Grand Rapids Symphony

GVL / Robert Mathews
Grand Rapids Symphony

GVL / Robert Mathews Grand Rapids Symphony

Mary Mattingly

The Grand Rapids Symphony performs annually at Grand Valley State University in the “Arts at Noon” series, and as of last year, selected students are getting experience playing with the orchestra – something many musicians find is the most valuable teacher when it comes to playing professionally.

“This is (students’) introduction to the professional music world,” said John Varineau, associate conductor of the GRSO, before the concert. “We will do this concert on one rehearsal.”

Varineau, a clarinetist who also conducts the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra, has been connected to GVSU for a number of years. He first came to GVSU when Arthur Campbell, professor of clarinet, invited him to take on students from the school’s growing clarinet studio. Though Varineau no longer teaches at GVSU, he still returns every year with the GRS.

The concert, which took place Jan. 16 in the Louis Armstrong Theatre, featured a program of works written by French composers. The students joined the orchestra for the last piece, “Ballet Music” from the opera “Faust,” composed by Charles François Gounod.

Varineau took time during the concert to explain the minimal rehearsal time students had in order to prepare for the performance.

“Part of being in a professional orchestra is to make do with remarkably limited rehearsal time,” Varineau said during the concert. “You get the job done and then perform it.”

Henry Duitman, conductor of orchestras at GVSU, said the students only rehearsed once with the GRS before performing.

“We (had) three rehearsals on the music, not counting the one rehearsal students (had) with the GRSO the night before the concert,” Duitman said.

Duitman coordinates which students play with the GRS every year. This year, the members of the Chamber Orchestra were chosen to play.

“These are our top players,” Duitman said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for them.”

And with the Chamber Orchestra headed to London after the semester, this was one opportunity for them to experience playing in a professional setting.

“The students get to see the way the (GRS members) interact and how they get everything done so quickly,” Duitman said.

Holly Cassell, violinist and junior music student, understands the importance of playing with the orchestra.

“(GRS members) are always telling you about people they’ve worked with, as well as the music they have played,” Cassell said. “It helps with networking.”

Aside from networking, playing with the GRS also demonstrates to students the professional standard at which they’re expected to work, something Cassell experienced first hand.

“I remember chatting with my stand partner,” Cassell recalled of last year’s collaboration. “You get to see how they work and how well they play. You see from their perspective what a difficult part is, and what is not so difficult.”

For Steven Burg, a violinist and senior music student, performing with the GRS helps him rationalize his career.

“Sharing a stand with them and playing right next to them, it’s a direct comparison of where they are at and where you need to be,” Burg said.

Burg worked with Varineau before GVSU, playing in the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony.

“I gained a respect for older orchestral works,” Burg said. “(Varineau) is into community outreach, a lot of people know him. He is generally a pretty cool guy.”

Varineau’s passion for inspiring music in youth and the community takes hold in the conducting of his orchestras. Aside from performing with several college orchestras, the GRS also takes time to invite high school students to play with them. Varineau hopes to instill in students of all ages a love of playing in orchestra and an understanding of what is expected of them.

“It’s one of my hallmarks,” Varineau said. “I bring a lot of music and enthusiasm to younger players.”

Duitman said having the GRS come each year is a great experience for the students.

“We’re very thankful GRSO comes out every year and gives students this opportunity,” Duitman said. “(The students) love it.”

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