HSO seeks diverse music groups for Music Unites Us concert

The Holland Symphony Orchestra is seeking help from the community to launch Music Unites Us, a community concert that will expand the orchestra’s horizons beyond the traditional European classical music already in its repertoire.

One unique idea spawned another. More than 1,500 people came for a free concert of mariachi music specially arranged for orchestra on Holland’s waterfront in August of 2021. It was the largest to-date attendance for an HSO concert.

Seeing a diverse audience at the mariachi orchestra concerts was a highlight of Holland Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Kay Walvoord’s career, she says.

Migrant workers who had never heard an orchestra perform their cultural music and Anglos who couldn’t understand a single word of the lyrics were sitting together, enjoying the music.

“That is just the epitome of what we’re trying to do as an organization,” Walvoord says.

'My people'

So when an audience member approached the stage to praise the orchestra’s work and offer a suggestion, it was an ‘aha’ moment.

The concertgoer, who was Vietnamese, said, “That was such a wonderful concert, but next year will you do one for my people?” Walvoord says. 

Why not?

Well, for one, oboes, violins, and tubas like those in traditional orchestras don’t often appear in Vietnamese, South American, or African musical traditions. Most musical pieces outside of the European tradition don’t have orchestral arrangements. 


“We’re just looking for how best to translate other cultures’ music into orchestral arrangements,” Walvoord says. “The orchestra has struggled in the past with how to represent diverse music. We have a typical audience profile for classical music.”

HSO solved that problem by hiring a composer who is standing by to translate different cultures’ music into orchestral arrangements featuring each group as a guest artist. He will meet several times with each group to ensure he isn’t imposing western ideas of music on another culture, Walvoord says.


Two or three groups will be selected for the Music Unites Us concert next August. Several have already submitted their proposals, including Ugandan, Venezuelan, and Vietnamese ensembles. Submissions may be of vocal, instrumental or any other musical group representing a diverse culture. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, Aug. 31. Musical groups selected for the project will be paid. 
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Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.