Grosse Pointe Symphony Orchestra director Joe Striplin is also a violinist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Photo courtesy GPSO
December 06, 2012Music by friends for friends describes the Grosse Pointe Symphony Orchestra. It is an unofficial aphorism by which the orchestra has stood 60 seasons.
Under the direction of Joe Striplin, the 60-plus members present a Christmas Brass concert at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, at the Grosse Pointe Woods Presbyterian Church.
"People sustain it," said William Hulsker, the orchestra's president and 15-year member, of how the orchestra has maintained its long standing in the community.
"We have a faithful crowd. They've been coming for years. People bring their children and grandchildren," he said. "We have a strong legacy. This is great music in your backyard. It's always fun to have friends and neighbors in the audience."
It's also fun to be surrounded by people who love music either as a professional or not. For instance, the orchestra has couples, brothers and sisters and one performer met her husband through the orchestra. They come from all walks of life, Hulsker said. Some members are music teachers, some are retired and others are business professionals.
"This is a close knit community," he said.
And it is for the community's benefit a wide variety of music is selected. Striplin chooses pieces for four concerts a year, plus a free August concert in the atrium of St. John Hospital and Medical Center. Before the economy hit sour notes, the orchestra performed six concerts a season. Hulsker said with the auto industry turning around it affords the possibility of increased sponsorship thus more concerts could be added to the schedule.
In the meantime, Hulsker, Striplin and the seven member board sit down and discuss the season's selections made by Striplin who took over for long-time director Felix Resnick.
GPSO has a small sheet music library from which to chose a program. It buys some music and it rents other pieces.
The orchestra belongs to a southeastern Michigan cooperative so orchestras can share music because, for instance, renting the Vaughn Williams' tuba concerto costs $400. Sharing music helps contain costs, Hulsker said.
Composers from the 20th century are becoming standard fair, though the usual composers are frequently incorporated. In fact, he said, with regular attendance to the concerts, the audience will hear a variety of music.
"It's a chance to hear friends and neighbors play an eclectic (selection of) music. We try to get two or three styles on the program. If you come through the season, you will get a well-rounded education," Hulkser said.
For example, both Wagner and Beethoven selections were performed at the opening in the fall of 2012 concert. The December 2011 concert, with the Cantata Academy Chorale, featured music by Handel, Healey Willan, Brent Pierce, John Tavener, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Giovanni Bottisini and J.S. Bach, while the April 2012 spring concert had selections by German composer Max Bruch.
"We've got to keep it varied," Hulsker explained. "It's more interesting to the audience and players."
Sunday's concert features Scott Schroeder and Paul Miller on trumpet performing Vivaldi's "Concerto for Two Trumpets." Other selections include Christmas songs and the Cantata Academy Chorale with conductor Susan Catanese.
The venue for the latest concert is Grosse Pointe Woods Presbyterian Church, the fall concert was held in Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church.
Not surprisingly, churches have good acoustics, he said.
Finding appropriate venues to accommodate the orchestra, audience seating and provide good sound are a concern and Hulsker is in favor of a permanent home to be shared with all Grosse Pointe fine arts organziations.
Until such time, the orchestra practices every Wednesday from late September through early May at Parcells Middle School.
Parcells was the first venue for the 59 musicians who gathered in January 1954. The new orchestra consisted of 12 teachers, 18 students, five housewives, a banker, lawyer and 13 others, according to the March 3, 1954, issue of the Grosse Pointe News.
Wayne Dunlap was the first soloist and conductor. Henri Nosco was the director and Felix Resnick served as conductor and music director from 1959 until Striplin took over in October 2006.
In addition to performing, the orchestra selects, through an audition process, a student for its Nester Scholarship.
The most recent recipient was Charles Paul, a senior at Grosse Pointe South High School. Performing a solo with the orchestra is a stipulation of receiving the scholarship.
The symphony orchestra holds informal auditions prior to joining. It charges no dues and welcomes new members, as well as volunteers. The latter is needed to help with fundraising, promotions and marketing.
"You don't need to play," Hulsker said, "but they do turn out to be music lovers."
For more information, visit gpsymphony.org.