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Magical symphony tour: ‘Maybe one day I’ll be onstage like that’

Field trip allows students to explore music-based careers

Noel Cullin, a sixth-grade student at East Elementary, started playing violin this year. Though she won’t have her first concert until January, the “Nooks and Crannies” tour at the Grand Rapids Symphony has put some musical ideas in her head.

“We got to see where the action is happening, it’s a lot different from practicing at home,” Noel said. “Maybe one day I’ll be onstage like that, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Jaiden Zuniga (left) and Cole Tomaszewski reflect on a successful field trip back at school

The eighth annual tour to DeVos Performance Hall featured historical information about the venue, peeks backstage and a visit from Associate Symphony Conductor John Varineau. The sixth-grade field trip builds on the fifth-grade trip to see a performance by the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Laura Alexander, a sixth-grade teacher at East Elementary, plays clarinet in a group and was grateful for the opportunity to get her students excited about learning about music.

“I’ve played on a stage and been through this situation a little myself, so I was able to tell them about my experience, which I think was a lucky touch,” Alexander said. “It’s a great chance for students to learn about careers in the music field, something that isn’t often talked about.”

As for sixth-grade teacher Sara Peterman, the tour provides a chance for students to learn about opportunities they may not have heard of before.

“When I was in elementary school, I didn’t even know that learning an instrument was an option,” Peterman said. “Looking back, I wish I would have taken lessons or tried to learn an instrument at that age. That’s why this is such a great day.”

John Varineau talks to students about what it takes to be in the symphony

‘Felt Like a Real Movie Star’

Though hundreds of thousands of dollars of musical equipment and elementary students don’t usually mix, the Grand Rapids Symphony is more than happy to invite students on tours, said longtime volunteer Beth Lepak.

A performer herself, Lepak retired from the symphony 10µ years ago after 31 years of playing the viola.

“I can’t not do something with music,” she said. “Music is very important to our culture, it makes us who we are. By going on these tours and talking to students, I am passing my love of music on to the next generation in a very real way.”

Mikayla Mulaney’s favorite part of the tour was a look into the dressing rooms for performers backstage.

“Getting to go in the dressing rooms was really cool because you felt like a real movie star,” she said. “It’s just like how they show it in the movies.”

Charlie Brown listens intently to Grand Rapids Symphony associate conductor, John Varineau

For Matthew Teachout, talking to John Varineau was the best part. In one exercise, Varineau had students on the performance floor yell out as loud as they could to see how sound travels through the hall.

“We were yelling and the sound went so far,” Matthew said. “ I learned so much from just listening to him talk.”

Varineau also talked about the blind audition process for the symphony, in which students are not seen, only heard. He even gave some young musicians a little push by talking about the practice regimen required to be in the group.

“The youngest person to be in the Grand Rapids Symphony was 18, we learned today, which really isn’t that old,” Matthew said. “Kind of crazy to think about, especially with how much practicing they have to do; it’s a real job.”

Waaba Medawis (left), Cole Tomaszewski, Kaden Carlo and Cole Lindemulder listen during their trip to the Grand Rapids Symphony

Let’s Go Again

Many of the students also came away with plans to visit the symphony with their families.

“I definitely want to come back and see another show,” said Cole Tomaszewski. “Plus now I know about everything going on back there so I can explain that to the people I go with.”

Peterman and Alexander hope that their students came away with an appreciation for the work that goes into being a member of the Grand Rapids Symphony, and an understanding of how the performances work.

“This is a great thing for our students to be a part of,” Peterman said. “We are very grateful and look forward to this trip each and every year.”


Students Play a Happy Tune with Symphony Pros

Beth Lepak explains the history of DeVos Performance Hall
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Hannah Lentz
Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit.


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