It's a long standing tradition. I look back and there wasn't a fancy name like "Link Up" or anything, but I remember very distinctly the opportunity to head to DeVos Hall as a 5th grader and see the Symphony. It was a huge treat for a bunch of kids from a small one hall school in Belmont. It was exposure to a level of music that not many of us had even been a part of and it was an introduction to something other than the bubble gum pop and a few of us who had made the jump to Kiss records and were fans of the early beginnings of the disco era thanks to ultra hip parents who were out buying Bee Gees records after seeing Saturday Night Fever.
Today, "Link Up" is a nationally embraced brand that brings kids and schools together, 54 schools in Muskegon today to be exact, to see just what happens when music is created without "autotune", and sampling of every other note ever written by someone else. Actually, it goes even deeper than that. The Link Up curriculum program comes directly from Carnegie Hall and the West Michigan Symphony was the first remote location to adopt the program as well as the only symphony to keep it going for the entire 16 years it's been around. There is actually more classroom based learning in the program than the one day concert experience, but there is also hands on application of what's been learned. Students all brought recorders and were able to play along at points, it's all about music education and giving students a chance to dip their toe in the water a little as they get set to head to the 5th grade where they will have the opportunity to take some music classes for real for the first time. It's the beginning of curiosity and like any interest sparked could lead to a life time of appreciation and enrichment.
The West Michigan Symphony is a tremendous asset to have at the Frauenthal Center and they are still "in season" for a couple more shows until the Summer break. To see the face of a young person light up when all of the different elements of a symphony combine, it's still priceless. Music is a uniquely human endeavor, and from one violin doing a pizzicato to the entire ensemble combining for thunderous sweeping sounds like you'll hear, it's part of arts and culture that every kid should get a little piece of once in a while.
Andy Buelow is the Executive Director of the West Michigan Symphony and he invited me down to see first hand the Link Up program and talk a little about why it's so very important for young people to get a taste. Take a listen.
Did you go too when you were a kid? There is so much placed on STEM education and of course college prep, skilled trades...on and on...but it's so important to remember what the arts add to the over all educational experience to balance out all of it. Not everyone is going to be Beethoven, that's a given, but a level of appreciation for things other than what's on YouTube or on the soundtrack of Fortnite is essential to young minds....old ones too. If you'd like to know more about the West Michigan Symphony Orchestra, click on their logo below to visit their website.