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Sarah Ruddy, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra’s Education Director, wants to make one thing very clear: the symphony is not a bunch of snooty musicians.

“The symphony is for everyone,” Ruddy said. “It’s not just for rich people, it’s not just for old people, it’s for everyone.”IMG 4897

That message is coming across loud and clear at Taste of Music, an event the A2SO puts on throughout the summer at different Southeast Michigan farmers markets. The idea came about after A2SO started noticing how big farmers markets were becoming. They figured Taste of Music would be a great way to connect with the community during their off-season, and keep them fresh in people’s minds.

IMG 5390Each event has three components, none of which require paying for a ticket or wearing something fancy. First, there’s the chamber ensemble performances, which are usually done at the market’s peak time. Then there’s the instrument petting zoo, where guests of all ages can try everything from the cello to the trombone. Last—and certainly not least—is the free concert ticket vouchers that are given to those on food assistance programs shopping at the market. (At the end of the farmers market season, the A2SO takes any leftover ticket vouchers and gives them to food banks in the area to distribute.)

“We’re inviting this low-income population—who the symphony often has trouble reaching—to be our guests at concerts during our regular season,” Ruddy said. “For me, that’s really the most rewarding part of the program.”

Taste of Music is rewarding for everyone involved, including the area farmers markets.

Anne Reinhold, Market Manager at Westside Farmers’ Market in Ann Arbor, said there was one woman a few weeks ago who took the bus, which included a few transfers, to make sure she got to Taste of Music. She wanted to make sure she got to see the A2SO this season.

“Just being able to give people the opportunity to see a great performance they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see is heartwarming,” Reinhold said. “Making music accessible to people is terrific.”

Taste of Music is also making music accessible to kids who might not have the patience to sit through a whole symphony performance. Plus, they can get up and dance at Taste of Music, a highlight for A2SO trumpet player Becky Gawron, who plays in the brass quintet and gets to work the instrument petting zoo.

“It’s so cute to watch the little kids because when you’re playing on the main stage in the symphony that’s not a thing that happens in the audience,” Gawron said. “But when we get to do these things out in the community, we can encourage that [dancing] because that’s what music should be all about: having fun.”

That fun starts with the music the chamber ensembles play. Gawron, who has been with Taste of Music since it began, said they often select pieces that are a little more well known (think jazz and pop tunes), and shorter, since they are in a lighter, more relaxed, atmosphere. They also try to sneak in a little classical music here and there. They are part of a symphony after all.

“Sometimes the people in the farmers market have never been to a live performance before… that’s really cool that we get to go and do that,” Gawron said.

Another highlight for Gawron is getting to interact with the audience, where she and her fellow musicians can answer questions about the instruments and the songs they are playing.

The most interaction between musician and guest is the instrument petting zoo, where those young and old, symphony newbies and veterans, can test out an instrument or two.

“I’ve seen little kids playing with a violin, and even elderly people who are like ‘Well, I’ve never tried the violin before, let me try it,’” Reinhold said. “So it’s kind of a cool thing to bring everybody together.”

Ruddy said there have been times when grown adults will come up to them at the instrument petting zoo and tell them they haven’t played an instrument since the fifth grade before trying it once again. 

"I’m a sucker for the instrument petting zoo,” Ruddy laughed. “For people to come to the market to buy their lettuce and tomatoes, and to be able to come into our space and try out instruments and experience the symphony...I love that.”IMG 5133

All photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra.

Visit Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra's Taste of Music at the Chelsea Farmers Market on July 15th, at the Canton Farmers Market on July 23rd, Pittsfield Farmers Market on August 3rd, Ypsilanti Downtown Farmers Market on August 8th and Ypsilanti Depot Town Farmers Market August 12th.