Belles & Brass

By Gretchen Eichenberg

Promoting community service and classical music among Waco youth

The orchestral works of American composer and pianist George Gershwin — featuring “Cuban Overture,” “An American in Paris” and selections from “Porgy and Bess” — will commence at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18 at Waco Hall.

A presentation of the Waco Symphony Council’s 2017 Belles and Brass will follow the concert, highlighting a group of Waco-area 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 consists of high school students 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 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 64 Belles and 39 Brass. Janice Warren and Angie McGregor are the co-vice presidents for the Belles and Brass program.

“During the year, our Belles and Brass attend music appreciation, leadership and etiquette seminars, along with volunteering at various symphony events,” McGregor said. “These experiences give them valuable knowledge that will benefit them throughout their personal and future professional lives.”

The season began in September 2016 with an orientation at First Baptist Woodway for all Belles and Brass and their parents, followed by a music appreciation and symphony etiquette seminar. The 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 prepares them to work together in this 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 kids from other schools from around the area. Vanguard College Preparatory School junior Carlyn Mattson found herself reunited with friends from other schools through the Belles and Brass program.

“It’s been fun getting to hang out with my Midway friends,” she said. “Now that we go to different schools, we don’t get to see each other that often, so I’ve enjoyed that.”

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 Belle 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 costs 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 2017-2018 Belle and Brass program, beginning the first week of April. The nomination forms and applications will be posted on the Waco Symphony Council website at