West Michigan Symphony’s Link Up concerts cancelled due to school closure

Students from throughout Muskegon and West Michigan perform with the West Michigan Symphony as part of the Link Up program. Photo by Keely Payne for the West Michigan Symphony.

Following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s decision to close all K-12 school buildings through the end of the school year in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, West Michigan Symphony’s executive director announced today that the annual Link Up concerts are cancelled.

Each year, the Link Up concerts bring thousands of students together to perform with West Michigan Symphony musicians at the Frauenthal Center in downtown Muskegon. The concerts, which had been scheduled for later this month, are the culmination of the year-long Link Up initiative, an internationally-acclaimed music education program provided by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute.

As part of the program, public and private school educators train with the symphony to provide the Link Up curriculum.Throughout the school year, the educators then teach students to play the recorder, about the various musical instruments in an orchestra, music history, and more.

“We are incredibly grateful to our donors, whose support enabled us to provide Link Up in these classrooms throughout the school year,” West Michigan Symphony Executive Director Andy Buelow said in a press release. “We deeply regret having to cancel the culminating concerts. At the same time, we fully support the governor’s decision; the health and safety of the students is the most important priority.”

In a nation that continues to cut music and arts education, musicians and symphony officials emphasize the Link Up concerts and program are celebrations of students’ creativity and proof of the importance of incorporating music into schools. Since 2003, the West Michigan Symphony has partnered with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute to provide the Link Up program, a national initiative that pairs orchestras across the country with schools in their local communities.

Students in third through fifth grades learn how to play the recorder and read music as part of the program, which too ends up building self-esteem, introducing children to the area’s cultural organizations and institutions, and connecting the dots between music and the rest of a student’s academics, from math to history, educators and musicians have said.

“We applaud the excellent work the students and teachers have put into the program this season—and we share their disappointment,” West Michigan Symphony Director of Education Karen Vander Zanden said in a press statement. “Although nothing can replace attending the live symphony, we are preparing a play-along video—in effect, our own virtual Link Up mini-performance. Students will be able to watch our video recording and play along on their recorders from home.”

Sixteen years ago, in 2003, Carnegie Hall selected the West Michigan Symphony to be one of 10 orchestras throughout the country to launch the national Link Up program. West Michigan Symphony leaders and local educators flew to New York City to be trained in the program,

Now, Link Up has grown to include more than 100 orchestras around the world, and, locally, it has reached some 60,000 students.

To read our article covering last year’s Link Up program, please click here.

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