"This is from our recent trip to Alaska. The beautiful woman is my wife of 42 years, Julie." -- Chuck Frayer
Interview with GRS Board Chair Chuck Frayer
by Linda Nelson
GRSMA was pleased and honored to have the opportunity to interview GRS Board Chair Chuck Frayer for our newsletter. Linda Nelson, GRSMA violinist and the musicians' elected representative to the GRS Board of Directors, sat down with Chuck recently for a frank and candid discussion that we know our readers will enjoy and appreciate.
GRSMA: During your time as GRS Board Chair, the orchestra performed in New York City’s Carnegie Hall, named Mary Tuuk as new President/CEO, and renewed music director Marcelo Lehninger’s contract until 2026. Exactly how does that feel to have overseen such landmarks for the organization?
CHUCK FRAYER: Well, those are all wonderful things. First of all, I thought that the trip to Carnegie was just amazing. We have a son who lives in New York City so we go there quite a bit, but I’d never been to Carnegie. It was just a very special evening. As far as Mary Tuuk becoming the new President/CEO, well, that was just an interesting turn of events. Mary was my Chair-elect and scheduled to become GRS Board Chair last May, so I had been working with Mary and felt that I knew her pretty well. Actually, Mary was chairing the President/CEO search committee, and I was not on it. But then, rather late in the process, Mary’s name surfaced as a candidate, so I immediately became chair of that search committee from that point forward. And then we put Mary through the process that all of the other candidates had been through before selecting her. And then Marcelo, well, I marvel at the GRS Music Director search process because I am from the business world where doing a search that lasted three years was, well, I’d never seen anything like that. I had chaired a search committee for St. Mary’s Hospital, and that lasted over six months, which I thought was lengthy! The cool thing is that we got the right person. Marcelo has been great for the community, with his wife Laura and the kids living in Grand Rapids now. I couldn’t be more excited about Marcelo staying on for another five years.
The musicians appreciate your service to the Grand Rapids Symphony. What led you to join the GRS Board of Directors?
Well, a number of things led to it. First, I had just come off of a ten year period on the Board of St. Cecilia Music Center, and I was Treasurer for nine of those years. Actually, I was Treasurer when we redid Royce Auditorium, and I loved being involved with an arts organization. But beyond that, I came to believe that for a community like Grand Rapids to work, you need a whole bunch of things to come together, because it has to be a place where people want to raise their kids, and a place where businesses want to locate and grow, and so it’s got to have great health care, great education, got to have the social service type programs, got to have entertainment, including the arts. Coming out of my term with St. Cecilia, and being so taken with the arts, I called the GRS President/CEO Bill Ryberg to say that I’d really like to be on the Grand Rapids Symphony board. So we had lunch and decided that it would work! Today I got a letter to say that I am at the end of my sixth term. That’s 18 years! It’s been a lot of fun. I get more out of these things than I give, I’m convinced.
We know that you particularly enjoy the GRS Pops series. Do you have a favorite GRS concert experience?
For my first number of years on the board, my wife and I were Pops subscribers. When I became chair-elect, I decided that we were going to subscribe to the Classical series, and so we are subscribers to both. I didn’t have any background in classical music. I didn’t play an instrument growing up, my parents didn’t take us to concerts, and I didn’t have any exposure to this. I loved music, but it was popular music. So, I wanted to get acquainted with classical music through the GRS. As far as a favorite experience, the concert that comes to mind immediately was the Verdi Requiem concert. That was so powerful. The way that the chorus interacted with the orchestra, it was such an amazing concert. I loved it. So, we’re fans of the classical series now.
The GRS has a number of new musicians joining us. What welcoming words of advice would you give to those who relocate to West Michigan?
Well, what a great place to live and raise a family. My wife and I moved here in 1979. Neither of us is from West Michigan. We raised three kids here. One stayed, one is thinking about coming back now and the other one is in NYC and he’ll probably be there forever. But this is just a wonderful place. Just look at how this symphony was built, with the community support, great musicians, and great leadership. Where we’re at today after 90 years, I think the next 90 years looks really good to me.
Also, I think about nature, I love the outdoors, the lake is so close and northern Michigan is just beautiful, but Grand Rapids has become pretty dynamic in a lot of ways. To become part of the community and not just work here, to really dig in and become part of the community, would be my advice.
If you had to pick a favorite instrument or section of the GRS, what would that be?
I am torn on this question! I love the percussion guys, but at the end of the day, I think that it's the violin section. I just love seeing all those violins making that music together. There’s something about seeing everyone doing the same thing, the teamwork. I just get a kick out of that.
Your tenure as Board Chair will end this soon. What advice would you give to those who follow you in that position?
It’s kind of cliché, but I think it is really important that when you step into a role for an organization that’s so important to this community, like the Grand Rapids Symphony, you can’t just come in and act like a caretaker. I really believe that things have to move forward. Nothing really stands still, it has to move forward. So, I think you have to go in with the idea that I want the organization to be better when I’m done than it was when I found it. I think that’s really what you have to think about all the time. For me, coming out of a public accounting background, I looked at the finances and thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could be stronger financially when I’m done? Now as it turns out, we have the musicians' contract that is going to expire, but former Board Chair Kate Pew Wolters and I were involved in those last meetings to get the contract. That was really, really important, because we had to make sure that we took care of what the musicians needed while at the same time being cognizant of what the Symphony could do, because it’s that today versus tomorrow, you’ve got to protect both. How do you leave things better? I thought that was a good thing, getting that five year contract, and I know we’re coming up on another one here soon. I am very hopeful that that will go well. I think, because of some of the early discussion, I am optimistic that it will. I think we’re better today financially by quite a bit than we were. Finishing in the black last year was a big accomplishment. I’m hopeful that we can do it again this year. And then the artistic piece, with Marcelo, I think he’s been great. I love his programs, I love seeing the feedback that the musicians give for Marcelo, to see the support that he has. Take stock of where we’re at and figure out what you can do to get us to a better spot some years further down, whatever that spot is.
Is there a particular GRS concert that you look forward to this season?
I’m really looking forward to the Pianist series with Ingrid Fliter in the spring. I love the piano, I love it when we have the piano with the orchestra, and I just love the fact that we’re going to do this new series. I think this sort of collaboration with the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival is part of who we are and who we should be, for sure. https://www.grsymphony.org/the-pianists
Is there anything else that you would like to share with us that I have not asked you about?
My wife and I have adopted a new 12-week-old puppy, Zena. She’s not too threatening to be a newcomer in our home with an older cat.
Finally, know that I have really enjoyed my time with the GRS. So many great relationships, people I would not have met had it not been for the symphony. And I’ve learned so much. It’ll be bittersweet in May when I am no longer the GRS Board Chair.