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Dave Crider

Executive Director, Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra

When Dave Crider was a kid, he ate, slept and lived to play percussion.

“Music was all I wanted to do, and I could do it endlessly,” the 37-year-old says.

Growing up in the Northern Michigan town of Suttons Bay, Crider was the son of an auto mechanic who played drums, but Crider didn’t take music lessons until he went to college. He went on to get a master’s degree in music at Ohio University and has won numerous awards from DownBeat magazine and the Percussive Arts Society.

Despite the call of performing, Crider took over the reins as executive director of the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra last June, replacing Lee Fletcher, who had been with the organization for 38 years.

In his role at the helm, Crider oversees all the administrative operations of the 85-year-old nonprofit, which brings together some of the most talented young musicians from across Southwest Michigan and currently has more than 75 members.

Crider says being a percussionist makes him well suited to the job. “As a percussionist, you’re used to dealing with lots of little pieces of things. You’ve got all your different instruments and implements, and so organizing and operations comes pretty natural to me.”

How did you get where you are today?

I went to Grand Rapids Community College out of high school. They have a full-blown music program with teachers on every instrument, and band, orchestra and choirs, which is very rare for a community college. It was incredible. I didn’t have any money, and at the time I couldn’t get financial aid, and they just let me audit classes, and I played in all the ensembles for, like, two years.

After a couple of years there, I went to Western (Michigan University) for percussion performance, studied with Judy Moonert, who I adore. I struggled at Western. There was a lot for me to learn, but I got there eventually. Then I went to Ohio University and studied with Roger Braun, who’s become a dear friend that I still get to work with occasionally. It took me about 10 years from high school graduation to finish my master’s. After that, I followed my now-wife to Arizona, where she had a job and I performed, taught lessons and worked as a freelance gigging musician for a few years.

We came back to Kalamazoo in 2018 — my wife’s job brought us back — and pretty quickly after that I got the operations director job at the KJSO, which was a part-time job that is really about stage setup and instrument logistics. Then Covid happened and I took the initiative to produce virtual concerts for the KJSO, recording each person individually and then splicing it all together. Because I had that skill set, it helped me become a bigger part of the organization and get to know the board and so on.

I wanted a full-time position, though, to get away from adjunct teaching online and doing little jobs. I found a job with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra as the after-school program manager for its Kids in Tune and Orchestra Rouh programs. I did that for about 18 months. And when Lee Fletcher announced her retirement from the KJSO, I applied for the job. I learned so much at the KSO that helped me feel ready to do this — I got to have more management experience, organizing all the instructors of those programs and managing the budget. I was hired and started in June 2023.

How do you follow a leader who was with the organization for 38 years?

I think a lot about how modest Lee kept the organization and focused on the families and the students, so I’m really focused on “right-sizing” — not thinking about how we can become bigger, but how can we be the best youth symphony program for our community, for our region.

You have to have a certain number of students to create certain opportunities — you can’t have chamber ensembles, string quartets and things like that if you don’t have a big orchestra to draw from.

But we should be really thoughtful about becoming so big and serious that students who might enjoy participating can’t because it would be the only activity they could do. So many of our students are in the KAMSC (Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center) program, do robotics, do debate, play multiple sports and do ballet and theater. Continuing to fit in the community to me is much more satisfying than getting bigger.

That said, I would also like the organization to grow its endowments and become self-sustainable. Right now, about 30% of our budget comes from local foundations, 30% from our annual fund drive, and another 10% from ticket sales. Our members pay dues, and we have a need-based scholarship fund to help with those dues to make sure that there is equal access for students to participate.

What gives you the most satisfaction in what you do?

The students that our program is able to serve on a really deep level, like a life-changing level. I think we reach and enrich the lives of many, many people in Kalamazoo and are part of the fabric that makes this an incredible town. But what really speaks to me are those students who come into this program and it becomes the center of their lives. It ends up guiding their lives in a positive direction. I’m all about creating an opportunity for the students to be excited about, enthused about and captivated by what we’re offering here. I had that experience as a kid. Music was always that for me.

– Interview by Marie Lee, edited for length and clarity

Marie Lee

Marie is the editor of Encore Magazine and vice president of Encore Publications, Inc. She’s been at the helm of Encore since October 2011. Marie’s background covers the gamut; she’s a former newspaper reporter and editor, a public relations and marketing communications professional, and book editor and collaborator. As Encore’s editor, she is dedicated to bringing the best things about the greater Kalamazoo community to the magazine’s readers.

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