Musician’s Musing – October 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO board member and timpanist, Trevor Haining

I’ve been a percussionist for most of my life. It started with pots, pans and furniture. Then my parents got me my first drum set at age two, a Mickey Mouse kit that I allegedly broke within a few days.  Coming from a musical family, I’m very thankful for an upbringing that allowed me to embrace music. Though my focus was jazz drum set, classical and orchestral music still captivated me. In high school my passion for classical music was ignited by attending my brothers Minnesota Youth Symphonies concert. After being inspired by the musicians playing great, challenging music at such a high level, I decided that I had to be a part of it. I made the symphony orchestra with Manny Laureano conducting and it remains one of the best experiences of my life.

I went to college to study jazz drums and with the help of my drum set professor, convinced the faculty to let me play percussion in some of the orchestras on the side. I remember sneaking into the timpani practice rooms, practicing out of method books and playing excerpts, dreaming of one day playing them in an orchestra.

I first heard about the Bloomington Symphony when I was playing a jazz gig one night. Our oboist, Patrice Pakiz, happened to be in the audience. We ended up chatting and she told me that she played in the BSO, that Manny Laureano was their conductor, and that their timpani position was opening up. I remember thinking how much I would like the opportunity to play with the BSO and to work with Manny again. However, having not played timpani since college, I didn’t think I could win the audition. After my dad kept twisting my arm to audition, I decided to dust off my timpani and go for it, and I’m very glad I did. Playing in the BSO has challenged me to grow personally and musically. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to play great challenging, inspiring music with an amazing community of musicians. It’s a dream come true.

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite composers, Felix Mendelssohn:

“Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God.”

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Musician’s Musing – May 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO first violinist, Kelly who shares her experience with the Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp as well as the trials and tribulations that led her to the BSO.

The Major Leagues – A Fantasy Camp Experience, Part III

Music has always played an important role in my life.  To simply put a complex experience, it has been a constant vehicle of learning and growth.  In addition to the music, from an early age, the orchestra helped me learn what it means to be a part of a team, to work hard, to build trust and relationships, and to have fun while doing it!  My high school orchestra and teacher made the greatest impacts on my childhood, which inspired the decisions that led to where I am now as an adult.

I became a violin teacher.  It’s a job I love and look forward to every day.  But despite that, I was still missing what made me fall in love with the instrument – making music with the orchestra.  So I set my sights on the Bloomington Symphony.  Their reputation and quality was something I wanted to contribute to.  So, I practiced my solo and excerpts and wasn’t sure what to expect – I had never auditioned for a panel before.  Nervously, I played and failed.  It was rough, and in reality, I was unprepared.  It was hard to hear the critiques, but important, since I was already planning on auditioning again.

Next summer came, and this time it was going to be different.  I set a practice regiment, joined a sight-reading orchestra and sought out a teacher for myself.  Alas, it still wasn’t enough and I failed the second audition.

Another year went by, and the Bloomington Symphony had announced that Manny Laureano would be taking over.  This sparked a different motivation in me than before – I had been listening to him play trumpet on stage with the Minnesota Orchestra since childhood.  He was a musical hero to me and I saw this as a huge learning opportunity to play under him.  I increased the practice time, focused my efforts, and began studying under another teacher, Pam Arnstein of the Minnesota Orchestra.  In addition to being an incredible musician, she is equally amazing at teaching and helped my playing reach new levels than before.  I went in for my third audition and passed!  At last, I was in the orchestra.

Why I Play: Kelly Carter

Since then, my time with Bloomington Symphony has been priceless.  The repertoire and demands of Manny and the orchestra have elevated my musicianship to a place I never thought it could be.  I’m extremely grateful and owe a lot of my progress to the group.  I’m pretty sure this also contributed largely into my acceptance in the Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp held last summer.

Fantasy Camp is a 3-day experience allowing amateur musicians to feel what it’s like to be in the Minnesota Orchestra – something I had dreamed about since beginning the violin.  The camp was demanding and expected the music to be fully prepared for the first day.  By doing this, it made room for us to focus on the music making right away, instead of learning the notes.  We also attended talks on conducting with Sarah Hicks, Q&A with Michael Sutton, and rehearsals with Osmo.  But what I was most looking forward to was playing with the orchestra.  We received our seating assignments the second day and BAM!  That’s when the camp became surreal.  My seat was next to Pam.

Our rehearsals felt like it went by quickly but I was ready.  We took our places on stage for the concert and it all just hit me.  Here I was standing on Orchestra Hall, playing in partnership with my teacher, under Osmo, in front of a sold-out hall.  We played Roman Carnival Overture by Berlioz and the crowd went wild.  It’s an indescribable feeling of joy, appreciating the circumstances, work, and support that put you there on that stage.

Without the Bloomington Symphony, it wouldn’t have happened.  I would have never known what preparation meant, or how to quickly interpret the requests of a demanding conductor, let alone my playing quality.  They have helped me grow over the years and I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of the orchestra’s growth now too.  Since graduating, I had missed that feeling of camaraderie, and am honored that I have found it again with this family of musicians, the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

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Musician’s Musing – March 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO first violinist, Jessica Cheng who shares her experience with the Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp.

The Major Leagues – A Fantasy Camp Experience, Part II

Fantasy Camp with the Minnesota Orchestra was an incredible experience. I had no clue what I was getting myself into. All I knew is that my friend, Cynthia, expressed interest in participating, and she managed to sucker me into doing it as well. I had initial doubts if this was going to be worth my time since I had to take time off of work. But as I look back on the two days that I spent in Orchestra Hall, I can confidently say that the time was well spent.

 

Some highlights from the Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp:

– I had the privilege of sitting next to Rui Du, the assistant concertmaster. I was extremely humbled (and intimidated!) by his talent, but the best part about sitting next to him was getting to know him outside of his profession. We talked about our Asian backgrounds, our families, and how this event was something that he also enjoyed. We also talked about how we are both transplants to Minneapolis and the associated challenges that transplants often face. This ability to empathize with similar issues made me realize that I, Jo Schmoe with a corporate job, am actually not that different from a professional musician.

– The orchestra knows how to have fun. I remembered mentally preparing myself to be as professional and serious as possible on stage, especially in front of Osmo. But my nerves quickly faded away when I saw everybody smiling and joking around, including Osmo. You could truly tell that these musicians loved playing together. And there’s definitely some ‘class clowns’ in the orchestra (e.g. viola section, Peter McGuire, dare I also include Michael Sutton?)

– I am proud of the musicians that the Bloomington Symphony brings together. We are a talented bunch. I was taken by surprise after the second rehearsal when Jonathan Magness, second violin, and I were chatting and he told me that I sounded great! I was thinking, “who? Me?!” The compliment has since resonated with me, so Jonathan, if you’re reading this– thank you. That meant so much to me.

– If you have never played at Orchestra Hall, you absolutely have to. The acoustics are out of this world. The ability to play in such a beautiful and pleasing space was worth every penny.

– And last but not least, the highlight of the entire experience was the standing ovation from a completely sold out concert. We struck our last chord of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, and the roar of clapping and whistles was overwhelming. As I looked out, I saw a row of my closest friends and colleagues, and my heart was filled with so much joy. In that moment, I realized that I had just played with the Minnesota Orchestra, and I was so happy that I was able to share that moment with the people who are so important to my Minneapolis community.

I thank the Minnesota Orchestra, Sarah Hicks, Osmo Vanska, and my fellow amateur musician friends for making the Fantasy Camp so fun. I am honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to play with some of the best musicians in the world in an incredible venue, and I look forward to doing it again!

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Musician’s Musing – February 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO Principal Percussionist, Paul Madore.

 

From Jazz to Classical

 

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved music. So much so that my earliest childhood memories center on drums, phonograph records, or a combination of the two. I distinctly remember pounding away on a Quaker Oats oatmeal canister, trying to play along with the calypso rhythms I heard as “Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean” spun around on our RCA “suitable for mono” portable record player. (Yes, I realize I’m showing my age here.)

Before I was old enough to read, I could go through my parents’ LP collection and pick out whatever they requested, much to my mother’s delight and bewilderment.

From there, it was a short leap from just listening to music to wanting to learn how to actually play it, and I begged my parents to let me take drum lessons. My mother spoke with a local drum instructor who advised her to wait until I reached the ripe old age of seven before making that commitment.

When my seventh birthday finally arrived, my parents could no longer delay the inevitable and told me I could start my drum lessons. I was so excited! I still remember my first lesson with Mr. Riccardo. He had a music studio set up in the finished basement of his house. As I walked down the stairs, I peered up at the photos on the wall of his trio playing at the “Marco Polo”, a local Italian restaurant that featured live music.

At the foot of the stairs was the main area of the basement, and as I rounded the corner, an alcove transformed itself into a musical Valhalla, with a piano, a stereo, and most importantly, a real set of 4-piece Slingerlands in blue sparkle finish! I had never seen a real drum set before, and was surprised to find a foot pedal behind the bass drum. Having previously only seen pictures of a drum set photographed from the front, I had somehow imagined that the bass drum’s only purpose was to support the small tom-tom and ride cymbal. Clearly I had much to learn…

Fast-forward to 6th grade, and I by now I was playing in a real rock and roll band! The original band name was “Mantissa”, which is some mathematical term that I’m still unfamiliar with. We quickly opted for the easier-to-understand and more picturesque “Red Moon”. We were a power trio of sorts, and did covers of classics like “Honky Tonk Women” and “Smoke on the Water”, along with some half-baked instrumental originals with inscrutable titles like “Japan” and “Corn Kernels”.  I felt super-cool, because the other 2 guys were in high school, and here I was with them playing at high school dances that I would have been too young to attend, had I not been one of the performers on stage.

As I grew older, my musical tastes became more refined, and in addition to playing in the school concert band and jazz band, I enjoyed listening to jazz and funk, and tried to emulate the style of my favorite drummers. I was a big fan of that outdated musical hybrid term “Jazz/Rock”, and I immersed myself in the crisp drumming styles of Bobby Colomby (“Blood, Sweat and Tears”) and Danny Seraphine (“Chicago”).

When I was 15, I auditioned for and won a spot in the percussion section with “America’s Youth In Concert”, a nation-wide concert band and choral group that played such venues as Carnegie Hall in New York and the bicentennial in Philadelphia, before embarking on a month-long tour of Europe.

After graduating from high school, I attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I studied jazz theory and jazz drumming, played in various big band ensembles and received my Bachelor of Music degree in performance.

While living in Boston, I lived the aspiring “musician’s life” of working a day job to pay the bills, and playing various gigs at night to fulfill my musical passion. That template remained more or less intact, even after moving to Minnesota during the great Halloween storm of 1991.

Since moving to Minnesota, I became more involved in classical music, performing with the Dakota Valley Symphony, while continuing to play in various horn-driven funk/R & B bands, such as “Down Right Tight” and “Under Suspicion” and jazz bands such as “The Stan Bann Big Band” and “Beasley’s Big Band”.

My first experience performing with the BSO was back in 2003, when I was hired as an extra to play triangle and tam-tam in Mahler’s Second Symphony, “The Resurrection”. I was very impressed by the high level of musicianship of the players, and completely blown away by the magnitude of this magnificent work! Having at the time only a limited familiarity of Mahler’s music, I eagerly began exploring his other works and today consider Mahler one of my all-time favorite composers.

Around 2010 or so, I made the conscious decision to concentrate exclusively on performing orchestral music, primarily with the BSO, but also subbing with other orchestras, such as the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and Saint Paul Civic Symphony.

When approached about writing this edition of the Musician’s Musings, I was asked to write about my experiences moving from jazz to classical. I’ve always likened the idea of a musician playing different styles of music as akin to a skilled athlete playing different sports. Proficiency at one sport is no guarantee for success at another. And yet, there is a common ground that some people skilled in athletics share. The hand-eye coordination that is required in one game may present itself differently in another game’s execution, but that basic coordination will still be required in some shape or form.

It is the same in the world of music. Certainly there are common fundamental requirements in order to play the correct notes, sing the correct pitches, etc. Stylistically, though there can be many subtle and not-so-subtle differences. Each musical style presents its own inherent logic and set of rules with which a musician must be familiar, or risk sounding amateurish.

A good example of this is evident in Jazz music. When all the players are in sync rhythmically, the music is considered “swinging”. Jazz music is triplet-based, with a typical ride cymbal pattern driving the rhythm: quarter note, 1st & 3rd triplet, quarter note, 1st & 3rd triplet, etc. Though it’s played like triplets, this rhythm is often written as: quarter note, dotted 1/8th & 16th, quarter note, dotted 1/8th and 16th, etc.)

A common mistake for “legit” or classical musicians is to play this rhythm strictly as written, which sounds “square”, “unhip”, and definitely NOT swinging. In order to sound correctly, a certain creative license must be employed, which means the player must not play exactly what is written on the page.

On the flip side of the coin is the seasoned jazz musician, who may know all the standard tunes in the repertoire by heart, or by reading off a lead sheet (a sort of musical shorthand that shows just the melody line and the chord changes), but may not have the sight-reading skills necessary if called upon to sub for a symphony orchestra. And all those European musical terms might feel like a foreign language, because they actually are!

Of course, there are many versatile musicians these days who can bridge both jazz and classical styles. Perhaps the most famous is Wynton Marsalis, whose trumpet virtuosity has extended into highly acclaimed recordings and performances in both sound worlds.

Since orchestral music can have limited percussion parts (or no percussion at all, in some cases), I sometimes get asked if I get tired of waiting to play, or having to “count so many bars of rests” before making an entrance. On the contrary. One of the great things about performing as part of an orchestra is that you get to listen and bask in the collective sound of the group as a whole. This is true even when you’re not playing, sometimes even more so. While I love playing a busy, challenging part and the “go-for-broke” spirit that goes with it, it can be equally enjoyable to just sit back and listen. In fact, I’d rather listen to music that moves me even if there is no percussion, than to play something I don’t connect with emotionally just for the sake of playing. I’ve always believed that to be a good musician, you must first be a good listener. I can think of no greater thrill than being on stage with the BSO when we’re making music at our highest level.

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Musician’s Musing – January 2018

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO Principal Cellist and former Board President, Laurie Maiser.

 

The Major Leagues – A Fantasy Camp Experience

I’m a small-town Minnesota girl.  Born and raised in Austin, MN, it was a special event when we would have a school event to trek up to “The Cities” to see the Minnesota Orchestra.  As a student cellist, the MO was the brass ring – the incredible group of hometown professionals I daydreamed about being a part of someday.

But then 25 years passed, in which I switched from my Music major to Economics, worked in IT, married, and had kids.  The aspiration switched from performing at Orchestra Hall to just making time in a busy life to attend the concerts.  Then one day last spring I had three people send me the same email – the Minnesota Orchestra was hosting a Fantasy Camp

Fantasy Camp was a 2+ day event in July, culminating in a performance of Berloiz’s Roman Carnival Overture on stage in a side-by-side with the Minnesota Orchestra, under the direction of Osmo Vänskä.

I wrote about it a lot on social media, so when the BSO Board asked me to write a blog post about my experience and what I can bring from it back to BSO, I thought it would be easy.  No problem, I can do that in a week.  That was a couple of months ago.

Turns out, it was harder than I expected.

The experience was sublime, no doubt.  The performance flew by so quickly…. followed by rousing cheers and a standing ovation. The crowd was full of our “plants” – each camper got 10 comp tickets – but still, the crowd reaction was icing on the cake. Two thousand people cheered us on. The MO musicians smiled and congratulated us as we walked off the stage – they were gracious and classy at every turn.

But what did I learn?  What can I bring back to BSO?

There were little cello things I thought of right away – how I learned so much from sitting next to Tony Ross, principal cellist, and trying to mimic shift timing and bow articulation.  How well Osmo Vänskä can imitate the roar of a motorcycle.  How the cellists all stick their end pins right in the floor – and have metal files backstage to keep them dangerously sharp.  But most of you don’t care about that.  So I kept thinking.

I left that camp a changed musician, but why?  If it wasn’t the little things, then what were the big ones?  I think I needed some time to live with these changes to put them into words, but I finally found some.

Preparation, preparation, preparation.  Without doubt, the level of preparation of MO musicians is exemplary.  We were told when accepted into Camp that we needed to know that music when we arrived, and they weren’t kidding.  We had sectionals on our own, but our rehearsals with the MO musicians were little more than run-throughs.  When you walk on that hallowed stage, you are expected to have every note down.  How much would we all grow if we had that mindset whenever we played?  We are largely amateurs in BSO – we all have other commitments – but what if we all did our best to come into that first rehearsal performance-ready?  What if we could use those rehearsals to work on ensemble and musical expression, because the notes were already there?

Think like a conductor.  Sarah Hicks, Minnesota Orchestra’s principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall, did a seminar for us on The Art of Conducting.  She went through the preparation of a conductor– what they must think through, what decisions they must make – before they lead an orchestra.  This was truly eye-opening.  I always study recordings of our BSO repertoire, but am laser-focused on the cello line.  This inspired me to listen differently.  What else is going on?  Which line are we taking over?  Where do we fit in the context?  I hear music differently now than I did before, and even catch myself conducting in the car.

The orchestra is a family.  BSO’s own Concertmaster, Michael Sutton, was tasked with talking to the campers about what was loosely titled “Auditions.”  They couldn’t have put that job to anyone better suited.  We heard his personal story, asked a bunch of questions, and eventually through his candid and colorful storytelling heard some hysterical “inside jokes” of the orchestra that – more than anything all week – connected us to the MO in a personal way and made the “fantasy” come to life.  What can each of us do to bring that culture of professional respect, personal courtesy, and a playful sense of humor to our playing experiences?   How can we make coming to rehearsal a personal pleasure beyond the music?

Above and beyond all of this, however, I walked out with overwhelming gratitude for the Bloomington Symphony.  You see, unlike some of the other “campers” I met there, I did not leave camp wistfully wondering when I would get to play symphonic music again. I have an incredible opportunity every week to make music at a high level with truly wonderful people.  I can keep learning under the inspiring leadership of Manny Laureano and Michael Sutton – who through their examples make every rehearsal like our own mini Fantasy Camp.  I’ve always been proud and grateful to be part of the Bloomington Symphony, but never more so than now.  Like any incredible vacation, Fantasy Camp was a tremendous thrill to experience.  However, at the journey’s end… there’s no place like home.

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Musician’s Musing – December 2017

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO Principal Bassist, Chuck Kreitzer.

Chuck Kreitzer, Principal Bassist

 

Hello, my name is Charles Kreitzer although I prefer to be addressed as “Chuck”.  I was most happy to contribute to the musician’s musings when asked by Sara Tan, I am a returning bassist this year with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra as I played a couple of seasons previously in the late 1990’s when Bill Jones was the conductor.  I was born into a musical family; both of my parents were public school music teachers in Sioux Falls, SD, my father was a bassist and my mother a cellist.  All of my 5 siblings also are practicing musicians in one genre or another.  I remember as a child that my friends were a bit jealous in that I always knew what I was going to be as an adult: a musician.

My first experience with music was learning the piano at an early age.  When entering the 5th grade I began my journey learning the French Horn.  I played the French Horn through college and was actually a French Horn major as a freshmen in college.  One day while I was attending the University of South Dakota the orchestra director found out I could play the bass a bit he recruited me to play bass in the orchestra.  Playing a stringed instrument in an orchestral setting was far more enjoyable than playing French Horn in a concert band setting (I no longer needed to worry about breath control nor my embouchure!).  Truly playing a wind / brass instrument is an internal experience whereas playing a stringed instrument is external.

I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of South Dakota (if you have never been to see the Shrine to Music, now known as the National Museum of Musical Instruments, you really should!) and then received a Masters of Music from the University of Colorado in Boulder.  Both degrees were in performance, I later finished my teaching certificate in 1984.  When I began teaching public school music in 1985 I was only planning on teaching no more than 5 years, my goal was to be playing in a professional orchestra by then.  But the years flew by and then I had a family, plans change.  I’ve very much enjoyed the past 33 years teaching public school orchestra but sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I had made it into a professional orchestra?   I have auditioned for the Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Omaha, Minnesota Orchestras to name a few…

As most of you know, when you show up for an audition there’s well over 100 other fine musicians trying for that coveted spot.  At my “seasoned” age I’m thankful that I still have the opportunity to actively participate as a musician rather than just a consumer of music.  For me, music is an aspect of my life that will never fail me, I feel very fortunate that I’m in a profession where I get to teach young people the joys of making music, and hopefully it will become an important aspect of their lives too.  When my mother developed dementia, when she could no longer communicate verbally she could still play the piano without missing a note.   I’m thankful for once again being a member of the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, thank you!

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Karen Baumgartner shares about Grant Luhmann’s Flute Concerto

We had the opportunity to sit down with Karen Baumgartner, to discuss the collaboration with composer Grant Luhmann, in anticipation of the Flute Concerto which will receive its world premiere on Sunday, February 19 at the BSO’s Youthful Celebration concert.

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Musician’s Musing – February 2017

Karen Nordstrom, former BSO cellist and current concert sponsor

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by former BSO cellist and current concert sponsor, Karen Nordstrom. Karen and her husband Dr. Leonard (Bud) Nordstrom, have been longtime chair sponsors. They recently decided to sponsor a concert and their first recognition as concert sponsors will come in April 2017. We asked Karen to share a few words of experience and this is what she wrote. 

From the time I was a very young girl growing up in Milwaukee, music was a big part of my life. My mother played the piano. Mom and Dad sang with the Arians, a great Milwaukee choir. I sang with the Junior Arians. Mom began encouraging me to play piano at a young age and taught me where middle C was on our piano. When our church organist, Elfrieda Winninger, asked me at church one Sunday where middle C was, I said it was at home. Well, they decided to wait a bit with piano lessons. Mrs. Winninger would one day be my piano teacher for 7 years.

Mom and I attended Milwaukee Symphony concerts, sitting very close to the front in my warm blanket coat and sometimes nodding off, but still listening. I had two much older sisters, Gloria and Joyce, who as young girls played cello and violin, respectively. However, before I reached the age of having memory, those girls were off to college and I never did hear them play their instruments. One day I decided to try the violin. It was a more manageable size. That wasn’t for me. So at age 11, I chose Gloria’s cello, taking lessons, and loving it—my mellow cello. It was an easier instrument to play, by far, than the violin.

As a youth, I participated in our high school orchestra as well as CAP, Children’s Art Program, in greater Milwaukee, an orchestra that met down at the War Memorial building on the shore of Lake Michigan. Those were very enjoyable years and cemented friendships that carry through to this day.

Off to St Olaf College in 1959, and packing my cello, I auditioned for the St Olaf Orchestra and made it! As a nursing student, it perhaps wasn’t a wise thing to do, as with the tough science courses plus all the rest, I should’ve been studying more. When for a brief time I was “on probation” due to grades, it was suggested I perhaps quit the orchestra freshman year, I declined that suggestion, and just buckled down a bit more. WHEW! I made it through.

After graduation in 1963, I took a few years off from even thinking about joining an orchestra. Working 40 hours a week as a pediatric nurse, I was too busy to manage the practicing required I would need to be in a good orchestra. In 1966, I tried out for the Minneapolis Civic and played with that group until 1987 when I joined BSO, playing until ulner neuropathy began in my fingering hand. The numbness, tingling, and reduced strength of that left hand caused me  to leave my beloved BSO several years ago. But I had played for almost 60 years and that was a good thing. Now my husband and I enjoy attending the concerts and seeing this great orchestra blossom and thrive. My cello awaits my 11 year old granddaughter who as a 5th grader here in Bloomington, decided on the cello. She is a third generation cellist, her dad being the second, and I am relishing passing mellow cello on to the next generation.

My husband, Bud, too feels that this is a priority with our giving to our beloved Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, one of the crown jewels, which makes this city great!

Thank you, Karen and Bud, for your faithful donations and concert attendance! To learn more about how you can support the BSO’s efforts – no matter the level – visit the Support page on this website.

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Musician’s Musing – December 2016

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO Board Member and first violinist, Kristin Brinkmann. 

Kristin Brinkmann, Violin

Kristin Brinkmann, Violin

As a fairly recent addition to the first violin section of the Bloomington Symphony (this is my third season), I have to say that it’s provided the perfect infusion of musical nourishment, which I desperately needed during a difficult time.  And it’s that continuing infusion of musical nourishment that keeps compelling me to get into my car way up in White Bear Lake, and trek all the way down to Bloomington on Sunday evenings for rehearsals.  For many years, I used to get into my car and make a similarly long trek to go and play with a different orchestra most days of the week – the Minnesota Orchestra.  Based on the various versions of my lifetime career model which used to run through my head, my car should still be driving me to Orchestra Hall and not to the Bloomington Symphony, although the BSO does feel quite a lot like the Minnesota Orchestra most of the time.  My fellow Minnesota Orchestra second violinist and frequent stand partner, Michael Sutton, is playing just a few feet away from me, and Manny Laureano is conducting, which he also did from time to time at the Minnesota Orchestra, when they would occasionally let him put down his trumpet for a few days.

Why does my car now drive me to the BSO, and not to Orchestra Hall?  First of all, it’s only a 2002 Honda Civic, so it’s technically not capable of taking me anywhere I haven’t decided to go.  It isn’t a cutting edge driverless vehicle whose computer brain got hacked and suddenly began driving me to the wrong orchestra one day.  Rather, it was my brain that got hacked over 15 years ago, and a neurobiological form of malware began running, which caused me to develop young-onset Parkinson’s disease when I was 33.  Parkinson’s is a neurological degenerative movement disorder, with some good treatments, but no cure at this time.  It is almost unthinkable for a violinist to suddenly face losing the voice we’ve spent our lives cultivating to a disease that causes you to lose motor control.  In most cases, we’ve spent our entire lives and countless hours in violin lessons, practicing, at workshops, music camps and music festivals, and have often completed multiple college degrees learning, among other things, how to consistently make unbelievably precise movements so that we have the technical ability to translate our soul, passion, musical ideas and creativity from our minds, through our bodies, and into a wooden box and a stick with some horse hair attached to it.  And Parkinson’s isn’t at all predictable.  The saying in the Parkinson’s community is, “The only thing that’s predictable about Parkinson’s is that it’s unpredictable”.

Kristin playing in nature

Kristin playing in nature

That’s what I was faced with early in my career with the Minnesota Orchestra, and I have to say that in many respects, things have gone much better than I ever imagined they could have 15 years ago.  I might be wrong, but I believe that the fact that I was already a professional violinist when I developed Parkinson’s has helped me stay as healthy as I am for so long.  But crazy things happen with no warning, and I’d be ready to walk out the door to play a concert at Orchestra Hall when my left arm and leg might suddenly go into severe tremors for no reason I could discern, and that could go on for 15 minutes to eight or more hours.  At that point, I often couldn’t really walk, much less open a violin case and pick up my violin without likely smashing it to smithereens.  After about a decade of having Parkinson’s while in the Minnesota Orchestra, the unpredictability and severe fatigue caused by the disease brought me to the point where I had to leave the job and the orchestra I loved so much, and I suddenly found myself without my “musical tribe”, and alone at home with a violin.  For about two years, I couldn’t listen to music.  At least not any of the music that I’d played before, or had hoped to play in the future.  Or music that reminded me of music that I’d played before or had hoped to play in the future.  We’ll call this my “Beatles Period.” And I didn’t practice very much for the some of the same reasons.  Add a few spine surgeries into this mix, and then the fact that there simply wasn’t anything to practice for.  No upcoming rehearsals or concerts!  This was the first time I’d ever had a calendar completely devoid of anything musical since I took my very first violin lesson!

That brings us back to the point where my car began driving me to the Bloomington Symphony for Sunday rehearsals.  I knew that I could still play really well when all things neurological and musculoskeletal aligned perfectly, and I’d had an ample amount of sleep, and when I’d taken my various Parkinson medications on the precise schedule I’d worked out over a decade earlier, and if I was just plain lucky that day.  And while some violinists in a similar situation might relish being alone to play the J.S. Bach Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin for whatever amount of time every few days that everything was working somewhat normally, I really missed playing in an orchestra!  I was already familiar with the BSO because several of my Minnesota Orchestra colleagues had been the concertmaster here over the years.  I went online to see where all of the community orchestras were rehearsing, who was conducting them, what music they were performing, and to familiarize myself with who was doing what where, and did White Bear Lake have an orchestra that I wasn’t aware of?  Once I saw that Manny Laureano was now conducting the BSO, and that Michael Sutton was the concertmaster, I knew that the BSO was where I needed to go!

I didn’t know whether I’d be able to play an entire rehearsal without some weird Parkinson’s movements starting up, and I can’t always do that.  And I didn’t know whether I’d be able to play every single rehearsal and concert, and I can’t.  But once I’ve gotten myself there and we begin to play, a part of myself I thought I might have lost forever reawakens!  I believe the first piece we played at the very first rehearsal I attended was the Wagner Overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – a piece I’d played countless times since high school.  But it was as if I were playing for the very first time all over again!  Hearing the sound of the full orchestra around me again, and playing that first violin part that has you soaring up into stratosphere gave me more than anything that any of my favorite doctors or the best treatments could provide!  Another popular saying in the Parkinson’s community is “Exercise is medicine!”, and I firmly believe that to be true.  But in my case, the more important saying would be “Music is medicine”!

People ask me what it’s like playing in the BSO after having been in the Minnesota Orchestra, and I suspect that they think they know how I’m going to reply. We rehearse in a church basement instead of Orchestra Hall, we’re a far smaller group, and not everyone has had the same amount of musical training in their background.  But beginning with that first rehearsal three years ago, through to our most recent concert in the Schneider Theater on November 20, I have to say that there’s no difference at all in anything that really matters!  I feel the same rush and the same sense of accomplishment and comradery after having played well during a BSO rehearsal or performance as I did during and after my concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra!  I’m very fortunate to have found the BSO three years ago when I desperately needed musical nourishment after living in a musical desert for some time, and the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra has most definitely become my new “musical tribe”!

 

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Musician’s Musing – November 2016

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO Board Member and second horn player, Brian Rule. Read his Musing to learn about how his encounter with a piece of hair metal turned his high school teammates to the beauty of Beethoven.

The Wango Tango.  If you are a classical music lover, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had no idea what this song was (nor would I really blame you) but this hair metal band piece is a strange example of promulgation of classical music, whether you believe it or not.

Brian Rule, BSO Horn player and Board Member

Brian Rule, BSO Horn player and Board Member

We talk of music and its importance to each of us, but music in my life never existed in a vacuum.  I was also engaged heavily in academics (as many musicians are) throughout K-12 and college, and I saw accomplishments in sports that mirrored the ones I had in music, and possibly exceeded my musical endeavors.  In my younger years, I was treated to a great deal of music according to my father’s tastes- pop music from the 50’s and 60’s, but also his love for folk music, and I also experienced his adoration of the Boston Pops, as well as an extremely treasured find he came home with one day- a used record of solos by trumpet virutouso Rafael Mendez.

But all things being equal, my interest in classical music was minimal when I had my first chance to play a musical instrument starting in 6th grade.  In fact, aside from a few well known pieces, the thought of sitting for a lengthy symphony made me practically queasy.  It wasn’t until I had unwittingly landed myself into auditions for the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies that the allure of classical music began to reveal itself to me.

Within a year, classical was all that I listened to, and all other music had lost its appeal.  I would rather sit and listen to Handel’s Water Music on a loop than a single hit on mainstream radio.  By the time of my sophomore year, I could barely fathom the time before my classical music renaissance any longer, and it was at this point, as I was beginning to hit my stride musically, that I managed to pull myself into our school’s State 200 Medley Relay team as their best (and only) breaststroker.

At meets, I would sit quietly before my main events with a pair of headphones listening to the old hand me down Walkman player my dad had let me use listening to the most inspiring classical music I could find.  Favorites included Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (of course), the finale to Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and Chopin’s Military Polonaise, but no piece stoked as much flame within me so much as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  Everyone knows those opening chords to the symphony, and to be fair, they do and have always caught my attention and drawn me in, unwilling to allow myself to be satiated by only a quick blurb of this iconic work of musical art, but this is not the part that I look forward to most.  No, as I sat there at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in a side room waiting our turn to swim our relay in a swim off for a chance to compete for the 16th place spot in the finals the next day, I was listening to the third and fourth movements of the piece on loop, and the sensation I got from that symphony was visceral.

How we had gotten there was in itself a story.  We were a motley crew of sorts; our butterflier was our top man in the individual medley, who owned a spot on the record board for many years, but who was also a cad who saw himself as a ladies’ man.  He once told me when he was accused of egging a well-known teacher’s home who lived two houses down from me, “I didn’t throw a single egg and I never would have, but you can’t blame me for handing them to the other guys in the car as fast as I could.” Our backstroker was a young prodigy of sorts in the water and the youngest of the team, who also owned a place on the record board for a ridiculous amount of time after graduating, and whose advanced talent in the pool was contrasted perfectly by his delayed emotional maturity while our freestyler was the quintessential pretty boy, perfect grades in school as well as a soft mannered jock and all around likeable guy whom I very much looked up to.

And then there was me: scrawny for my age, overly chesty, awkward in every sense of the word and far more of a dork than I care to remember.  We had tied the other relay for 16th place going into prelims down to the ten thousandth of a second and now had to face off for the right to make it to the next day.  The other team all shaved their heads and disappeared into a group chant on the bleachers opposite our side of the pool.  The stands were filled with virtually no one, save the 8 sets of parents, versus bleachers that moments before had been packed with thousands of people, and we, the four of us from Elk River, sat preparing with as much individuality as our varied backgrounds would suggest.  Spencer, our team captain and butterflier watched me, listening to a Sony Discman when his curiosity got the better of him.

Whatever I was listening to, it was having an effect on me, and he wanted to know what it was, so he cut a deal with me- if I’d listen to his music, he’d listen to mine.  Worried it was some kind of cruel setup, I cautiously applied his headphones, and he mine and my eyes nearly fell out of their sockets as the earphones lit my ears up at full volume “ALRIGHT! IT’S ZEE WANGO, ZEE TANGO!”  The music was odd, too loud and left me speechless, but strangely I couldn’t quite hit the stop button.  Meanwhile, Spencer was lost in the rapture of Beethoven, stopping after a moment to tell me “holy ****, this is intense!”

The exchange caught the attention of our coaches and team mates, who also were too curious to let my motivational music slide by without a listen as well.  The consensus?  Definitely Beethoven.

Behind the blocks, we stood, each stretching and shaking our limbs loose while our opponents stood as a group egging each other on to greater and greater levels of impetus.  Their coaches chanted and hollered to their athletes, and they were unified in one purpose and mission.  On our side, Coach Eidem stood with Spencer’s Discman, banging her head to Wango Tango, while Doesken contemplated Beethoven, and our respective parents attempted to fill the empty aquatorium with their screams.

“Take your mark! BEEP!!” and the race was on, and we were on fire.  As the last man of the other team slammed into the wall, he looked up at the board and immediately caught his time.  He marveled at the fact that after a long, hard day of competing, they had managed to cut their time a half second from their original swim.

“That’s great,” his coach derided, “but they dropped 4 seconds.”  Had we managed that same feat earlier in the day, we would have been solidly in 5th place, instead of 16th, but then, it didn’t matter.  We were going to finals, which was a first for all but one of us.  The school record we set that day also lasted for many years, though I was equally proud to see the new names replace it when the time came. But even if their time was faster, I stand firm in the knowledge that the magic of their swim didn’t compare to ours.

And Spencer? Before he graduated, he’d occasionally come to me to share new classical music he’d discovered and to ask about what else I had to share, and word spread among the rest of the swim team.  When I wasn’t sitting prepping for a race myself, others wanted to borrow what I had to inspire themselves, and the results were equally as magical.

Wango Tango still brings back fond memories, but the Beethoven?  To this day it still makes me rocket from wherever I may be standing.

For those who are curious, we leave you with this:

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