Diane McElfish Helle is one of just five orchestra musicians from across the United States to receive a Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service from the League of American Orchestras. The program, made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund, celebrates orchestra musicians and the inspirational work they do in their communities.
McElfish Helle, a violinist, will be honored for leading the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Music for Health Initiative, a program that sends symphony musicians into area hospitals to assist with patient rehabilitation as well as to create supportive physical, emotional and spiritual experiences for patients as well as for the friends, families and providers who care for them.
With funding from the Perrigo Company Charitable Foundation, Music for Health was launched in 2013 by a group of six GRS musicians, led by McElfish Helle, at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.
“Music not only has the power to warm the heart and nourish the soul, it also has the ability to heal as well,” said Grand Rapids Symphony President and CEO Peter Perez. “Concert goers have long known that music, in the best of times, provides enlightenment, enrichment and relaxation. But in the worst of times, when people are affected by illness or injury or are recovering from stroke, brain injury or dementia, music offers comfort, support and encouragement that in some ways is even more important.”
McElfish Helle, who is completing her 37th season with the Grand Rapids Symphony, will be presented with her award at the League of American Orchestras’ 72nd National Conference in Detroit, June 6-8, and will discuss her work at an elective session for Conference delegates.
The musicians were selected by a panel of peer professionals through a competitive nomination process to receive the awards, which include a $2,500 grant to each musician, as well as an additional $2,500 grant to the musician’s home orchestra to support professional development focused on community service and engagement for musicians.
“We’re proud to recognize these talented musicians and their generous outreach into the community to help improve people’s lives,” said Jim Vella, president, Ford Motor Company Fund. “Orchestras are an essential thread in the rich cultural fabric of our communities and a joyful musical experience for people in all walks of life.”
McElfish Helle, a native of Pittsburgh, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and a Master of Music degree from Indiana University. A member of the Grand Rapids Symphony since 1980, she performed for 20 years as a member of the symphony’s Dorian String Quartet. Since 2002, she has worked with the String Discovery Ensemble, a violin quartet offering a hands-on musical experience to fourth graders throughout the region. Creator of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s pre-concert lecture series, “Upbeat,” she has been a host and frequent lecturer since 1987.
For more than 20 years, she was an artist-faculty violin instructor at Grand Valley State University and formerly played second violin in GVSU’s quartet-in-residence, Perugino String Quartet. In 2011, McElfish Helle was honored by the WYCA of West Michigan with their Tribute Award for the Arts.