Letter from Noah A. VanValkenburg

Dear SOS and the Management of the DSO:

My name is Noah VanValkenburg, and I have grown up with the Detroit Symphony.

My father, Jim VanValkenburg, is a violist for the DSO. Ever since I was born, I’ve grown up with the sights and sounds of one of the world’s finest orchestras playing in a stunning concert hall. For me, the Detroit Symphony is an integral part of my life; I can neither imagine Detroit without it nor can I imagine my childhood without the opportunities it has provided.

In preschool, three musicians came to my preschool and put on a wonderful show perfect for the three- and four-year-old audience. I will never forget the shock – and wonder! – I felt when Randall Hawes took the slide of his trombone out of his trombone.

I will never forget taking my seat in the balcony and listening to Stravinsky, Handel and – my favorite – Bach.

I will never forget how special and how privileged I felt when I was ten years old and sat front row center at the Halloween concert and got covered in dry ice.

I will never forget singing with my high school choir at the Symphony’s Christmas concerts under the directions of Thomas Wilkins, who took a personal interest in every single one of the students and made an effort to talk to them. This was a world-famous maestro hanging out with kids who never in their wildest dreams imagined that they would be singing with Detroit’s most talented musicians.

I feel lucky, even now, in the middle of a strike. I feel lucky to have these memories and experiences and knowledge that cannot possibly be replicated in a classroom.

Yet a large part of me feels great sadness. I do not feel sad because my father does not have a job – after all, he IS a musician – nor do I feel sad because I have not seen the DSO in quite some time.

I feel sadness because there are other preschoolers and ten-year-olds and members of high school choirs who are not able to feel what I felt. My feelings were created by the musicians. Musicians who are simply the best of the best, irreplaceable men and women of talent and hard work, who feel terrible if they miss even a single note in concert. A second-class symphony has no chance at creating those feelings.

Now, as a student at Colby College in Maine, the feeling I miss most is indescribable. The last time I experienced the feeling was sitting right behind the french horn section on stage during the Christmas concerts. The choir had a tacet, or a number where we didn’t sing, so we listened to Leroy Anderson’s wonderful piece “Sleigh Ride.” There are no words to describe the feeling of hearing the peerless sound of what I believe is the best horn section in the country – it is an emotional reaction that can only exist in Orchestra Hall. It is why music exists, so we can express what we cannot say in words.

Other kids need to have my experiences. I would not be the person I am today – more educated, more cultured, and with my eyes much wider open – without the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. To the management, the time has come to let other children of Detroit listen to, marvel at, and perform with the DSO.

It is irreplaceable.

Yours sincerely,

Noah A. VanValkenburg
Colby College Class of 2013


Comments: 2

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  • Helen Near


    Your wonderful letter reminded me of my own similar experience with the DSO while I was a music student at Wayne State University in the 70′s.  I was fortunate to have sung with the first WSU Symphonic Choir which was to accompany the DSO on their (then) annual tour to Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center.  We performed the Glagolitic Mass by Janacek under the baton of Aldo Ceccato.  I say “fortunate” for two reasons:  

    1.  Not being a vocal major, I was just plain lucky to have been included in that wonderful choir.  (Compared to trained voices, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket!  But they needed altos and I had a background in Slavic languages, so I was able to learn the words to this lovely score a little easier).   

    2.  I, like yourself, was given a rare vantage point to learn the inner workings of a great symphony orchestra.  As a flutist, this was a special treat for me since I was able to observe my own teacher, Clement Barone (then piccolo with the DSO) in his role within the flute section of the DSO.  That opportunity (as a young music student) gave me a template for who I am today as a freelance musician.  

    What an injustice it would be to deny future music students such experiences as we have enjoyed–to deny future audiences THEIR Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

    Helen Near

  • Maria Di Fiore

    Thank you for articulating what it means to grow up with the DSO. My first memories are of sitting in a box at Orchestra Hall listening to music while I colored in my book. I also remember traveling to the UP and Colorado in the back seat of our Toyota. What a joy to hear the Symphony between the mountains and trees.

    I can’t imagine other children and the people of Michigan not having this wonderful experience with music. As you know, we have lived and breathed music with this wonderful family, but why be selfish when we can share so much joy?

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