by Margaret Gage
Former GRS Third Horn
Welcome to December, the most box-filled month of the year! There are gift boxes, mail boxes, jewelry boxes, music boxes, candy boxes. . . all in the service of the holiday season, each in a different way. Then there are moving boxes, which most people would like to avoid at this time of year. I have always hated them; well, actually, I just hate moving. I've lived in the same house for 35 years, mostly because I can't bear the thought of loading up all my stuff.
Not so when I was first starting out, fresh out of grad school. I had been playing in the Grand Rapids Symphony for several years but didn't yet live here. But the orchestra got busy enough that it seemed like a good idea to make the move. And I was excited! My partner and I were moving into an apartment in a neat old home in Heritage Hill, and luckily my parents had enough extra furniture and housewares that we were set from the start. I didn't mind using a card table in the dining room, and the mismatched chairs were kind of charming.
I was most excited about moving here for the orchestra. There were so many plans in the works that made it seem like I might have a future here. It was the beginning of the Artist-in-Residence program (the first full-time players), the season was expanding, and there was a feeling of anticipation throughout the organization. I supplemented my per-service Symphony pay by teaching private horn students and working as a typist at Saint Mary's Hospital. It was hard making ends meet, but I felt it would be worth it.
And I was not alone. Little by little, other musicians moved to town to be part of the orchestra. Word was out: the Grand Rapids Symphony was going places, doing things.
But I have a confession to make, and it has to do with boxes. For the first few years I was here, I didn't completely unpack. I wasn't sure I would be staying. I took auditions for other orchestras where the pay was better, but didn't win a job. After a while, I realized my heart really wasn't in it when it came to auditions, because I liked it HERE. I loved the orchestra, I'd made good friends, and the city was a good fit for me. Without realizing it, I had made Grand Rapids my home, and I have not regretted my decision.
I am not alone in this metamorphosis. More than 80% of the orchestra moved here specifically for a job in the Symphony. And 94% of them consider Grand Rapids “home.” They have done what I finally did. They unpacked those boxes and made a life here, as orchestral players, private lesson teachers, community volunteers, church members and voting citizens of Grand Rapids.
Which brings me to another type of box. One that everyone seems to talk about. “Think outside the box.” Can Symphony Board and management rekindle the vision, that “outside the box” thinking, that brought all of these treasured musicians to Grand Rapids? Or is it time for those musicians to start gathering up the other kind of boxes? Or perhaps they should never have unpacked. . . .