The award-winning Grand Rapids Symphony led by Music Director and Maestro Marcelo Lehninger, has expanded beyond its classical music roster to play contemporary hits such as Harry Potter screenings, and a summer outdoor series that includes renditions of1980s rock-n-roll hits. It’s part of a growing trend among symphonies as they work to draw new audiences to performances and make the symphony a part of their lives.

In fact, you may be surprised at how frequently symphony scores are played throughout our everyday lives. “You even hear little bits and pieces of [symphony scores] if you watch the NBC Nightly News,” said Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk, Senior Manager of Communications and Media Relations at the Grand Rapids Symphony.

The Grand Rapids Symphony performs music to appeal a broader, younger audience such as scores of the Harry Potter film series.

Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids

Recruiting Young Musicians & Growing Younger Followers

But not only is the Grand Rapids Symphony performing music to appeal a broader audience, it’s also attracting younger performers. Kaczmarczyk says he’s noticed a trend of young symphonic musicians with plenty of accolades.

Take Brigid Babbish, a Michigan-native, and Grand Rapids Symphony bassoonist whose fascination with the bassoon started when she was as young as six years old.

“My dad used to always take us to the museums when we were little, and one day there was a musical instrument day at the Cranbrook Institute of Science. We were looking at the instruments and a man with a bassoon walked by,” said Babbish. “He played a scale…and it was imprinted on my mind.”

Babbish admits that she was once a band drop-out. She dropped out of band after starting on percussion in the fourth grade. Normally a straight-A student, Babbish received a “C” in band.

But fast forward to eighth grade, when her school welcomed a new band director, and Babbish’s musical interest was sparked yet again.

Babbish’s natural and significant musical talent led her to attend the prestigious Cranbrook Schools, followed by a private tutelage with Bob Williams of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and an undergrad education from The Juilliard School, before heading off to European and African countries for further education and performance opportunities.

Now a member of the Grand Rapids Symphony, Brigid Babbish's fascination with the bassoon began when she was as young as six years old.

Photo Credit: Brigid Babbish

Hitting Close to Home

After years of abroad performances, Babbish realized returning to her home state of Michigan, and particularly, Grand Rapids, was the right decision.

After visiting the Fulton Street Farmers Market Babbish realized, “I’m going to love this city,” because it reminded her of the fresh produce that surrounded her countryside home that she stayed at while performing in France.

Babbish admits that moving to Grand Rapids was a big transition, but she’s grateful to have a job so close to home, which an be a rarity for professional musicians.

“I’m where I need to be,” Babbish reflects

If I’ve learned anything from classical music, it’s that persistence is key.

Persistence is Key

She also confesses that she auditioned for the Grand Rapids Symphony four times before being accepted, a common experience for symphony musicians, as symphonies usually contract around 80 musicians.

“If I’ve learned anything from classical music, it’s that persistence is key,” said Babbish.

A live acoustic environment [with a full orchestra] really is ‘surround sound.’ It’s coming at you from everywhere and that can all be pretty exciting.

The Symphony’s 2018-19 Season

So what’s she most looking forward to in this season at the Grand Rapids Symphony? Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony happening March 15-16, 2019, she says.

“The last time I performed Shostakovich Fifth [Symphony], I was a freshman in college [at Juilliard]. New York City was brand new, and I was in a new place with new friends. So it’s kind of cool that I’m here in Grand Rapids, and I’m here in a new place, with new friends, new environment. Sometimes different symphonies evoke memories that have been tucked away for a long time, so I’m excited about that.”

If you’re interested in starting a new family holiday tradition, check out the Symphony’s holiday shows, including: including Old National Bank Cirque de Noel alongside acrobats, jugglers, contortionists, and aerial artists.

“A live acoustic environment [with a full orchestra] really is ‘surround sound.’ It’s coming at you from everywhere and that can all be pretty exciting,” said Kaczmarczyk.

During the 2018-19 season the Grand Rapids Symphony will have a new performance nearly every weekend. For a full list of Symphony performances visit the Grand Rapids Symphony website.

Don’t forget to purchase a Culture Pass GR to save on Grand Rapids Symphony performances at the DeVos Performance Hall. Symphony discounts are valid up to six months from purchasing your Culture Pass GR.

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