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In the long run you only hit what you aim at.

(Henry David Thoreau)


by Diane McElfish Helle - GRS Violinist


In 1980, Grand Rapids heralded the opening of DeVos Performance Hall and a newly expanded Grand Rapids Symphony to perform in it. Ten new full-time positions were added to the “core” and a new young conductor, Semyon Bychkov, took to the podium. The reputation among musicians around the country was that this was an orchestra on its way up. If you wanted to be part of something very good, Grand Rapids was a good place to go. 


Fast forward to the present, to a city that boasts both a skyline and a rich cultural life that few could have even imagined in 1980. Fortunately for all of us, there were people who did “think big”, imagining and then realizing the possibilities for art and dance and theatre and music. As a result, the citizens of our city now enjoy a cultural life with the quality and variety that one usually only expects to find in much larger cities.


The people who envisioned a professional orchestra in Grand Rapids were realistic about what that would take.  The symphony offered a stable living, eventually growing to 42 weeks of work, excellent health insurance and, starting in 1990, payments into a retirement account. Those are probably not the lofty subjects most people think about when pondering a Life in the Arts.  But they were actually key reasons that fine musicians were able to come and stay and share their music with Grand Rapids through the years, building the Grand Rapids Symphony into the first-rate ensemble it is today. 


With hundreds of concerts, a performance in Carnegie Hall, a Grammy nomination, numerous premieres and recordings, partnerships with ballet and opera, and the one-of-a- kind Live Arts extravaganza of 2015 now behind us, everyone involved with Grand Rapids Symphony has much to be proud of.


But now it’s time for more of that “big thinking” that brought us here. It is time to focus on the future, particularly on making our symphony the place where another generation of fine musicians will be excited to come and be able to thrive throughout their careers, ensuring that the Grand Rapids Symphony will remain absolutely at the center of life and the arts in our vibrant, booming city.

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