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SMSO Presents A Student Education Concert

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Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra


 A Student Education Concert

“I want to be the piano player!,” exclaimed one student attending the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra Education Concert. Another said that the SMSO would see them in two years when they started playing an instrument.

The eagerness from students continued with comments such as,  “Do you need a drummer? I’ll be your drummer!” and “I’m gonna play A LOT of instruments!”

That is some of the enthusiasm and excitement that came from the 1,093 third and fourth graders from Berrien County who attended not just a concert, but an experience with the SMSO on Friday, April 12 at the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center Jenkins Theater (formerly Mainstage).

This first-of-a-kind Education Concert, offered free for area students, introduced students to what symphonic music can be and helped them realize its uses and importance.

“I like when the instruments all played together and in sync,” said Syncere Smith, a third-grader at Sylvester Elementary in Berrien Springs. The 10-year-old also liked listening to music that was familiar.

“I liked how he [Aubin] was engaging with the students and kept their interest,” Fairplain East fourth grade teacher Sylvia Wilson said, adding that she was impressed with the concert.

Teachers from Our Lady of the Lake Elementary School said they appreciated the opportunity and are already looking forward to the Education Concert next year.

Students learned that symphonic music was not just “created many years ago.” Opening with a piece written by Valerie Coleman, a contemporary African American composer and Grammy-nominated flutist, “Seven O’Clock Shout,” connected with students’ own “lived experience in history” as it was composed during the Covid pandemic. The piece commemorates frontline workers and the daily celebration of New Yorkers when residents would open their windows at 7 p.m. to serenade the streets. This not only showed their appreciation for those working tirelessly, it created a brief escape from the isolation of quarantine.

The professional musicians from the Symphony, along with Maestro Matthew Aubin, charmed students by involving them in the piece, having them participate by shouting at the appropriate time during the piece.

Students heard classics from Edvard Grieg, a Norwegian composer best known for Piano Concerto in A minor, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a popular composer of his time who wrote Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. During the concert, students heard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, Movement II and III.

As an interactive lesson about composers and tempo, throughout the Grieg piece, orchestra musician Jed Fritzemeier (bass) led the kids in a “hand jive,” which began slowly and increased in speed along with the music as it swelled and included more instruments. During the concert, Aubin interspersed introductions to different instrument families and explained how a variety of sounds are made.

In addition to exploring the classical and contemporary, the SMSO presented music that jumps off the film screen and into students’ lives: students instantly recognized the Star Wars Overture from renowned Composer John Williams.

To illustrate how all instrument families work together to bring music to life, the orchestra started out by playing the well-known opening bars of music without brass instruments. Students were encouraged to identify which family of instruments was missing.

“The orchestra works as a team to play the Star Wars Overture,” Aubin explained during the lesson. “It sounds so much stronger when all of our families work together.” The Orchestra then  satisfied the audience’s stirred excitement by re-starting the piece from the beginning with all the instrument families playing together.

“What an awesome experience for our students,” Our Lady of the Lake third grade teacher Nicole Mills said. “The way that the children were included with the interactive portions of the show kept everyone engaged and excited. The Harry Potter performance seemed to be a highlight for many.”

The concert aligns with the Michigan Merit Curriculum and Michigan Music Standards and lesson plans for the concert were provided to the teachers so that the information from the concert could be expanded upon in the classroom.

These lifelong musical experiences encourage a love of all music and help the SMSO in its mission of Transforming All Lives Through Music.

Students attending were from 15 different school groups from Benton Harbor, Berrien Springs, Bridgman, Coloma, Eau Claire, Niles, Sodus, including one Homeschool group.

The SMSO and students appreciate the sponsors whose support made it possible to bring this concert to so many, including: The St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Rotary Club Foundation, the Music Performers Trust Fund, and Corewell Health.

Originally founded in 1951 as the Twin Cities Symphony, the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra has been an integral part of the cultural fabric of our community. Mission-driven to “Transform All Lives Through Music,” the SMSO seeks to cultivate and inspire diverse audiences and create a positive impact through innovative programming and educational opportunities. Individual and institutional donors are critical to the SMSO’s success. To learn more about the Symphony and opportunities to support, visit our website at or contact Outreach & Development Coordinator Hollie Ayres at


**Photographs are credited to Josh Nowicki

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