Belles & Brass

By Gretchen Eichenberg

Waco youth are trained in music appreciation and community service

Pictured: Photographs by Doug Fitzjarrell /

An all-orchestral performance, featuring the collective and individual talents of the Waco Symphony Orchestra musicians, will commence at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 23 at Waco Hall. Featuring selections like Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” Hindemith’s “Concerto for Woodwinds, Harp and Orchestra,” McCarthy’s “American Dance Music” and Bernstein’s “Fancy Free: Three Dance Variations,” Waco’s finest musicians will take the spotlight.

After the concert, a presentation of the Waco Symphony Council’s 2019 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 39 Belles and 26 Brass. Thirty-one sophomore Belles are already in place to be presented next year. Lisa Lewis and Laurie Kunka are the Waco Symphony Association’s co-vice presidents for the Belles and Brass.

“Our Belles and Brass program is a unique joint fundraiser between the symphony council and the symphony association,” said Paula Floeck, council president. “The funds we raise allow us to continue bringing in fine musicians and retaining the level of quality we’ve enjoyed for the last 56 years.”

The season began in September 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 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.

“The program exposes a younger age group to classical music, which is something they may not experience otherwise,” Floeck said. “They also learn leadership and social skills, while meeting others from around the community.”

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 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 from around the area. Vanguard junior Holley Anderson 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.

“Our whole class did the Baylor ropes course, and it was an amazing ice breaker for our group,” she said. “There was also a music appreciation seminar, which helped students our age understand and appreciate symphony music. It’s important for teens to be educated in things like that because it gives us more respect for music and art.”

Julianna Lewis, a junior at Midway, agrees.

“I have enjoyed being involved with Symphony Belles and Brass because it has given me an opportunity to make new friends in our community and reconnect with old ones,” she said. “The ropes course activity and etiquette class were highlights and reinforced skills needed for a lifetime. Because of this experience, I feel more confident, have improved my communication skills and am better equipped to effectively interact with people in my school and community.”

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 2019-2020 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

Click here for the Belles & Brass article digital edition.