Belles & Brass

By Gretchen Eichenberg

Waco Youth learn the importance of symphony in the community

The Waco Symphony Belles and Brass will take center stage at a special presentation and gala on Saturday, March 16, all benefitting the local orchestra.

The presentation of the Symphony Belles in their colorful ball gowns will take place at 6 p.m. at Waco Hall on the campus of Baylor University. A reception will commence at 6:30 at the Earle-Harrison House where family and friends can gather before the Symphony Gala, which begins at 7:30 p.m. The Belles & Brass will be introduced and celebrated with an evening of food, drinks and dancing.

“The Belles and Brass tradition is an integral part of the Waco Symphony,” Elizabeth Barnhill, president of the Waco Symphony Council, said. “The students receive invaluable experience with leadership and volunteerism as well as beginning an appreciation for symphonic music. They enjoy getting to know students from different high schools and a great introduction to supporting the arts in our community. The program culminates in a beautiful presentation and gala to celebrate their accomplishments with patrons of the symphony.”

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 throughout Central Texas.

This season, the Symphony Association presents 37 Belles and eight Brass. 37 sophomore Belles are already in place to be presented next year. Brandi Ray and Deanna Starling are the Waco Symphony Association’s co-chairmen for the Belles and Brass.

The Belles and Brass program also is a significant part of the Symphony’s annual fundraising efforts.

“While the primary purpose of the Belles and Brass program is to enhance the cultural experiences of the participants, it also serves as a fundraiser for the Waco Symphony,” Carolyn Bess, executive director of the Waco Symphony Association, said. “We hope that it attracts parents, families and friends of those participating and encourages them to become patrons. By exposing the participants to symphonic music, our hope is that they become long-term supporters of the WSO or symphonies wherever they choose to live in the future.”

Giving young people the opportunity to experience live symphony orchestra concerts and to volunteer for the arts in the community can ignite an appreciation of music and develop their leadership skills, Bess said.

“Belles and Brass serve as ushers for our season concerts and interact with patrons of varied ages and backgrounds, ensuring that they have a positive experience,” Bess said. “I hope they enjoy participating and witnessing how the arts contribute to the quality of life in our community.”

The 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 Etiquette and Leadership Institute. The participants learned how to communicate and engage with others.

In addition, participants enjoyed getting together with kids from other schools from around the area through a team building experience at the Baylor Ropes Course and a music appreciation seminar through the Baylor School of Music.

Seasoned symphony supporter Margaret Brown, who passed away last fall, created the Junior Belle 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.

Throughout the years, 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 2024-2025 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 wacosymphonycouncil.com.