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Bozeman Symphony threads music into community

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The Bozeman Symphony plays a free family concert on Feb. 11. PHOTO COURTESY OF BOZEMAN SYMPHONY

Music Director Norman Huynh aims to make the symphony a ‘household name’ in Bozeman, provide accessible and diverse programming to Gallatin Valley


BOZEMAN—The conductor for the Bozeman Symphony is most often seen with his back to the audience guiding a 75-person orchestra with precise movements of his baton. Behind the scenes, Norman Huynh not only provides rehearsal feedback to musicians, but assembles unique programming that appeals to audiences beyond seasoned classical music lovers.

The Bozeman Symphony first shared orchestral music with the Gallatin Valley in 1910, although the present-day nonprofit iteration wasn’t founded until 1968. Now, the symphony aims to weave music into the daily lives of Montanans through providing accessible and engaging music.

“Every piece of music has some sort of story to tell,” Huynh told EBS. “The symphony is a place that people can come to and step away from their phones, from everyday life, to sit in a dark room and hear people play music … On a deeper level, the role that the symphony can play in the community can go beyond the stage.”

Music Director Norman Huynh hails from Alabama and came to Bozeman in 2019. PHOTO COURTESY OF BOZEMAN SYMPHONY

Huynh, a graduate of the University of Alabama with a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the Peabody Institute, believes that music is for everyone. He joined the Bozeman Symphony in 2020 as music director and crafts unique programming that blends classics like Ludwig van Beethoven with modern melodies that listeners are likely to recognize from film scores.

Firebird and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, a performance coming up on Feb. 25 and 26, will begin with a 6-minute piece written in Montana by composer-in-residence Scott Lee to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park. The program will then jump 250 years into the past to a piece by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with violin from Carrie Krause before moving into “The Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky, which Huynh noted may be recognized from the score of Disney’s “Fantasia.”

Huynh recognized that not everyone will know the music ahead of a show, but believes his programming is entertaining both to well-tuned and novice ears.

“If you come and you have no idea what’s being played, it’s still going to be an entertaining night,” Huynh said. Part of his philosophy with programming is breaking some of the typical symphony formality by explaining context to audience members mid-show, not upholding a strict dress code and allowing listeners to clap between movements. “What we’ve been doing—basically breaking down the barrier between the audience and the orchestra and the conductor—people are latching on to and loving it.”

Another accessibility aspect that the Bozeman Symphony is working toward is bringing music to an audience, rather than always requiring the audience to come listen in the concert hall. The orchestra holds concerts outdoors in parks, has specific free programming geared toward young children, collaborates with the Bozeman Public Library for storytelling with musical accompaniment and brings song to rural communities outside of Bozeman.

This programming requires increased funding, explained Vanessa Skelton with the Bannack Group, an organization that works with nonprofits to develop strategy and resources to achieve their community-based goals. Skelton works with the Bozeman Symphony on fundraising.

“We have just launched our Ode to Joy campaign,” Skelton said. “The fundraising campaign is about raising money to really help execute the vision that Norman has … Norman is just the guy to do it. He’s got some incredible energy and he’s done some great work.”

According to Skelton, the 2022 Holiday Special symphony show, a program funded by recent efforts, engaged 5% of the entire Bozeman community, suggesting that Huynh’s goals resonate with the people in the Gallatin Valley.

“I want the Bozeman Symphony to eventually be a household name in this area, so that everyone has had access to or a touch point with the symphony, whether it’s through performances with the full orchestra or a family bringing their kids to the library,” Huynh said. “[I want] more outreach out into the rural communities, going to people outside of Bozeman and providing access to this incredible music, and basically to create a unique experience for my community.”

Firebird & Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 will take place at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 25 and 26 at the Willson Auditorium in Bozeman. For more information about the concert, check out Bozeman Symphony’s website.

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