DETROIT – Growing up in a musical family, Stephen Calkins, J.D., enjoyed playing trumpet in a band with his eight siblings back home in Buffalo, New York.
“People have loved music in my family for a long time,” said Calkins, whose passion for music rivals his fondness for the students at Wayne State’s Law School.
But now, the law professor is beating a drum to provide cultural opportunities to his students through the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s (DSO) Soundcard Student Membership program.
Thanks in part to Calkins’ five-year funding commitment, first-year law students can now attend performances by one of the world’s greatest orchestras simply by registering for card membership. More than 100 current law students and advisors have taken advantage of the program this year – normally a $25 annual fee – which provides access to most DSO performances and other programming at Orchestra Hall.
The idea, Calkins said, was to promote Wayne State and the DSO, Midtown and downtown Detroit.
“We have things that don’t exist in Ann Arbor and East Lansing,” Calkins said. “This is all about trying to encourage students to stay on campus and to appreciate the artistic advantages that Wayne State has that the University of Michigan and Michigan State do not have.”
Since August, the Law School has overseen the card program on campus, which received approval from Dean Richard Bierschbach.
“The dean immediately said ‘yes’ and was delighted to do it,” Calkins said. “He was enthusiastic and agreed to have the Law School administer it.”
Each card holder can attend 120 concerts all season long at Orchestra Hall, including classical, jazz, pops, chamber and children’s music. Calkins wants first-year law students to stay on campus longer by attending concerts and perhaps visit the neighborhood bars and restaurants before or after shows.
“The Soundcard is such an astonishing and inexpensive offering,” he said. “The idea that you could go to 120 concerts – all for free – is just breathtaking. And so that's really what drives the program. The DSO is keen on getting the next generation of young adults to attend, and who better than law school students, many of whom are going to remain in Michigan and be potential concertgoers for decades to come.”
Soundcard holder Sophie Raimi, a third-year Wayne Law student, finds the DSO experience to be meditative.
“It is so magical. It truly moves me,” she said. “It tells a convincing non-verbal and emotional story, which is like meditation for the mind.”
Raimi said her late grandfather was an opera and classical music aficionado, and now she knows why he appreciated it so much.
“I feel joyful when I am there,” she said, “and the music makes me feel close to him.”
When asked what she would tell friends or classmates about it, Raimi said, “It is indescribable until you go, but is was life-changing.”
A longtime DSO subscriber, Calkins said the importance of the world-famous cultural institution was one factor in his decision to underwrite Soundcards for students.
“In my view, it's in the interest of the Law School to have its students going to lots of the cultural opportunities around here, including ones right on the Wayne State campus,” Calkins said. “It’s also in the interest of the Wayne State Theater Department and Music Department to have graduate students and undergraduates attending performances. So, maybe we will expand things to include additional opportunities.”
Last spring, a student told Calkins that she didn’t know much about the symphony. So, the professor co-created a 10-page handbook entitled, The Unauthorized Beginner’s Guide to Classical Music and the DSO Soundcard, which is given to each new card holder.
“The guide includes my commentary on which pubs and restaurants to go to, where to park, which concerts to go to and where the musicians are, where to sit, all that sort of stuff,” Calkins said.
Although Calkins has committed to fund the card program through 2027, he hopes its ongoing success will gain enough support to create an endowment that allows the program to continue in perpetuity.
“It all stems from my love of the symphony, my love of Midtown Detroit, my love of my law students,” Calkins said. “It was a way at relatively little cost to do something that was good for the artistic community, good for Midtown and good for the Law School.”