Belles & Brass

By Gretchen Eichenberg

Seventy Waco youth recognized at spring concert

Nineteen-year-old violinist Simone Porter will play selections from Barber, Rossini and Higdon beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at Waco Hall.

Even at her young age, Porter has already appeared with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Houston Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She made her professional debut at age 10 with the Seattle Symphony and her international debut at age 13 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.

After the March concert, a presentation of the Waco Symphony Council’s 2018 Belles and Brass will highlight a group of Waco youth interested in music and community service. A reception hosted by the Waco Symphony Council, honoring the Belles and Brass, will take place after the concert.

Symphony Belles and Brass are a group of high school juniors who participate in the Waco Symphony Council’s program for young women and men who have a love for music and a desire to be more involved in the community.

The program is intended for young women who are entering their sophomore year in high school and young men entering their junior year in high school. Participants of the Belles and Brass program attend schools throughout Central Texas. The highlight of the program is the presentation of the junior class Belles and the Brass at a spring concert. This season, the symphony council presents 40 Belles and 30 Brass. Charlotte Henderson and Michelle Sanders are the Waco Symphony Council’s co-vice presidents for the Belles and Brass.

“Our Belles and Brass have many opportunities to step outside what most high school juniors are doing,” said Christi Young, Waco Symphony Council president. “Through music appreciation, leadership and etiquette training, along with volunteering at various symphony events, they are getting exposure to the cultural arts while learning leadership and social skills. These experiences give them valuable knowledge that will benefit them throughout their personal and future professional lives.”

The season began in September 2017 with an orientation at First Baptist Woodway for all Belles, Brass and their parents, followed by a music appreciation and symphony etiquette seminar. The music seminar was held on the campus of Vanguard College Preparatory School, under the instruction of Zerek Dodson, a Baylor University master’s candidate in collaborative piano and musicology. In October, the group participated in the Baylor Challenge Course, a ropes course at Eastland Lakes, where they bonded with one another and learned to support each other. The junior Belles and Brass serve as ushers at symphony concerts throughout the year, so this training helps them excel in that role.

Exposing young people to a live symphony orchestra is one of the most valuable things we can do for them, said Susan Taylor, executive director of the Waco Symphony Association. When serving as ushers for season concerts, they get to experience firsthand the impact the arts has on a community and how it adds to the quality of life in Waco, she added.

Junior Belles and Brass participated in a dining etiquette and manners seminar led by local etiquette consultant Sarah Aynesworth, who was trained and certified by The Protocol School of Washington, The Emily Post Institute and the Etiquette and Leadership Institute.

Besides learning about the arts, participants enjoy getting together with teens from other schools from around the area. Reicher Catholic High School junior Hailey Hack enjoyed being with friends from other schools through the Belles and Brass program.

“The best part of Belles is having the opportunity to spend time with old friends and to make new friendships with girls from other schools in the greater Waco community,” she said. “The program has also instilled in me a greater respect and appreciation for the arts and the symphony in particular, which is something I did not have before Belles.”

Carter Boehm, a junior at Vanguard College Preparatory School, agreed.

“I have enjoyed reconnecting with old friends from other schools,” he said. “And I think this program helps teenagers develop an appreciation for classical music and the contribution made to the culture of our city by the Waco Symphony Orchestra. The etiquette, leadership and social training help us develop life skills that we will take with us to college and beyond.”

Waco High School junior Dylan Dyer said he plans to use the skills he learned as a member of the Brass in the years to come.

“Belles and Brass has been a great experience for me,” Dyer said. “The ropes course was a fun team-building opportunity and also taught me how to trust others, which I think will be valuable in the future.”

Seasoned symphony supporter Margaret Brown created the Junior Belles program in 1965 to raise money for the Waco Symphony Orchestra and to provide a cultural experience for young women in their junior year of high school. It was also Brown’s hope to expand the symphony’s audience by bringing in new families through the program, Taylor said.

In 1988, the Belles program was expanded to a two-year experience, and sophomore girls were included so they could learn the ropes. In 1990, the symphony council introduced a similar program for young men in their junior year of high school.

Throughout the years, Taylor said, the Symphony Belles program has enhanced the leadership of the board and the symphony council by bringing in fresh faces and new ideas — from parents of participants and even from former Belles.

To be considered for the Belles and Brass program, a student’s parents or grandparents must purchase two sustainer-level tickets to the Waco Symphony Orchestra and join the Waco Symphony Council. Then, a Belle and Brass fee covers the cost of the seminars that the students are required to attend throughout the year, as well as the presentation and reception honoring the junior Belles and Brass.

The Waco Symphony Council will be taking nominations for the 2018-2019 Belles and Brass program beginning the first week of April. The nomination forms and applications will be posted on the Waco Symphony Council website at