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Haijin Choi and the Meijer Gardens Chamber Music Series

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All smiles after a July 2023 concert that featured music by Mozart, Caroline Shaw, and Leoš Janáček. Left to right: GRSMA violist Barbara Corbató, GRSMA cellist Jinn Shin, GRSMA violinist Haijin Choi, and GVSU violin professor Letitia Jap. (Photo Credit: Colin Bianchi)

We all know that GRSMA violinist Haijin Choi has an eye for quality and detail. And we just don't mean her dedicated work as our Orchestra Committee Chair (or her forward sense of fashion!). Haijin's deep love for musical collaborations led to the creation of a chamber music series at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, West Michigan's largest non-profit organization.


GRSMA members encouraged us to feature Haijin Choi in our spring newsletter about the chamber music series that she created at Meijer Gardens. Here are some questions that we posed to Haijin to learn more about how this all came about, and we wish her well for the fifth season of this chamber music series.

GRSMA: What led to the creation of this series at Meijer Gardens?

HAIJIN CHOI: I had been thinking how strange it is that we didn’t have classical music offerings in Grand Rapids during the summer, while we have so many fine musicians in this area. As much as I love performing symphonic music on a big stage, I missed the intimacy of chamber music as well as direct collaborations between players. Having occasional lunches with some friends who shared my aspirations led me to a meeting with David Hooker, the former CEO of Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, in the fall of 2019. As a result, Sunday Strings was born in 2020, and the rest is history.


GRSMA: How has the series evolved or expanded since it began?


HC: Ah, the good old pandemic! Like all of us, I didn’t expect to have a pandemic in 2020. While most indoor activities were closed, Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park kept the outdoors open, and we were lucky to start the very first season only with three concerts. I will never forget the crowd who came to the first concert, just to experience live music again. My dear GRSMA friend Beth Colpean and I played a violin/harp duet for a great crowd who were sitting distanced on the grass. The first two seasons of the series only had outdoor concerts due to the pandemic, and that was very challenging for both the musicians and the audience. During the first three seasons, I included some programs that featured non-classical music, such as acoustic string instruments. And then last year we had great success with only classical music programming. This year, we will have a mini anniversary which will feature five concerts, in celebration of our fifth season, and I can’t wait to make and share the music with my colleagues and the audience. 


GRSMA: What makes chamber music so special and unique for both the performers and the audience members?


HC: I love having discussions with fellow musicians when we rehearse chamber music. It is so fascinating how we are completely in sync sometimes, and then have differing approaches and ideas at other times. The beauty is finding the middle ground, and that creative process binds the musicians. For the audience, including myself, witnessing human beings perform and express emotion together without a physical leader (a conductor with a baton) is an incredible experience. 


GRSMA: Please give us some details about the upcoming fifth season of the series.


HC: Sunday Strings 2024 will be on every Sunday between July 7th and August 11th. In this season, we will have a string quintet, clarinet quartet, piano trio, horn trio, music for solo violin and solo cello by J.S. Bach, and a surprise concert for the final one! All of the performers are from the Grand Rapids Symphony and the West Michigan area. All of the programs will be announced and published ahead through Meijer Gardens’ social media and email communication, except for the very last concert. You have to come to the concert to find out what we have -- I promise that it’s a very good program! Also, there will be a small celebration at the conclusion of the fifth concert in honor of our fifth anniversary season! 


GRSMA: Can you give any insider tips for a new audience member?


HC: Since there isn't assigned seating, I have noticed that some regular audience members arrive early to reserve their preferred seats. If you like watching musicians and listening to more details at a close distance, I suggest that you come early. And please stay after the concert to walk about and enjoy the gardens, which enhances the entire experience. 


GRSMA: Is there a memorable moment from a past concert that you wish to share with us?


HC: Two seasons ago, my piano trio played “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as an encore, which was arranged by Nicholas Buc (who will conduct the "Home Alone" GRS concerts next season). After the concert, an elderly lady came up to me in tears and said “my late husband sang this song for me holding my hand when we were having a roadtrip.” That was so sweet!


GRSMA thanks Haijin Choi for her outstanding work in promoting chamber music in our community and wishes her well for the fifth season of the series at Meijer Gardens.

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