Traverse City News and Events

TSO Relaunches as Traverse City Philharmonic; $500K Gift Advances New Center/School

By Beth Milligan | March 18, 2024

One of the region’s most high-profile arts organizations is getting a new identity. At a Sunday concert at Corson Auditorium, the Traverse Symphony Orchestra announced it will become the Traverse City Philharmonic – a change meant to encompass the numerous programs now under the organization’s belt beyond the orchestra, including jazz, education, and summer concerts. The rebrand coincides with the nonprofit’s move into a new home at the Cherryland Center this year, which will be called the Traverse City Philharmonic Center – with MSU Federal Credit Union announcing a $500,000 gift to the center.

Maestro Kevin Rhodes told concertgoers that the TC Phil, as the organization will be nicknamed, represents a “philosophical break with the past.” Founded by Elnora Milliken in 1952 as The Northwestern Michigan Symphony Orchestra – later becoming the Traverse Symphony Orchestra – the organization has grown over the decades from a small group of amateur volunteer musicians to a paid professional orchestra of over 60 members. That growth has accelerated post-pandemic with new programming, according to Executive Director Dr. Kedrik Merwin, ranging from the Maestro Series to jazz shows to summer concerts – held last year at Rotary Square, this summer to take place at the Civic Center.

That expanded programming “doesn’t seem to fit under the umbrella name of the orchestra,” says Merwin. “A bigger name is ‘philharmonic,’ which encompasses so much more.” Philharmonic in Greek means love of harmony or music, which Merwin says is an ideal umbrella to cover “all these additional things we’re doing. The name change needed to happen to represent the organization going forward.”

The timing is also ideal for a rebrand, since the nonprofit is building a new home – a move that already requires revamping marketing materials to reflect a new address, in addition to offering signage and naming opportunities at the new facility. The Ticker  broke the news last August that the Traverse Symphony Orchestra planned to establish new headquarters and a community music school in the former Kmart building at the Cherryland Center. The venture is intended to serve students of all ages – from infants to seniors – in the five-county region with a variety of musical classes and programming and the launch of a Youth Orchestra and Senior Band. TSO stated it’s committed to making the facility accessible to all backgrounds and income levels, including offering “significant scholarships” for students.

The transition from Traverse Symphony Orchestra to Traverse City Philharmonic will officially take effect online starting June 1. The new headquarters and school – on track for a September 1 opening – will be called the Traverse City Philharmonic Center. Having already secured several major gifts, the TC Phil is now four-fifths of the way toward its fundraising goal for the facility after the MSU Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU) announced a $500,000 donation Sunday through its foundation, the Desk Drawer Fund. A 4,800-square-foot rehearsal hall at the Traverse City Philharmonic Center – which will host rehearsals for all the ensembles and is large enough for smaller concerts and recitals, seating approximately 200 people in the audience – will be called the Desk Drawer Fund Rehearsal Hall.

April Clobes, president and CEO of MSUFCU, said naming the rehearsal hall “is an investment in the cultural legacy of our community, fostering a love for music that will resonate for generations to come.” Merwin says the fact Rhodes is an MSU alum contributed to securing the gift, as his role highlights the “good work their alumni are doing in the community.” The MSUFCU donation has also been a “catalyst for additional giving,” Merwin says, encouraging other philanthropists to come forward and make contributions.

In addition to continuing concerts and other programming, the TC Phil will focus the next several months on completing the Cherryland Center buildout. Cunningham-Limp is overseeing construction for the project. The space “has now been completely cleaned out, and all of the tearing down is done,” says Merwin. “We are starting to now build in the new things.” The early September opening will align with the start of the new school year, Merwin says, allowing educational programming, rehearsals, and recital series – plus the Traverse City Philharmonic Center name – to all launch simultaneously to the public in the new space.

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