What was your gateway to music? Maybe it was the first time you heard a trumpet call, or the deep pulse of a drum, or maybe it was a field trip to a Symphony concert! Enjoy Gateways to Music through a series of stories from Grand Rapids Symphony musicians, students, and more below.
For many people, their gateway to music is one of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 18 music education and access programs. To provides these gateways, the Symphony relies on your support. Now through April 10th, your gift to the Grand Rapids Symphony will be matched dollar for dollar up to $50,000, thanks to the Daniel & Pamella DeVos Foundation.
Donate HERE and help ensure our many gateways to music are accessible to all.
My gateway to music began with two incredible music educators (my high school band directors who instilled a joy and love for music in all their students), and a clarinet resting in the attic of my home (that's how it was decided I would play the clarinet: because we already had one!).
When I was a sophomore in High School I got a "3" (far from great) at Solo & Ensemble Festival. I still have the judge's comments hanging on my study wall: "This piece is too hard for you." From that day forward, with the help of fabulous mentors, I was motivated to do better. The following year I received a "1+" and the encouraging words from the judge: "You need to major in music, and you need to attend Michigan State University." Well, I did, and with stops at the University of Wyoming and the Yale School of Music, I ended up here as the Associate Conductor of the Grand Rapids Symphony.
Throughout my 36 years as Associate Conductor, I’ve dedicated my career to creating pathways to music appreciation through our Gateway to Music initiatives. What has made this possible? The generosity of many wonderful donors in our community has provided valuable Symphony experiences for thousands of students, from pre-school through high school, every year. Please join them in helping us continue to provide these programs!
As I retire this year, I am confident that our Gateway to Music initiatives will carry on, with your help.
Being a Mosaic Scholar was one of Jonelle’s gateways to music. “I still remember my 6th-grade audition…I was a little intimidated and nervous…a few months later I got an acceptance letter in the mail and I was surprised, excited, and ready to begin.”
Jonelle and 19 other African American and Latinx students were each paired with a Symphony musician to learn to master their instruments. Through those partnerships, Mosaic Scholars build valuable skills like personal discipline, perseverance, and the pride that comes from accomplishing your goals.
As a Mosaic Scholar Jonelle learned that she didn’t need to be a perfect musician and that mistakes could help her learn to grow as a musician and as a person. Jonelle is using her experiences as Mosaic Scholar and is applying them as she studies to become an accountant. “But don’t you worry, I don’t let my cello collect dust.”
Learn more about Jonelle’s story and experience HERE.
Grand Rapids Symphony violinist Linda Nelson’s gateway to music was being part of the Cincinnati Youth Symphony Orchestra. “We were all high school students exploring amazing works for the very first time. For most of us it was our first experience making music with so many different types of instruments all played excellently by other young students.”
Hear more of Linda’s poetic retelling of her time in the Cincinnati Youth Symphony Orchestra HERE.
Today, Linda is a vital member of the Grand Rapids Symphony and has performed in DeVos Hall and in the community for over 35 years. She also takes her talents into classrooms as part of an educational ensemble. Her favorite gateway to music that the Symphony offers is the Neighborhood Concert Series. Each year, the Grand Rapids Symphony leaves the concert hall to perform free concerts in community parks and venues.
“As much as I love performing downtown, it brings me even more satisfaction for our Grand Rapids Symphony to bring live music to the children and families of Grand Rapids in their own neighborhoods.”
The Neighborhood Concert Series is made possible by the gifts of generous sponsors and donors.
Principal Percussionist Bill Vits experienced his gateway to music at the Fourth of July Parade in Evanston, Illinois in 1961.
“I was impressed by the Scottish Shrine Band that had bass drummers twirling their sticks with elaborate routines. Two years later I started piano in Nashville which lasted until I heard the teacher's son playing drums in his bedroom. I asked my Mom if I could take drum lessons and she agreed if I promised to practice more than I watched TV.”
When not performing with the symphony, ballet, opera or Broadway Theater you can find Bill drumming with "The Concussions," a 60's surf rock combo. In addition to performing with the orchestra for 42 years, Bill Vits plays the drums for thousands of third graders from around West Michigan.
“My favorite Gateway to Music program might be my Percussion Discussion that I've done for Third Graders for the past 20 years! I've had adult strangers stop me on the street to tell me they remember seeing my program when they were in grade school and now their children are attending.”
See Bill in action HERE.
Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus member Kate traces her gateway to music back to her childhood.
“One of the earliest childhood memories that I can recall is of my mom singing me lullabies before I went to sleep. As time went on, I would sing with her. That memory was my gateway to music. Music became an undercurrent in my life.”
Kate is now a high school sophomore and weekly from September to May joins her voice with almost 200 students in the Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Chorus. Chorus members experience more than excellent choral training and the opportunity to perform with the Symphony, the Youth Chorus is also a setting for positive peer relationships and personal growth.
Experience the Grand Rapids Youth Chorus perform “Come and Sing” here.
What was your gateway to music? Did the stories of John Varineau, Jonelle, Linda, Bill, or Kate trigger any memories for you?
We hope the Grand Rapids Symphony is one of them. When you make a gift please add a comment with your story. Or email us at email@example.com.
Many of us are not professional musicians but still have a deep love for music and the Grand Rapids Symphony. Ric Roane and Leandro Robles are longtime Grand Rapids Symphony patrons and supporters. Ric has served a board member since 2016 and sat on the committee for the Symphony’s Bach Festival. You can find Ric and Leandro at almost all of the Richard & Helen DeVos Classical concerts.
They shared a little about their lives and their gateways to music with us:
What were your gateways to music?
Ric: I grew up in Seattle and my first symphony experience was going to a performance of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra as a 5th grader for their concert in the schools’ series. I was hooked and that year I began playing clarinet in the band.
Leandro: Raised in northern Argentina, I accompanied my father to Friday barbecues where his friends would play Argentine and Spanish folk music on guitars, bandoneons and percussion instruments and sing ballads and drink wine.
What made you music lovers?
Ric: My love of music derives from the diversity of musical styles, from modern to classical or regional or nationalistic.
Leandro: The beauty of music is sensible and I cannot recall one day in my entire life when I was not surrounded by music.
What is your favorite memory of the Grand Rapids Symphony?
Ric: Without question, the 1812 Overture at Picnic Pops when the cannons go off and the summer sky is filled with the spectacle of fireworks. Thrilling!!
Leandro: I love when the symphony leaves the performance hall and goes into the community into different and diverse spaces, bringing its beauty to a broader audience.
What is your favorite Gateway to Music Program? Why?
Ric: Since it was my gateway to music, my favorite is the 5th Grade Concert series. My hope is that new generations of children will be inspired to a lifetime of music appreciation and perhaps performance starting with the 5th grade concerts.
Leandro: I love the Neighborhood Concert Series as it brings music into the community and makes symphonic music accessible to a diverse audience.
In addition to being subscribers, Ric & Leandro are Symphony supporters. Orchestra performances and the music education programs we know and love are not possible without the support of people like you.
Join Ric & Leandro and make a gift to support the Grand Rapids Symphony.