The Hillsdale College Sym­phony Orchestra placed second in the annual American Prize com­pe­tition. James Holleman | Courtesy

The Hillsdale College Sym­phony Orchestra has long pro­vided beauty and culture to campus through its chal­lenging yet lovely per­for­mances. But in the last couple years, it has gained well-earned national recog­nition.

In July, American Prize awarded Hillsdale’s orchestra second place in the college division of its nationwide arts com­pe­tition. Davidson College Sym­phony Orchestra in Davidson, North Car­olina, beat out Hillsdale for first place, but Hillsdale came in ahead of College of William and Mary Sym­phony Orchestra based in Williamsburg, Vir­ginia.

The com­pe­tition is based on appli­cation. Orchestras can send recordings of per­for­mances two years old and newer.  Last year was the first time Director of Music James Holleman sub­mitted recordings from 2015 through 2017 con­certs.

“They’re looking for quality arts in the country, where you wouldn’t expect it, or it doesn’t get rec­og­nized,” Holleman said.

He said the American Prize judges pro­fes­sional, uni­versity, com­munity, and youth orchestras, as well as com­posers, vocal per­formers, and more. The Hillsdale College Sym­phony Orchestra had won a spot on the stage at the College Orchestra Directors Asso­ci­ation Con­ference and was the smallest college ever to perform there.

“I thought, ‘Why not throw our hat in the ring and see what happens?’” Holleman said.

So Holleman decided to apply for the American Prize.

Founded in 2009, The American Prize is a series of com­pe­ti­tions, admin­is­tered by a non­profit orga­ni­zation in Con­necticut called Hat City Music Theater, according to the American Prize blog.

Junior Sara Becker has par­tic­i­pated in the orchestra since she was a freshman and held the position of second violin during the 2017 – 2018 year. She said the last couple years have been exciting for the orchestra as members have grown in com­munity and tal­ented new members have been recruited.

“It’s nice recog­nition for the program, and really nice recog­nition of the work the stu­dents put into it, bal­ancing with dif­ficult aca­d­emics,” Holleman said. “They’re mostly not music majors, so it’s just really nice recog­nition for all those efforts and spirit.”

Becker said winning the award reflected on that unique dynamic of Hillsdale’s orchestra, in which stu­dents join simply because they enjoy music.

“You can be excellent in all dif­ferent areas,” she said. “The men­tality I see encouraged throughout the college is, if you’re going to do some­thing, do it well.”

Heather Wood­house, ’18, was a prin­cipal flutist, as well as picillo player.

“You’re there because you love it,” she said. “An instrument is some­thing they put in your hand in ele­mentary school or some later time, and it’s like a wand. You can do crazy things with it. Why would you want to stop?”

She said that the prize was won through a team effort. Last year, she said, the members learned to listen to each other more. Holleman said that while national recog­nition has come in the last couple years, it has been a long process of building the program that has brought recent success.

“Anybody who’s been a member shares in this,” he said.