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Love & Music

DSO Violins Will Haapaniemi and Hae Jeong Heidi Han

Sitting side-by-side in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s violin section as the David & Valerie McCammon Chairs, Will Haapaniemi and Heidi Han are an example of harmony—in more ways than one.

Their love story began as orchestra fellows at New World Symphonyan American orchestral academy and training ensemble in Miami Beach, FL. that prepares graduate musicians for professional careers in classical musicand blossomed into a marriage proposal before joining the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 2014.  

Landing permanent gigs with the DSO came after four positions opened and the couple traveled to the same blind audition, advanced to the final round (their marriage unbeknownst to orchestra personnel), and were ultimately offered jobs with the symphony.

For Will and Heidi, New World Symphony set the foundation for their romantic and musical companionship, and being part of the same section in the DSO is the icing on the cake.

Neither of them, however, expected their story to play out like this. Heidi shares that while attending New World, the thought of a serious relationship was laughable. "I was thinking for sure I wasn't going to get involved with anyone seriously, because who knows what the future holds. And then he came along." 

Will's plan was to strictly focus on the music and get a job as soon as possible. "That changed one week after I was at New World and met her," he says. "I was like 'whew', I like this girl." 



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Musical Beginnings & Evolution

Heidi began her musical journey as a kindergartner in Seoul, South Korea when her class was looking for students to play in a violin ensemble. "I raised my hand and volunteered. There are no musicians in my family, so it was just out of the blue. I liked it; I continued, and here I am,” she laughs.

Like his wife, Will’s music education was born of a slow-burning infatuation from a young age. With songs stuck in his head at just three years old, he began pestering his parents for lessons. “I started on a cardboard box because I was so little,” he remembers.

While they each have favorites, the couple share an appreciation for all musical periods and the composers identified with each. “When I was in college, I was in love with the Romantic Period. Brahms was my favorite,” Heidi recalls. She took to the fluctuating emotions of romantic works over comparatively solemn classical pieces. Today, though, she finds the beauty in them. “I’m like ‘wow’, why did I think they’re not as interesting?’ because they are interesting!”

Beethoven reigns supreme on Will’s list of favorites. “No matter how much you look at Beethoven’s music, it still has deeper levels,” he says. “His work is just incredibly well written and exciting to see.”


No matter what my age or what I’ve been listening to, I always come back to Beethoven as my favorite. ”

Will Haapaniemi

Will has upgraded from his cardboard-beginnings and the notes of Beethoven now emanate from his dark brown 1967 Sergio Peresson violin, formerly played by several famous soloists. The instrument’s deep shade attracts curious onlookers and fellow violinists alike, and led to Will being dubbed “that guy with the really dark Peresson” by former teacher Ruggiero Ricci. Heidi is proud to play a beautiful sounding 1908 Gaetano Sgarabotto; the model is known to be the best violin he ever made.

While their instruments are as individual as the musicians themselves, the couple isn’t unfamiliar with switching—a dire necessity during a New World Symphony performance of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2. Two pages before the end of Will’s solo, he played a “wild upbow” which popped the top of his violin off. Heidi, concertmaster for the program, quickly swapped in her violin so he could continue. “The change was extremely tight and we only barely made it, but it sounded good,” Will laughs nervously, “It was exciting at the time."

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High-stakes moments are commonplace for orchestra musicians, so the pair unwind after work with hobbies. Heidi loves cooking, and this year she’s had a lot of time to make meals from scratch. Like music, she has a taste for all kinds of food. “I don’t stick with one type: I go from Asian, to Asian fusion, to Italian. I don’t like eating the same thing twice in a row, so I cook a different recipe every day.”

“Heidi is a restaurant-quality chef,” Will says with a smile. Fueled by the energy of Heidi’s wonderful cuisine, Will enjoys running and taking on half marathonsthe discipline required for high-level musicianship translates well into the focus marathon training requires.

When they aren't playing with the DSO, Will and Heidi enjoy performing in a different capacity. The couple often participate as a duo in community outreach performances, playing for the Alzheimer's Association, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and donors. 

I feel very deeply connected with the DSO, and also with the communities that we play in. Whenever we play concerts outside the hall, I can feel how welcoming people are. ”

Heidi Han
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Since winning their DSO auditions in 2014, Will and Heidi have come to call Michigan home. They love having an abundance of parks and nature centers nearby and share a particular fondness for Maybury State Park. When they can, they also frequent new restaurants and small local businesses. “We’ve been to a lot of places in the whole country, and I find the Detroit restaurants better than in other places,” says Heidi.

NWS x DSO: A Shared Mission

This February, the pair get to dip out of the Michigan winter as the orchestra heads to Florida for a six-date tour—their first with music director Jader Bignamini. While there, members of the DSO will work with New World Symphony to host mock auditions for their fellows.

“It’s a teaching and learning experience,” says Clare Valenti, DSO Director of Community Engagement. “The auditions are designed to emulate the experience of a professional audition and further prepare them for a career as an orchestra musician. The only difference in the mock auditions, is that the fellows will receive verbal and written feedback from a panel following their performance."

The fellows have all completed their four-year degree at a conservatory or school, and New World is an optional step before entering the field and taking on every orchestra audition. The three-year fellowship exposes students to playing in an orchestra (the New World Symphony Orchestra is entirely comprised of fellows) where they perform significant repertoire, and gain experiences like coaching and mock auditions that complement their education.

A commitment to nurture professional growth and preparedness for generations of classical musicians is a shared mission between the DSO and NWS, and is what the collaborative relationship is built upon. In fact, the NWS to DSO pipeline is a strong one with a number of former fellows now holding positions in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. 

In broad view, it's all a testament as to what's possible when passion, purpose, and pursuit align. 


The Music Continues

DSO Digital Concerts

Tour Stops
Between 2 Stands – Will Haapaniemi and Heidi Han

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