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Interview with Renee Tabben, Chairperson/GRS Board of Directors


We were pleased to sit down with the newly-elected GRS Board Chairperson Renee Tabben to learn about her fascinating background in the arts and why the Grand Rapids Symphony is special to her.


GRSMA: The GRS musicians appreciate your service to the Grand Rapids Symphony! What led you to join the GRS Board of Directors in 2015?


Music has always been part of my life, and I am passionate about the important role a symphony plays in the vitality of a city. My mom once told me, “You only want to live in a city that has a symphony!” And we all know to follow the wisdom of our mothers. One of the first people I met when my family arrived in Grand Rapids was Diane Lobbestael. She was quick to invite my family to enjoy the GRS and, thanks to her warmth and interest, it only seemed natural to say yes when she suggested I consider serving on the board.


GRSMA: Since you started your term as GRS Board Chairperson, we were pleased to see your idea of having breakfast meetings so that board members, musicians, and staff can connect. How is that going?


Connecting with one another over a meal is such a gift. Over the course of six different sessions we all learned a great deal. Everyone had the chance to share their perspectives on the symphony and to discuss all the opportunities ahead of us. Perhaps what I valued the most was hearing why each person was part of GRS. Hearing the personal stories that were shared, we discovered a common energy that is going to propel us forward. We uncovered a great deal of energy and ideas in those sessions. Heading into the summer, we are in a good position to capitalize on those findings and put them into action.


GRSMA: Tell us about your musical background. Did you grow up playing an instrument or singing?  


Classical music has surrounded me for as long as I can remember. Each Sunday morning my father used to wake us up to his favorite classical recordings at a very loud volume. As a young girl I studied ballet, and the music that came with it was energizing. By fifth grade I was determined to begin studying violin, and though my school didn’t have an orchestra program, my mother made sure I studied with a teacher from the Cincinnati Symphony. By middle school I added voice lessons to the mix. The powerful foundation of classical music that my family provided allowed me to compete at state level at an early age, travel to multiple performance venues across the Midwest, perform with well-known groups like the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus, and eventually earn a theater and voice scholarship to Butler University. My years at Jordan College of Fine Arts prepared me for a successful career in voice and theatre. My life has always had a soundtrack!


GRSMA: We were interested to see that you earned an undergraduate degree in arts administration from Butler University in Indianapolis. Has that training assisted you in your current position as the President for Bank of America, Grand Rapids?


I am a BIG advocate of music education and fully believe that participating in the arts prepares you for much in life. The arts teach you how to communicate and connect on a human level, which is central to any business endeavor. 


When I first started at Butler, all I focused upon was refining my craft, earning meaningful performance opportunities, and moving to New York City. However, without the experience of the curriculum and internships of the Arts Administration degree, I would not have been as prepared for success – both as a performer and later for the business world.  


I am grateful for my experience at Butler and feel so strongly about the Arts Admin experience that I helped to establish a scholarship program for future students. There is significant value at the intersection of performing arts and business. I want to help others experience that and bring the power of the arts into other settings.


GRSMA: Since moving to Grand Rapids, what changes have you observed in our city?


When my family and I decided to move to Grand Rapids in 2014, we knew we would be coming to a city that was a good place to raise a family. Little did we know what a special place West Michigan is! Over the years we have enjoyed seeing the area grow, attract new businesses and families, and continually change to accommodate that growth. There seems to be building and development everywhere as others see the value of what our region has to offer. We are fortunate to be part of a vibrant, caring community that values the arts, has a global perspective, and aims to be the place to establish a career, start a business, retire or simply enjoy the outdoors. I am so proud to say we live in Grand Rapids when I travel across the country.


GRSMA: This issue of our newsletter introduces the new President/CEO of the Grand Rapids Symphony. (See the article HERE) Since you chaired the search committee (and a huge THANK YOU for doing so!), are there any takeaways that you can share with us?


What an honor to be part of this exciting time for our symphony! As we approach our 100 year anniversary, the committee and I understood the need to identify a strong leader to guide the organization into our next century. First, I want to recognize the many hours of dedication our committee provided as we considered many, many candidates over the course of nine months. Their commitment to the GRS is truly remarkable as I think about the many meetings and discussions we hosted. Next, I would share that I am so pleased to have Keith and his wife Felicia moving to Michigan. Their genuine enthusiasm and interest in the symphony and our community is going to really take our organization and brand to the next level.


GRSMA: Do you have a favorite GRS concert experience, and do you have a favorite section of the orchestra?


Oh, there are so many! I can fondly remember when my seven-year-old son was invited onstage to sing with the performers during Picnic Pops. Queen never sounded so good! Another favorite was my first "Celebration of Soul" concert with Terrance Blanchard. I almost cried when I heard “Stand Up” with the symphony. Really any concert when I can feel the music in my chest and bones is a good one.


And I know better than to pick a favorite section. 😉


GRSMA: What would you say is your biggest goal for the Grand Rapids Symphony during your time right now as board chair?


This may sound corny, but I feel very strongly that there is so much more “under the hood” when it comes to what we can accomplish together. 


Now, in a modern post COVID world, my aim is to better connect each of our constituents, (our musicians, our staff, our board members, our donors, and our audience), with one another and with our mission, to catapult us into the next chapter of growth. As the leading performing arts organization in West Michigan, we are uniquely positioned to bring people from across our region together with purpose.  


GRSMA: Whenever you show off our city to out-of-town guests, what are the places on your list that they must see and experience?


Ah! If I had to choose just a few, we would start first with a coffee, sitting by the fountain in the lobby of the Amway Grand. It always provides a great backdrop to tell the story of the economic revitalization of downtown in the late 80s. Next we would visit the GRAM. Regardless of the exhibits on rotation, the setting is a great way to be in the heart of our downtown. Some days you may be lucky to catch a concert or event in Rosa Parks Circle, too. Also, we would likely make a trip to Frederik Meijer Gardens.  The gardens never disappoint and provide lots of time to talk and connect with our guests. Finally, I am a sucker for a West Michigan sunset. There is something about the pinks and reds that you can’t find anywhere else.  


GRSMA: For any new GRS concert goers, are there places that you would recommend for them to tag on to for the evening’s experience, either before or after the performance?


Lately I have really enjoyed sitting at the bar at Real Seafood Company. I highly recommend the Old Fashioned.


GRSMA: Is there a special concert in the 2023-24 GRS season that is already marked on your calendar and not to be missed?


Opening night is always electric and this year to have Daniil Trifonov play Gershwin will be perfect. I can’t wait!

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