Belles & Brass

By Gretchen Eichenberg

Promoting community services & classical music among Waco youth

Pictured: Photographs by Doug Fitzjarrell /

A celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday will commence at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 21 at Waco Hall as the Waco Symphony Orchestra pays homage to the renowned German pianist and composer. His genius will be duly honored by the performance of his iconic Symphony No. 5 and a rarely played dramatic battle spoof, “Wellington’s Victory,” the predecessor of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

After the concert, a presentation of the Waco Symphony Council’s 2020 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 at the Mayborn Museum.

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 32 Belles and 16 Brass. Thirty-one sophomore belles are already in place to be presented next year. Martha Kate Gunn and Leslie Rhea are the Waco Symphony Association’s co-vice presidents for the Belles and Brass.

“The Belles and Brass program is designed to raise awareness of the Symphony and to educate high school kids in music appreciation, leadership qualities and etiquette,” Rhea said. “It also gives participants an opportunity to meet other area students with whom they might not ordinarily associate.”

The season began in September with an orientation at Reicher Catholic High School for all Belles and 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 Samuel Parler, assistant professor of music history at Baylor University.

In October, the group participated in the Baylor Challenge Ropes 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 is important to their 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 at Ridgewood Country Club, 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 around the area. Vanguard College Preparatory School junior Emily Coleman said she enjoyed the opportunity to learn about her community and about music while meeting kids from other schools through the Belles and Brass program.

“My favorite part about Belles and Brass has been making new friends and rekindling old friendships from when I was younger,” she said. “This program is important because it exposes kids like us to the fine arts and helps us to develop a better appreciation for music, as well as learning the etiquette and protocol for attending a symphony.”

Caroline Lewis, a junior at Waco High School, agrees.

“Belles and Brass is a great way for high school students to meet new people while appreciating classical music and also learning crucial social skills,” she said. “The etiquette skills are something that will definitely benefit me in the future. But one of my favorite experiences was volunteering at the Tim Tebow [Foundation] ‘Night to Shine’ and being with many of my friends.”

A big takeaway from the Belles and Brass program is how fortunate Wacoans are to have their own symphony orchestra and that it’s important to support it.

“I love that our city, especially the size of Waco, has the opportunity to have and enjoy our own symphony orchestra,” said Reicher Catholic High School junior Jake Boozer. “Without it, we would have to travel to larger cities to enjoy the arts. The Belles and Brass program has helped build an appreciation for this.”

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 2020-2021 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

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