Under Their Nose: The Grand Rapids Symphony found its new president within the search committee

As a kid, Grand Rapids native Mary Tuuk found herself in the audience of the Grand Rapids Symphony often. Now, the Calvin College alumna will be taking a different seat, one behind the desk labeled “GRS President and CEO.” She’ll be bringing a unique combination of skills to the job, including her business experience, such as her most recent role as chief compliance officer/senior vice president of properties and real estate with Meijer, Inc.

But more importantly, she’ll be bringing a life-long passion for music, which began when her brother taught her how to play the piano as a child. Even though she’s been a part of the GRS organization for years — both as a board and symphony chorus member — the first thing she plans to do is a lot of listening in hopes to better understand this organization from every single vantage point, and figure out what the GRS future can look like.

(Laughs) Well, it was definitely a surprise, but originally I was going to chair the board in the spring of 2019. As part of that, after Peter Perez announced his retirement, I became the chair of the search committee for that position. We met starting at the end of the summer and continued to follow a very regular process. … Then the search committee approached me and asked if I would consider the position, and that’s how it all came about.

Are there any main concerns you plan on addressing as the GRS president?

The artistic product that we are able to produce today, as well as the possibilities in front of us, I think are phenomenal. I think the opportunity that I have, and what I’ll be focused on, is how do we continue to not only cultivate but grow and expand our product in a way that is also prudent for the organization. Most importantly, my role is a support role; to be able to support the artistic mission of the organization in a prudent way, and in a way that allows us to start that next chapter of the orchestra’s story.

Is there anything you can think of right now that you’re hoping to accomplish during your tenure?

There’s a lot out in front of us. It all comes back to how do we take the artistic mission of the organization and how do we provide the right support behind it so that it ultimately leads to a much more vibrant West Michigan community impact, but also, in the orchestra world and orchestra industry.

How do you think you can bring more of the community to the symphony?

I think the opportunities to impact the community are literally endless. There are so many different facets to what we do that can add additional value to the community. At the end of the day, it’s about enriching other lives in the community and that can happen with what we do onstage, it can happen with what we do as we go out in the community and perform in other venues. Our education programs are so incredibly important because we’re able to touch young lives, and start that shaping of possibilities at a young age. So the possibilities for positive impact on the community are truly endless.

What of your previous work experience do you think has best helped prepare you for the role you’re about to take on?

My banking background provides a lot of insight on financial management processes and my more recent background in retail has also given me a tremendous opportunity to really think about the consumer and what the experience looks like, and that can translate well into this particular position. Then there’s also my experience and involvement in music over the years both as a performer, as well as a board member for various arts organizations. 

How does your performing experience help?

I can also think of things through the hat of being a performer for the symphony chorus, what it’s like to prepare for a concert, go through rehearsals, that onstage experience as well as what can happen offstage. Then also thinking about the experience I have as a member of the audience, as a long-time attendee of the GRS, and the experience that I’ve had getting to know our musicians in different capacities as well as our team in the office.

In many respects, it’s the perfect and incredible combination of all of those different experiences that have led to this stop in the journey. I’m very, very excited about what’s in front of us.

What are you most looking forward to in regard to taking over the position?

The fact that my passion has now become my profession is literally a dream come true.