Symphony in the streets: DSO musicians visit and perform at city parks throughout the summer

This Street View series on Detroit's commercial corridors is made possible with support from the Ford Foundation.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra often bills itself as “The most accessible orchestra on the planet,” a claim found everywhere from their Facebook page to their official website, and many online points between. And while that’s a statement that proves incredibly difficult to confirm, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) has demonstrated a commitment to making itself more accessible to everyday Detroiters. Their Detroit Neighborhood Initiative has invited DSO musicians out of the esteemed confines of Orchestra Hall and the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center and into the city’s neighborhoods, where the world-class musicians perform for Detroiters outside and in parks throughout the city.

Daniel A. Washington, founder and executive director of NW Goldberg Cares.It’s important stuff, says Daniel A. Washington, founder and executive director for NW Goldberg Cares, the community development corporation (CDC) that serves the NW Goldberg neighborhood. The CDC has been hosting DSO musicians at Spotlight Park every Friday afternoon throughout July.

“This has been like a watershed for moment for me, as a Black male who was born and raised in the city who’s always heard about the DSO, but never necessarily felt like it was a place for me to be or for me to enjoy,” Washington says. “It’s been really awesome to see young Black kids — and really kids of all ages and backgrounds, because there’s white kids as well — attending these events.”

The DSO Detroit Neighborhood Initiative launched in spring 2021, and has so far had the DSO host events in the Southwest Detroit, Chandler Park, Dexter-Linwood, and Northwest Goldberg neighborhoods. The DSO has made gathering community input central to their programming, meeting with more than 100 community organizations and hosting more than 20 listening sessions with the residents themselves. They used that input to build the initiative. Support from the General Motors Corporation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has made the work possible.

“The rich cultural experiences found across Detroit neighborhoods are part of what make our city so special. We are honored to co-create celebratory musical experiences with partners and community members across the city through our Detroit Neighborhood Initiative,” says Karisa Antonio, the DSO’s Director of Social Innovation.

“[This] justifies and validates our theory that these spaces can not only be safe spaces, but actually can be places where people convene and get much needed services and experiences,” Washington says.
This summer has already seen a number of the Neighborhood Initiative events play through. There was Sounds of Summer 2 in Chandler Park, where the Gregory Walker Jazz Quartet, Musicians from the DSO, and Testimony Sings played Detroit jazz, gospel, and Motown songs. The Clark Park Culture and Arts Festival joined musicians from the DSO with Mariachi Femenil Detroit, Ballet Folklorico Moyocoyani Izel, and others. And the DSO musicians performed at the recent Freedom! The Second Annual Community Arts and Music Festival in Chandler Park, too.

Spotlight Park is located at 5945 Linwood St. in Detroit.In NW Goldberg, Washington’s CDC has been hosting members of the DSO each Friday throughout the month of July for the Music In the Park series of events at Spotlight Park.

“Our partnership with Northwest Goldberg Cares has resulted in the first annual Music in the Park summer series, a series that connects local children and families with DSO musicians, local artists, and hands-on music making, with a goal of fostering self-expression and early childhood development,” says Antonio. “We thank the W. K. Kellogg Foundation for supporting this beautiful partnership."

Spotlight Park is one of several pocket parks that NW Goldberg has built over the past few years, part of Washington’s goal to build 20 pocket parks in his neighborhood by the year 2025. The Rest. Play. Ride Park was completed in late June; Curtis Jones Park is currently under construction.

The partnership that brings the DSO to Spotlight Park further reinforces Washington’s vision of a network of pocket parks throughout NW Goldberg, pocket parks that not only beautify vacant lots but are also activated with important community programs.

“With the Curtis Jones construction news and the programming happening in these existing parks, it justifies and validates our theory that these spaces can not only be safe spaces, but actually can be places where people convene and get much needed services and experiences,” he says.

“It’s just amazing to see these families getting to enjoy something as prestigious as the DSO in their neighborhoods,” Washington says.The Music In the Park series continues through the month of July, with events scheduled for Friday, July 22, and Friday, July 29, and both from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Spotlight Park. Participants will not only be treated to performances from the DSO musicians, but also enjoy interactive lessons in melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, expression, and sound. The events are free and open to the public, although registration is requested online.

This year’s season of the DSO Detroit Neighborhood Initiative wraps with a special Music In the Park event at Spotlight Park on Saturday, July 30, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Joining the DSO musicians will be Exploring Sound, Detroit Harmony, Detroit Suzuki, and Audra Kubat.

“It’s just amazing to see these families getting to enjoy something as prestigious as the DSO in their neighborhoods,” Washington says.

Spotlight Park is located at 5945 Linwood St. in Detroit.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.