing because we think it’s a good thing as musicians! I think Matt himself, as a person who plays an instrument and who has worked for other organizations, recognizes that collaboration is always better than dictation.

MK: I was a union musician for a while, I’ve played with union orchestras as a trumpet player, I was also an IATSE stagehand for a while. So, I have maybe not as much experience as the musicians, but I have felt those things that they have felt, so I understand who they are at least a little.

BSR: What do you look forward to most in this month’s program?

MG: From a performer’s perspective, I’m really excited just to walk back out on stage at the Kimmel. It was inspiring to play as a full orchestra last month, which was the first time we were all together as a big ensemble, and that’s what I like personally. I feel like the musicians will feel such pride in this product that we’re gonna share with our audience; I think it’s gonna be emotional and very satisfying to share that.

MK: Selfishly, I’m excited for this style of music because it’s some of my favorite, but mostly I’m excited to show the world that we can do it this way—that we can treat people with respect and listen to each other. It’s a celebration of our organization getting this far. The fact that we launched in May and just a few months later we’re playing the biggest stage in Philadelphia seems quite impossible, but with the support of our community and the people who have been dedicating time to us for free, pretty much anything is possible.

What, When, Where

Let’s Groove Tonight: Motown and the Philly Sound. Conducted by Herb Smith. The No Name Pops. $41-$111. October 28, 2023, at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’s Verizon Hall, 300 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 893-1999 or kimmelculturalcampus.org.


Kimmel Cultural Campus venues are wheelchair-accessible. Visit the Kimmel's accessibility page for more info.

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