There are two kinds of cities — one has a symphony orchestra, the others are crap.
Ben Folds shared his theory, then added “and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is one of the greatest orchestras in the world” before turning around to face the full orchestra and lead them in a local rendition of Rock this Bitch.
It was October 2014, two months before Detroit exited bankruptcy. Everyone in the audience cheered for Ben Folds, but I can’t help but think I had a particular appreciation for his words. I love Detroit and, based on 25 years experience, consider the DSO to be Exhibit A for what makes Detroit a world-class city.
How did the Detroit Symphony Orchestra become something that helped me understand community and my role in it?
Being paternally Jewish and growing up in Grosse Pointe, joining a country club wasn’t an option for us. Plausible maybe, but not particularly appealing. Religious institutions also did not provide a welcoming environment. The church never failed to remind me my father was Jewish, and Jewish institutions never failed to remind me my mother was not. Where to go? What to do? How to grow?
Music was the guiding force in our home. Bruce Springsteen was our rabbi. Piano lessons were catechism. Live performances were our sermons. Music was at the heart of everything my parents exposed us to. Mother’s Day brunch at Cliff Bell’s? Because jazz is life! Family trip to Belfast? There was time to take in the natural beauty of Giant’s Causeway and learn about the building of the Titanic — in between Springsteen and Sir Van Morrison’s concerts on the same weekend.
So maybe it’s no surprise that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra became our “club.”
I began going to the DSO when I was two. My parents always wanted to expose my sister and me to as much culture as possible, especially given that we lived in such a homogenous town. Attending the orchestra was an excellent platform for this. Besides hearing music, we met patrons and musicians who were from different places and looked differently than we did.
We were taught early to appreciate the aesthetic and craftsmanship of Orchestra Hall and other buildings in our fantastic city. We would dine out in Detroit in the 1990s and early 2000s, something unheard of for many of our fellow metro-Detroiters at the time. Part of the experience of attending the DSO for us was going to a restaurant. Here we were, two Jewishish kids from Grosse Pointe Park, learning how to be city girls by regularly attending dinner and a show. Not a bad gig!
In April 2011, DSO musicians returned to the stage following a six-month strike. As excited as we were to have them back, it was clear to my parents that they needed to get more involved. They became Governing Members. This membership provides patrons more engagement with the operations of the orchestra. Like a country club, my parents could now cast their ballot at the Annual Meeting of the Shareholders and vote for, among other things, the people who will be on the Board of Directors. My dad Jim ended up being selected as Chair of the Governing Members in 2013. He initiated a platform called “Road to 500” that reached and then exceeded 500 Governing Members by 2019.
In 2016, I decided I wanted to be a part of something in my city. Why not support one of the pillars of the artistic community and city at large? Once I became a governing member, my level of connectedness skyrocketed. I was at Orchestra Hall almost every Saturday. The donor lounge became my Cheers — a place where everybody knows your name. And if I don’t know your name, I’m going to come over and say hello and we will know one another soon enough.
When I met Mitch, one of the most critical approvals needed were from my DSO friends. He passed with flying colors and now the DSO is just as much of his home as mine. We love it (and each other) so much that we are getting married on the stage. This shared love has been tested, as our nuptials moved from 2020 to 2021 to (God willing) next August.
The cancelled concerts — and very long engagement — of the pandemic have given me a chance to reflect back on my formative DSO experiences and look forward to the concerts on the horizon.
Some of my all-time favorites:
1. The music of the Wizard of Oz — no place like home when the DSO plays you down the yellow brick road.
2. The Music of Henry Mancini — Where else can the Pink Panther theme transition seamlessly into The Godfather Waltz?
3. Maurice Ravel’s Boléro — free webcast way back in The Before Times (2016).
4. Brahms Symphony No. 3 — the third movement made my heart stop.
5. And, oh, I don’t know, that time I saw JOHN WILLIAMS conduct while STEVEN SPIELBERG discussed how the music impacted his films (casual evening at the DSO).
Thinking back on these memories, what strikes me most is the people with whom I shared this experiences. The DSO not only has fostered my appreciation for music and love of my city, but relationships of so many different people. I attended Ravel’s Boléro with the grandparents of one of my dearest friends. My dad and I were together, just the two of us, for John Williams and Steven Spielberg. Brahms Symphony No. 3, I purchased a ticket on a whim and went alone on a Saturday; I knew I would find a friend or two amongst the crowd.
And a few I can hardly wait for:
1. Jader Conducts Fountains & Pines of Rome — kicking off Jader Bignamini’s first full season, just days away.
2. Bugs Bunny at the Orchestra — that’s what’s up, doc.
3. Wu-Tang Clan x DSO — delayed almost as long (and almost as exciting) as my wedding.
The DSO has served as the soundtrack for my family and for my friends, helping us grow to incorporate new instruments along the way. Whatever cacophonous disruptions there were in the city — or in our own lives — the DSO has always been there for us, playing in vibrant, resilient harmony.
Hope to see you all there.*
*At concerts, not the wedding.