Walvoord Retirement

Retirement Announcement

Longtime leader retires after 33 years

After 33 years of involvement and over two decades of leadership at  Holland’s largest music institution, Kay Walvoord is retiring as the president and CEO of the Holland Symphony Orchestra.

A classically trained oboist who has performed  with area orchestras and beyond, she gave up performing to become the hub of Holland’s beloved symphony as its chief administrator, public champion and educator extraordinaire.

During her tenure, she has overseen high-quality and strategic programming, deepening connection to community, increasing inclusion, and commitment to a continuous cycle of growth, all of which are essential for an orchestra to thrive.

Walvoord, who is stepping away to join her husband, Dr. Doug Walvoord, in retirement, says she never aspired to lead one of the Tulip City’s premiere arts and cultural organizations. She just has a strong sense of service and wants everybody to have a music education.

“Leading the growth of Holland Symphony with great colleagues has been one of the greatest joys and privileges of my life, but age does have a way of catching up with all of us,” said Walvoord.

Part of HSO founding

In 1988, Walvoord started the Holland Area Youth Orchestra. Two years later, she was among a core group of musicians who started the Holland Chamber Orchestra, which evolved into the Holland Symphony Orchestra.

Walvoord credits Cal Langejans, a music educator who led choirs in the Holland area for 60 years before his retirement in 2016, with providing the impetus for forming the HSO.

“Cal wanted orchestral accompaniment for the Holland Chorale’s Christmas concerts,” Walvoord says. “After three or four years of being in a pick-up orchestra, several of us decided playing together was too much fun to do it only for Cal, and only at Christmas.”

Walvoord served first as president of the board and, in 2000-2001, became the first executive director of the semi-professional community orchestra. Since then, she has multiplied the number of fine arts offerings in Holland for musicians and audiences.

“Kay Walvoord remains an incredible force for advocacy of classical symphonic music in the Holland community,” said Music Director Johannes Müller Stosch. “Over the past 17 years, she has been a strong supporter and real partner in striving for artistic growth of Holland Symphony. She is lovingly called the ‘Mother Superior’ of HSO. Kay is directly responsible for this exciting and incredibly fulfilling journey the orchestra has undertaken in the past years. I will miss her profoundly and wish all the best for this new chapter in her life.”

Walvoord also has led attempts to broaden HSO’s appeal among community members who did not grow up with classical music — historically a Eurocentric tradition. The initiative to infuse diversity, equity and inclusion includes an effort to perform music from composers around the world, having scores written so that the orchestra can accompany a diverse group of soloists from its community as part of the Music Unites Us concert in August, and adjusting the orchestra’s governing board to include more racial and ethnic minorities.


Kay Walvoord, CEO

Reaching out to more of community

Orchestras are vital parts of the arts industry in any community, but in recent decades orchestras have struggled with declines in audience attendance. That’s not the case with HSO, which traditionally had a high subscription rate and most recently sold out its last two concerts.

Ticket sales typically generate only 25% to 30% of the cost of operating small-budget orchestras like HSO, and state and community foundation grants, although greatly appreciated, generally aren’t substantial. Most of HSO’s annual budget comes from private donations.

Despite the challenges of an arts organization’s financial model, she loves supporting the HSO musicians. “All I need to do is sit in on a rehearsal and listen,” she says. “Music rejuvenates me. The music they produce is why we do what we do.”Enticing more people – and more types of people — to hear the symphony has become Walvoord’s top priority. HSO schedules a free community concert at Kollen Park every summer and provides a free concert for area fourth graders each March that punctuates a year-long music curriculum provided by Carnegie Hall.

In the spring of 2020, HSO was inspired to start a diversity, equity, inclusion and access committee to institute this priority of broadening the orchestra’s reach.

“The nation was still in the throes of the pandemic and it was not really a good time to start anything,” Walvoord says. “But it was apparent that we had to do something to unify people in the orchestra world and broaden our classical music’s Eurocentric history in favor of welcoming a broader section of humanity.”

Walvoord began by diversifying the racial and ethnic makeup of the HSO board. Now, four out of 22 members are people of color. She also strives to bring people with a diverse group of skill sets to the board, creating a complex alchemy that Walvoord says is essential to building public awareness of the symphony and solidifying its value.

HSO is among 15 West Michigan arts organizations chosen to participate in a two-year “capacity-building” series of webinars and consultations led by Michael M. Kaiser, who was president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington from 2001 to 2014. The process has been wonderfully affirming so far, Walvoord says, with Kaiser remarking that HSO is performing a repertoire on par with many larger regional orchestras.

“Kay is one the most remarkable arts leaders in the United States,” said Kaiser. “She has created a remarkable orchestra, ensured its growth even during difficult times, and established a family of supporters who will see the organization through this transition. It has been a great pleasure and honor to work with her on the plan for the Holland Symphony Orchestra.”

The Symphony’s board of directors is moving forward with the search for a new president/CEO, planning to have the position filled by May 2024. Interested applicants can contact search@hollandsymphony.org for more information.

Kay is one the most remarkable arts leaders in the United States. She has created a remarkable orchestra, ensured its growth even during difficult times, and established a family of supporters who will see the organization through this transition. It has been a great pleasure and honor to work with her on the plan for the Holland Symphony Orchestra.