BELDING — When visitors arrived to the reveal of the new Belding Performing Arts Center Sunday afternoon, an atmosphere of professionalism took hold of each and every child, student and adult as they placed their first steps into the vast 550-seat auditorium.
People shuffled slowly to their armchairs, feeling the texture of the wooden handrails under their palms while staring in amazement at the giant suspended sound reflectors hanging from the ceiling.
In awe of the new, giant splendor of an auditorium that now sits in the heart of the Belding community, everyone’s thoughts were eventually brought to the giant curtain hiding what was to be on stage.
And then, as the lights dimmed and the crowd hushed to a complete silence, the concert began. The first note played, and when that curtain finally pulled apart to reveal the full 105-member Belding High School Concert Band, the sound that emerged was one that had not yet been heard before in the Belding area.
It was a moment that no one in attendance is likely to forget as the band performed ‘Wizards in Winter’ by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
The audience, unable to contain itself, immediately erupted into applause, and for the next hour, the sound that came forth from the high school students entertained a standing-room only crowd, treating them to a Christmas concert like never before witnessed at Belding High School.
“I’m just glad that so many people from the community came to witness this,” Belding High School Music Director Laura Hyler said. “I’m very thankful for all of the alumni that came, because this is their community.”
Hyler, in her second year as director at Belding High School, said the experience to open a new auditorium in her profession is one she will never forget.
“I’m a kid in a candy shop,” she said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. Not many directors get to premiere a brand new auditorium.”
The Belding High School jazz and concert bands played a variety of songs, ranging from classics such as ‘Sleigh Ride’ to a unique rendition of ‘’Twas the Night Before Christams,’ narrated by High School Principal Brett Zuver.
With sound and lighting equipment that can rival most professional facilities in the Grand Rapids area, Zuver said the performing arts and drama programs at the high school can finally perform in the capacity that they have long deserved.
“Both band and drama will benefit exponentially,” he said. “Everything from the sound system to the lighting system is state-of-the-art. We’ve been told the sound system is exactly like what they have at the DeVos Performance Hall, just on a smaller scale.”
The auditorium, which features two side balconies, a sound booth, lighting booth, professional backstage area and equipment and adjoining dressing rooms, is now another part of several new additions to the Belding Area Schools district that stems from the $38 million bond levy that voters approved in 2010.
That includes a new high school gymnasium, high school commons area and administrative facilities, outdoor athletic facilities and new additions to Ellis Elementary and Belding Middle School.
“It’s just amazing,” Zuver continued. “This is just one more huge step forward with everything that has been going on as far as building and improvements district-wide. Last year we had science classrooms, then the track, then the football field, then the gym and now this. It’s one huge milestone in the construction that we have going on and it was wonderful to see it opened to a packed house with a standing-room only crowd.”
Standing-room only was an understatement. Visitors to the first-ever concert at the performing arts center filled nearly every seat, including additional seats brought into the auditorium, leaving the last to arrive seated in the aisles.
But no one seemed to mind. At the conclusion of the concert, everyone was treated to cake and punch in the surrounding hallways, allowing people to tour the new lobby at the rear of the auditorium as they mingled with students and school faculty.
School Board President Tom Humphreys, who watched the concert from the rear of the auditorium in the sound booth, said the sound of the bands went above anything he had anticipated to hear.
“The students obviously played very well tonight,” he said. “Tonight they had excellent direction and we’ve got a lot of talent. That just makes this facility seem that much better.”
Humphreys said the quality of the facility also surpassed anything he had imagined.
“The facility exceeded my expectations,” he said. “We were told we were going to get a top-notch state-of-the-art facility and equipment and it’s even better than that. I think we’re in some pretty elite company.”
Humphreys said the long wait for such a facility was worth it for the programs offered at Belding High School.
“We’ve always had an extremely strong drama program and they were limited with the space and facilities that we had previously,” he said. “We wanted to accommodate their needs and the architects did a good job of showing us what they envisioned and allowing us to be a part of that.”
The new auditorium replaces the original high school auditorium that seated far less and was not designed with great acoustics to properly feature band and drama programs.
“The big difference is that there isn’t a bad seat in the house,” Hyler said. “We used to have dead spots in the old auditorium, but now you can hear every detail of the band from anywhere you sit.”
The students on stage Sunday afternoon took notice as well.
Belding High School junior Tayler Reeves, 16, said she believes the band put on one of their best performances on account of the new auditorium.
“I think we were more excited to play tonight,” she said. “You can hear each individual section of the band now, it sounds so much better.”
When the main curtain pulled apart to reveal the audience, Reeves said she was blown away by the capacity crowd.
“The first thought that crossed my mind when the curtains opened was, oh my gosh, there are so many people!” Reeves exclaimed. “In the old auditorium the seating when straight back, but this one goes straight up so you could see everyone.”
Reeves said she believes the auditorium will inspire the arts programs in Belding to shoot for higher expectations in the future.
“I think this makes us want to strive for perfection now,” she said. “We want to make our school proud that we have this type of facility to play in now and we just want to make everyone happy and feel like we deserve it.”
Belding High School sophomore Monica Baylis, 16, said playing in the new auditorium gives students a sense of purpose when performing on stage.
“It’s just exciting to look out there in the crowd, you really feel like you are performing for something,” she said. “You’re just excited to play.”
At the conclusion of the concert, Zuver said he was just happy to see a smiling face on nearly everyone as they exited the auditorium.
“It’s neat just to see people’s faces, being their first time seeing this,” he said. “To see their eyes open wide and their jaws drop, everybody just said ‘wow, this is something we can be proud of tonight.’ This says a lot about our community and the support that we have.”