Music Unites Us concert to feature diverse musicians and Holland Symphony Orchestra

What began as a simple request has flowered into the Music Unites Us concert, which will bring together local musical talent and the Holland Symphony Orchestra in a groundbreaking celebration of diversity at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 12, in Holland’s Kollen Park. 

The idea for the event was inspired by a concert-goer who attended the HSO’s 2022 free community concert featuring the orchestra’s first-ever collaboration with a mariachi band. After the concert, she approached a member of the HSO staff to ask if the orchestra would consider doing a similar concert celebrating her Vietnamese heritage. Out of that request, the orchestra decided to plan a concert that would feature the music of several cultures.

“This free community concert aims to showcase cultures that make up our wonderful world here in West Michigan,” says HSO President Kay Walvoord. “Music Unites Us is a collaborative musical effort between the HSO and the Holland community to celebrate diversity and showcase the musical gifts of frequently underrepresented groups of people.”

 The concert will showcase Colombian cumbia, Vietnamese, Ukrainian, and Ugandan pieces reimagined with the support of the orchestra, as composed by Greg Scheer. We are also honored to feature Julia LaGrand as a guest violinist, bringing attention and awareness to disability and inclusivity within our community.

Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets and arrive early to scope out their spot for this one-of-a-kind concert experience. Food and beverages will be available for purchase from Crepes by the Lake, Mezkla Taqeria & Fruiteria, and Robinson's Popcorn.  

The stories of the musicians and the process of creating music that the orchestra will play in collaboration have been documented with social media posts by Haley Earley, who has created a documentary now streaming on the HSO Facebook page. 

Guest musicians include the following:

Grupo Super Nova is a cumbia band of brothers from Pueblo, Mexico. Nate, Christian, Hector, and Juan Garcia grew up in Holland, Michigan, after immigrating here in 1990. This family-centered band has adapted and grown over the years, learning new instruments, and trying new venues and events. They reflected that, as Holland has become more diverse, much of the community has become more interested in learning about other cultures. Playing with the symphony orchestra is a bucket list item for the band.

Cuong Luong is a Vietnamese singer and performer who immigrated to West Michigan in 2015. In Vietnam, he regularly competed in singing competitions, winning several, including first place in Vietnam’s “The Voice.” He continues to compete in American Vietnamese vocal competitions and has a growing following on YouTube. Luong uses his operatic influence and choreography to tell stories through music. He has dreamt of performing for an American audience and is excited that the HSO has provided him with this opportunity.

Nina Tritenichenko is a Ukrainian singer and bayan accordion player who has lived in Holland for 12 years. She fondly refers to the area as “New Ukraine,” due to its similarity in climate. Tritenichenko, who accompanied an orchestra for the first time at the age of 9, has a master’s degree in music education and performance, has taught lessons, and has grown a YouTube following with over 800 videos. She believes love is a language we can understand without translation. 

Samuel Nalangira is a Ugandan-born musician and educator who relocated his talents to West Michigan in 2018. He uses his passion for and experience in traditional African music and dance to spread awareness and love through performances and lessons. He is constantly writing music and feels very blessed to be able to grow his music career here. Nalangira did not plan to stay in Michigan long term but was surprised by how welcoming and loving the people are here and, at this point, cannot imagine leaving. The community inspires him to continue to work hard and bring people together through music, especially music that makes you want to dance, he says. 

Julia LaGrand is a classical violist and disability advocate who lives in Grand Rapids and spent her summers in Holland. She is passionate about exploring what disability can bring to classical music. Being blind has required her to know the music she performs inside and out, including pieces that musicians don’t usually memorize, because she can’t read and play at the same time. 

She believes “music can be a powerful social force,” but for it to be transformative, “it has to be a really, really inclusive space.” These dual passions of music and inclusivity continue to drive her activism and educational pursuits as she begins conservatory in the fall. 

Composer Greg Scheer says he has enjoyed working with the musicians and creating the scores that the orchestra will perform with them.

"It has been a rich experience preparing these scores, imagining how they'll sound played by the musicians of the Holland  Symphony Orchestra rather than the computer,” says composer Greg Scheer. “Many orchestras are wringing their hands about how to diversify their orchestras and audience, but you've taken action. The Music Unites  Us Initiative will be a paradigm others will follow.”

This free community concert is made possible thanks to many sponsors, including MillerKnoll  Foundation, Gentex Corporation, Macatawa Area Coordinating Council, the Brooks family,  and Macatawa Bank.

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