Symphony music for all tastes and all ages

Symphony music can be heard everywhere -- in movies, television shows, videogames and more. Evette Pittman says people often don’t make the connection.

“Try to see a movie without the music,” she adds. “It’s not the same.”

Pittman is the Director of Development Events & Community Engagement at the Grand Rapids Symphony. That’s a long title, but basically, her main role with the organization is to get more people of all ages interested in listening to symphony music.

She’s currently planning a new event for November 30 that’s geared toward the “next generation,” or those under the age of 40. Details are still being planned, but Pittman says to expect something different, with somewhat of “a 'Rock of Ages' feel to it.”

The Grand Rapids Symphony is currently celebrating its 82nd season with the next one kicking off in September. With strong community support behind it, the Symphony is recognized as one of the leading regional orchestras in the U.S. and can even brag about receiving a 2007 Grammy Award nomination. They have produced 12 musical CDs as well, with the most recent one in 2010 distributed internationally.

More than 170,000 people attend one or several of the approximately 400 symphony performances each year. Educational and community service programs allow students, senior citizens and people with disabilities to account for nearly half of the total attendees.

Each year, Music Director David Lockington and Associate Conductor John Varineau lead the Symphony orchestra in presenting nine different concert series. These include:
-    Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series
-    Fox Motors Pops Series
-    SymphonicBoom
-    Crowe Horwath Rising Stars Series
-    Edward Jones Coffee Classics
-    Sacred Dimensions
-    PNC Lollipop Series
-    DTE Energy Foundation Family Series
-    D&W Fresh Market Picnic Pops at Cannonsburg Ski Area

The Symphony presents its “Symphony with Soul” concert to celebrate diversity within the community every year as well. The concert will be held this year on February 16 with a well-known guest musician soon to be announced. Proceeds from this event help support the Mosaic Scholar program, which offers private lessons, instrument rentals, concert tickets and more to African-American and Hispanic students between the ages of 11 and 18. This is part of a scholarship program initially created in 2006 with a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“So many kids can’t even dream,” Pittman says in reference to schools cutting art and music programs. The Mosaic Scholar program offers students a chance to learn from professional musicians and provides opportunities they may not have otherwise.

The Symphony’s educational programs give more than 77,000 students and adults the chance to experience music, including the popular free concerts to third and fifth grade children.

Marketing Manager Jacalyn Wood says the Grand Rapids Symphony performs a wide variety of concerts every season in order to be relevant. The goal is to offer something for everyone, no matter what age or musical tastes.

“We want to be a part of the community, educationally and inspirationally,” she says.

Tickets for each performance can be purchased at the Grand Rapids Symphony office or through Ticketmaster and are sold individually, as a package of discounted tickets or in blocks for groups. The prices vary depending on the event.  

Not everyone realizes the Grand Rapids Symphony is a nonprofit organization that relies on donors and sponsors to present the concerts and events that they do.

“Ticket sales only account for 33 percent of the operating budget,” says Wood, adding that donations and sponsorships pay for everything else.

With a staff of only around 30 people, the Symphony also depends on nearly 500 volunteers each year to help with concerts, events and in the office.

“Volunteers are the backbone of what we do,” says Pittman. “They’re almost family.”

For its upcoming 83rd season, the Grand Rapids Symphony will continue to provide entertainment for the whole family and people of all ages with a variety of exciting new concerts. The complete schedule can be found online, but if you’re unsure of where to start, Pittman encourages people to call or stop by the office and ask the staff. They are trained to be able to guide you in finding out what might suit you best.

Grand Rapids is fortunate to have a leading orchestra here in our town. Let's help them celebrate another 82 seasons.

Here are some ways to support the Grand Rapids Symphony:

-    Visit the Grand Rapids Symphony online to find out about upcoming concerts and to learn more about them.
-    Visit their office at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, or call 616.454.9451, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
-    Attend one of the many concerts and encourage your friends to join you. The upcoming schedule can be found online.
-    Volunteer at a concert, event or in the office.
-    Donate to the Grand Rapids Symphony.
-    Become a sponsor.
-    Like the Symphony on Facebook.
-    Follow @GRSymphony on Twitter.

Sources: Evette Pittman, Director of Development Events & Community Engagement, Grand Rapids Symphony, and Jacalyn Wood, Marketing Manager

Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Photos provided by the Grand Rapids Symphony.
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