The Great River String Ensemble was the name chosen by a group of string musicians from Aitkin-Crosby and surrounding areas who were frustrated at not having an opportunity to play with other artists and share their love of music. A local group got together and asked Richard Aulie, Crosby, MN band director if he would direct a group of community members who were interested in forming a string ensemble. The group (10) practiced in the basement of the Jacques Art Center. Their first concert, "Simple Gifts" was held on November 20 and 21, 1999 and met with great success. In January 2000 the Great River Strings Ensemble Board was elected with Lynn Foote as President, By-Laws were drawn up and application was begun for a 501-C3 Status. Soon the Jacques was too small and the group moved its practice site to the basement of the Aitkin United Methodist Church. String players continued to join the GRS from Aitkin, Crosby Deerwood, Garrison, Brainerd and Emily and the practice site moved to the Aitkin High School Band Room. Not even the prospect of "no money" daunted the group and through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council it was able to "make music" for two more concerts. With tremendous support from the community they were able to purchase a keyboard as well as a "tux for the conductor".
The ensuing years have seen a dramatic growth in the Great River Strings program and outreach. In order to provide entry level experience into string music for students of all ages and abilities, the Ripple River String was formed in 2000 to service beginners. The group is able to collect and refurbish donated string instruments if needed and provide appropriate music for all levels at no cost to players. Mr. Aulie conducts the Great River Strings orchestras with Jill Lee conducting the Ripple River Strings. We are very fortunate to be given the use of the vacated Crosby-Ironton Jr. High Band Room and the combined Orchestras now serves 45 plus musicians. Several smaller groups have formed from these players and provide a variety of musical programs for nursing homes, civic organizations, churches and home town festivals.
The Great River String Ensemble is committed to bringing people together who are passionate about playing string music. The Ensemble provides both an opportunity to learn how to play as well as to perform. All ages are encouraged and our talents span from 8 to 85.
GRS Impact Statement -- Great River Strings continues to be very committed to promoting musical opportunities for people in our area. We have seen an increase in the number of youth who are taking lessons and joining the beginning orchestra (RRS) as well as graduating to the more advanced music in the Great River Strings. The GRS Board focuses on opportunities for quality musical experiences by featuring guest artists and / or educational components in our concerts. These concerts have been very well received and we are becoming a recognized musical venue in this area. We have grown to 45 members. Our musicians actively volunteer to play for nursing homes, churches and civic groups and activities within our area. Our concert attendance is around 400 and growing.