10th Anniversary of GRSMA's "I Got Rhythm" Video
In the summer of 2011, GRSMA musicians created a video to show their commitment to the West Michigan community. As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of our "I Got Rhythm" video in 2021, here are updates (in order of appearance) from the sixteen musicians who were highlighted.
Jamie and Megan Crawford/violin
How delightful to see our family back in 2011! Since then we have added one new member to our Crawford orchestra, who was quick to take up the violin.
It was beautiful to see this video again ten years later. I miss the musicians who have retired. Many spent their entire adult life at the GRS. They brought musical depth, excellence, and professionalism. They leave a legacy that we will continue to uphold. Music speaks to the soul, but it is grounded in the discipline of every aspect of life. Longevity as a musician relies on knowledge, creativity, and good physical and mental health. There is a segment of me running in the video. Ten years later, I am glad to say that I am still running.
Looking at the video ten years on, I still remember how working on this innovative project brought the musicians of the GRS together. The beauty of it is the way it highlights our various contributions to the community above and beyond what we're known for, our musicianship, while still featuring that too. I remember how thankful we were for decent weather for the shoot at Calder Plaza and, of course, to have such a great piece of art and the symbol of our city as a visual environment. I have remained on the board of directors at St Cecilia Music Center and am still proud to be involved there as it is the Symphony's second home, the place where I won a full time job with the GRS, and also (and not least!) where my wife and I had our first date hearing Diana Krall on her first national tour. And a huge shout out to Martin Hogan for his impressive video artistry!
What a privilege to be on stage with the world-class members of the Grand Rapids Symphony! The Grand Rapids community has always been so enthusiastic and supportive -- an exceptional organization for an exceptional city. Since retiring from the GRS in 2014, I started a new career as a nurse at Fulton Manor. Since the facility closed, I have not been working except occasionally as a house painter. At the moment I am looking for a spot administering COVID vaccinations. My personal record in 2011 of donating 13 gallons at West Michigan Blood Bank has been extended today to 16 gallons.
It is hard to believe it has been ten years since we made the video. So much has changed: retirements, new faces, and many life changes. Throughout the last ten years there has been such wonderful artistic growth within the organization. My hope for the next decade is even more artistic and organizational growth, bringing our Grand Rapids and West Michigan audiences even more unforgettable concert experiences with all of my incredible Symphony colleagues and our exceptional artistic leadership, supported by our wonderful Board of Directors and second-to-none administrative team.
Our "I Got Rhythm" video at Calder Plaza received national attention, placing GRSMA on the map with orchestras across the country. It was shown at conferences as an example of how to showcase the good work musicians do in their communities. In addition, it led to the creation of a new media agreement by our musicians' union (AFM, the American Federation of Musicians). Since our 2011 video, GRSMA had a few more fund-raising activities to promote childhood literacy. Unfortunately, the Schools of Hope program no longer exists at our local United Way. I trust that the two young students who were featured with me in the video continue to be avid readers. Something tells me that they have moved beyond our book about the adventures of Biscuit the dog by now!
Leslie van Becker/viola
I remember the excitement of making this video, the blessedly beautiful weather, and the joy of working with my colleagues on this innovative project. Martin Hogan (who just happens to be married to my GRS stand partner, Barb Corbato) did a fabulous job of filming and directing the video. I was extremely impressed with the J. L. Fisher dolly that Marty rode on while he filmed. As I rewatch the video ten years later, I am reminded of how we all are part of our ensemble but also have things we do to give back to and be part of the community. I am still painting and working on old houses. I am proud of our beautiful downtown neighborhood and love the businesses and restaurants that are on our historic Wealthy Street corridor. At this time, I am grateful to be streaming concerts to our devoted audience. I still love to play my viola and am looking forward to playing concerts with all my colleagues in a hall with a live audience soon.
Martha and Mike Bowman/bassoon and trumpet
In all the 45 years that we were in the GR Symphony, we were involved in many volunteer endeavors taken on by the musicians. We were always so proud that so many of our colleagues were willing to take time out of their busy schedules to lend a hand for fundraising, performing in homes, etc. When we all decided that we needed a way to educate the community as to who we were, the idea of a video came up and we ran with it! All of us in that video thought of the GRS as our career, not just a stepping stone to somewhere else. Grand Rapids was our home, so we wanted to be seen as real community members and not just the "elite" classical musicians on the DeVos Hall stage. It was so much fun to put this together -- fun to see those tiny foster kittens and think of the many brides who were serenaded down the aisle. The video was a rousing success and so well done. It made both of us happy and so proud.
Watching our "I Got Rhythm" video again after ten years, I was struck by how many musicians who appeared in it are still active in the orchestra and also in the community. He is not a musician, but the wonderful videographer of this piece, Marty Hogan, is very active in helping the orchestra do audio/visual projects currently. This piece pointed the organization toward a new and innovative path for presenting the orchestra.
Watching this certainly brought back many memories since I no longer live in West Michigan! Ten years later, I have fond memories of my 27 years with the GRS, particularly this project which symbolized the unity and camaraderie of a well-oiled organization. We fared well during the ensuing years after this video was produced. Many orchestras have not fared so well. I attribute this to a strong union and the team work required to stand together in hard times. The GRS members who have been leaders in fortifying our union, I give many, many kudos for their steadfast commitment to excellence not only in music making but in the politics of creating high art. Several years after the video was made, I retired from the Grand Rapids Symphony. I’ve moved on and have entered into another chapter of my amazing life. For three years I travelled throughout the country on a spiritual "walkabout" and today I am caring for my aging parents during their later years and these times of COVID.
It was great to see our video ten years on -- my how we have aged! For its part, the video has aged very well. The music, combined with great shots of the orchestra playing under the Calder and cut aways to individual musicians, make for a very beautiful production indeed, one that we can still be proud of today. It reminds me of how very much I owe to this community of musicians for the privilege of having a life in music here in Grand Rapids. It also recalls a time when, with the economy struggling to recover from the Great Recession, our orchestra, like so many others, was experiencing considerable economic insecurity. I’m reminded of Morgan Freeman’s line from “The Shawshank Redemption”; it was time "to get busy living or get busy dying”. Well, we took the collective decision to keep this orchestra, and the art we so love, alive. Maybe it was something of a coming of age moment for us as an orchestra. It certainly has had an impact on the orchestra we have become in the ensuing ten years, and I know we are the better for it.
Our "I Got Rhythm" video was a powerful tool in the solidarity of our orchestra. The organization of it required cooperation and creative thinking to make it happen. It also required funding to do it right. We have a violin angel, Larry Herzberg, who loved our orchestra and who financially came to our aid. After securing the rights to perform the music, we recorded the audio in Central Reformed Church, and I remember minimally conducting and counting off from the drumset. A great orchestra often just needs a simple pulse to get started as we listen so intently to one another. It sounded wonderful to play in that acoustic environment, and we accomplished it quickly. Then we planned the outdoor shoot where we synced our playing to the recording under the Calder, the artistic symbol of our city. This is more difficult than it seems, but the camera work was world class and cutaways to various members in the community showed our commitment to our philanthropic city. The video was almost impossible to criticize, as its beauty and truth elicited an emotional reaction from all who saw it. It was one of my proudest moments in my 42 years with the Grand Rapids Symphony as its Principal Percussionist.
Seeing the video of many of my colleagues in the Grand Rapids Symphony performing in front of the famous Calder stabile from ten years ago brings to mind something I’ve thought about many times in my 30+ years here: how glad I am to be part of a great orchestra in a wonderful city. The Grand Rapids Symphony has experienced many highlights, including a worldwide nomination for a Grammy award, performances in world-famous Carnegie Hall, concert tours throughout all of Michigan (including our beloved Upper Peninsula) and making about a dozen recordings. However, the most important highlight for our Symphony is the music we present to our friends and neighbors here in West Michigan every week. This video of GRSMA members performing in view of the Calder stabile is a visual reminder of what a great place our part of the world is, and how great arts organizations contribute to and enhance the vitality of greater Grand Rapids.
Diane McElfish Helle/violin
I have wonderful memories of performing Gershwin under Grand Rapids’ iconic sculpture in Calder Plaza. I still view with delight our unison bow at the conclusion of the video, a spontaneous decision at the end of the shoot to acknowledge our audience. When a city has the vision and the commitment to create and support an orchestra like the Grand Rapids Symphony, there is a connection that develops between its performers and the public that is deep and broad. The video illustrated just some of the ways that the symphony musicians were involved with the wider community at that time – in my case, as a board member of the Westminster Food Pantry. Ten years later, I am no longer serving on that board, but I am still a supporter of its work and mission. Currently, my energy is focused on the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Music for Health Initiative and our Therapy Partnership Program which sends musicians into local hospitals to provide live music for music therapy sessions. Our work serves children, veterans, cancer patients, and people recovering from traumatic brain injury. That program did not exist ten years ago, but now it involves 17 trained musicians, all committed to taking our music off the stage and into our community.
The great majority of the musicians who took part in our video a decade ago are still in the orchestra, and it is this continuity which has helped our symphony to perform so extremely well as an ensemble. But there are also a significant number of extremely talented young musicians who have joined the orchestra since that video was made who have enhanced this magnificent ensemble even further. Over the past decade, the musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony have continued to serve the community in a great variety of ways outside of the concert hall, as was highlighted in that brief video on Calder Plaza, which includes the Music for Health initiative in which several dozen GRS musicians have worked with physical therapists across the area to bring healing to so many patients in recent years.