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.
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.
This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO Board Member and first violinist, Kristin Brinkmann.
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”.
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”!
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.
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:
This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO Board Member, Laila Stainbrook. Learn more about her journey from wee violinist to BSO clarinetist!
It all started with a cereal box, a rubber band, and a stick. My journey into the world of being a musician that is. Thanks to the Suzuki program in Virginia, MN, and the persistence and patience of my mom, I had access to high quality musical training beginning with the violin at the ripe age of four years old.
When I graduated from variations on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to mastering Gossec’s Gavotte in Suzuki Book One, I earned the privilege to learn how to read music instead of learning by rote. Around then, I also began piano lessons in addition to my weekly violin lessons. I grew up with a piano in the house, and some of my earliest memories are sitting on the wooden bench tinkering around with the keys and making notations — really illegible scribbles — in my mom’s piano books. I would spend hours entertaining myself in a make believe world where I was both teacher and student.
My mom was active in our local community orchestra and sometimes played in the pit for local musical theater productions. In elementary school, I remember tagging along to many of those rehearsals and sitting in the empty auditorium, audience of one, listening while doing homework or reading. Already familiar with strings and the piano, these full orchestra rehearsals were my first exposure to seeing woodwind and brass players. I grew up listening to a lot of classical music, but it was something different to see the instruments and players in person. I was awestruck and immediately drawn to the shimmering beauty and flashy lines I heard coming from the flutes. When I had the opportunity to sign up to play a “band instrument” in the 4th grade, I knew immediately I wanted to play the flute. I hoped and wished my first choice would be granted. It was not. I don’t really remember how our music teacher talked me into the clarinet, or what other options he gave me, but I remember him convincing me it was very similar to the flute, and I should try it. Begrudgingly I agreed, though for months I secretly hoped enough of the flutes would drop out, and I would be allowed to switch.
My musical training continued through elementary and early middle school. I took private violin and piano lessons, and played the clarinet in the school band. And then the summer before 8th grade, my mom and I moved to Duluth. We found new violin and piano lesson teachers for me, and, for the first time, I began private lessons on the clarinet with Frank Garcia at the University of Minnesota — Duluth.
Frank was a San Diego transplant who had studied with legendary clarinetist Yehuda Gilad at the University of Southern California. A talented classical and jazz player, many said Frank’s tone reminded them of longtime Minnesota Orchestra clarinetist, Burt Hara. Listening to Frank play at my first lesson, I quickly realized I never knew what the clarinet could sound like before I heard him play. The clarity of his tone and sincerity of expression struck a chord in my heart and forever made me want to be a clarinetist. I get goosebumps even now thinking back to this experience. In the five years I spent studying with Frank, I fell more and more in love with the clarinet every day. It became hands down my favorite instrument to play. And while I enjoyed playing in my high school wind ensemble, nothing came close to the magic of playing the clarinet in an orchestra. I was able to play works ranging from Elgar to Borodin to Korsakov both in my high school orchestra and also as a part of the Duluth Superior Symphony Youth Orchestra. I believe as clarinetists we are lucky to be able to produce a tone that can either blend in subtly in a supporting role, or project and soar above the whole orchestra like no other voice.
After high school, I attended the University of Minnesota — Minneapolis. There I was able to study music and journalism, and continue with several music performance opportunities from the wind ensemble to campus orchestra to a woodwind quintet called the “Chamberpunks” that I formed with some close friends. I took clarinet lessons all through college, studying with Dr. John Anderson primarily during the school year and Burt Hara and Timothy Paradise during the summer.
Post college, I missed orchestral clarinet playing the most. It was a few years of searching and subbing with various ensembles before I had the opportunity to audition for a full-time spot in the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra. Now nine years later, I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a group as talented and committed to artistic excellence as the BSO, and to once again play the clarinet in my favorite setting, the symphony orchestra.
And these days, I’m flexing a new musical muscle. Shortly after college, I began collaborating with my husband and dabbling in the world of indie rock. What started off as informal jam sessions has evolved into a fivepiece rock band called The Sunny Era. I play violin, keyboards, accordion, and sing background vocals in the band. We just finished recording our fifth studio album to be released later this year. (more info at www.thesunnyera.com)
Whether it’s playing the clarinet with the BSO or rocking out on stage with my band, I am forever grateful to all of the teachers and experiences I had to get me here, and I look forward to many more musical adventures to come!
This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by substitute flutist and BSO Board Member, Charlotte Bartholomew.
Does music give you chills?
Having been born to two parents who were musicians, I assumed everyone in the world felt chills or had emotional responses when listening to music. Imagine my dismay in junior high when, upon doing a scientific survey of one – with my closest friend – as we swooned over songs played by the most popular band on the radio at the time, her answer to my question about whether she felt chills was, “No.” I hid my shock, having thought the question was basically rhetorical.
Five years later, as a music major in college, I instinctively knew I was among fellow chill-feelers. Whether we are simply listening, or participating in making the music, apparently 50% or more of us have this type of reaction (read the article!), and the percentage is much higher among musicians. While this sensitivity may or may not make me a better communicator, it influences my drive both to create and listen to music, not just in a vacuum, but in the rewarding and unpredictable province of Other People.
“Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
– Leonard Bernstein
As with all artistic works, there is something wholly impressionistic about music – the experience of it is different for each individual; at once, we share it with others and own it for ourselves. In an orchestra, we seem to be doing both simultaneously. During those glorious moments when we are musically and mentally in sync, I equate the chills I feel to a sympathetic vibration with everyone else in the group, and I believe that collective sensation is telegraphed to audience members. They, in turn, feel chills or whatever the music happens to evoke for them. That is when we are communicating beyond printed notes on a page.
This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by substitute second violinist and BSO Board Member, Jenna Loeppke. Jenna brings a great deal of enthusiasm and passion to the BSO and we are grateful for the wisdom she is sharing with our audience through this post!
5 Ways Music Has Changed My Life
I’ve been playing my violin since I was six years old and playing piano since second grade, flute since fifth grade, and singing since seventh grade. But within all of my musical training, my mom worked hardest to make sure I would play the violin. She always dreamed of playing it herself but when her orchestra teacher chose her to play the viola instead, she thought she’d had no choice.
And during my early teen years, whenever my mom would sit down at the piano and decide it was time for me to practice, I also thought I’d had “no choice.” It wasn’t the playing that bothered me. I loved hearing the notes sing out of my instrument when I drew my bow across the strings. It was the incessant rehearsal of difficult passages and techniques my teacher and my own mother were forcing on me. I remember feeling as if I was locked in some sort of torturous prison.
Looking back, I’m so thankful that I never let myself quit playing music. That’s not to say that my mother hadn’t threatened to call my teachers and cancel all of my lessons if I’d refused to pick up my instrument. Many tears were shed and tantrums thrown in our family room next to our upright piano. But at least I wasn’t as bad as my friend who used to throw her violin in the trash just to spite her mother. And just to prove that music can turn around even the most difficult child: this friend of mine is now training to be a professional opera singer.
I’ve come to love the music that was engrained in me for so many reasons. But to encourage you or your children to continue playing or learning music, here are my top five reasons for sticking with it:
1) Music has allowed me to build strong connections with others
Over the years, I’ve met people in school, in my neighborhood, at church, and in sports. Sure, these are all wonderful places to make friends but I can honestly say that my fondest memories come from the times I shared with fellow musicians. From childhood group lessons to Minnesota All-State Orchestra to joining a Community Orchestra in France, these are memories and people I will cherish forever. Music is a powerful tool that can be used to create lasting bonds that conquer over barriers like languages, age groups, and differences in personality.
2) Music teaches discipline
Sometimes I think the only reason I was able to make it through some of my college classes or crazy schedules as a teen and young adult is because I had the discipline to push through the insanity. Self-restraint is something that most people don’t naturally possess. Generally, it needs to be practiced – a lot.
Music, and specifically the violin, has brought stability and structure to my life. That stability has helped me make small, daily decisions and important life choices too. It has led me to achieve things I never thought I could accomplish. I truly know that things don’t come easily – something I found while trying to tune the chords Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004: III. Sarabande. Life is tough; it’s best to have the discipline to make the most of it.
3) Music forced me out of my comfort zone
Music made me uncomfortable in the following ways: competition, taking criticism (sometimes in front of large groups of people), performing, and meeting new people. Most everyone can understand why these situations aren’t always comfortable for a six year old or even an 18 year old. But now, every time I am faced with a new, uncomfortable situation, I have the tools to help me get through it.
4) Music took me to Europe
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with Europe. I’d dream of the castles I’d see and the history I’d uncover in my travels across the many countries. My chance to go there finally came when I was in high school and I joined the program, Minnesota Ambassadors of Music.
So far, that expedition has sparked three more trips to Europe and two study abroad experiences. When I was a senior in college, I spent my last semester in Pau, France where I met many new friends in the community orchestra I’d joined, L’Orchestre Symphonique du Sud-Ouest. These French musicians remain very special friends to me, even though they live thousands of miles away.
5) Music inspires me
Finally, there isn’t anything that inspires me more than a piece of music. Sometimes, it’s a piece that we’re playing in symphony and sometimes it’s something I heard by accident on a drive home. It inspires me at my job, in my personal life, and even in my musical life, encouraging me to be my best self and to produce my best work.
Music has been an integral part of my personal growth and I am forever grateful to my mom who knew the impact it could have in my life. Though dedication to music hasn’t always been easy, I know it has the power to bring out the best in me and in the lives of others.
This month’s Musician’s Musings might better be called “Manager’s Musings,” since it was written by our General Manager, Sara Tan. We hope you enjoy the chance to learn more about a person who helps the BSO to do what we do – make great music!
The Long and Winding Path
by Sara Kleinsasser Tan
I remember the moment when I had the revelation: I was sitting in a Music History exam at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. I suddenly and somewhat inexplicably thought, “I want to be the Education Director a major orchestra.” Until that point I had only considered being a middle school or high school band director. The entire trajectory of my life had been pointing in the direction of Music Education and teaching band in a public school, so to have such a sudden change of heart was surprising.
Two years later, while chaperoning a middle school orchestra trip, I met Gary Alan Wood, the Education Director at the Minnesota Orchestra. He and I chatted for awhile and I boldly told him, “I want your job.” A decade later, I started working with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, one of the Twin Cities’ finest community orchestras. While not in the education department, nor at a “major” orchestra, being the General Manager of the BSO been a wonderful fit for my passion to support the arts in my community. It also allows me to work while caring for my two children, ages five and three.
The positions that led me here helped prepare me for this very job. I taught beginning and middle school band in southern Minnesota for a year, then returned to my alma mater, Concordia, where I led domestic and international concert tours for the band and orchestra. After that, I spent a year working as the Artistic Coordinator for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, then moved to Cleveland, Ohio where I worked in the Education Department at the second-largest performing arts center in America, Playhouse Square. My husband attended the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and while there, I worked with the leadership programs for MBA and BBA students.
During my brief tenure as a public school teacher, I gained a deep empathy for what music educators do. I’m especially grateful for the wonderful musicians and teachers who the BSO partners with every year for the Bloomington Orchestra Festival.
While in Detroit, I worked with dozens of classical, jazz and pops guest artists and conductors, including the Beaux Arts Trio, Dawn Upshaw, Oscar Peterson, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Mark Wigglesworth, Itzhak Perlman, k.d. lang, and John Lithgow. I spent hours with these artists, driving them to the concert hall, learning more about their artistic and personal lives. I learned the importance of contracts and navigated the complicated process of obtaining artist visas.
My experience at Playhouse Square was much more rooted in theater, but I learned a great deal about working with a team of passionate individuals, true community outreach and the beauty of work that is being created for young audiences all over the world. At the Ross School of Business, I led a team and had a chance to flex my creative muscle while developing new and innovative programs for the world’s top MBA students.
After relocating to the Twin Cities in 2009, I took some time off to start my family, but a chance encounter with a BSO musician led me to take on the challenge of managing the BSO. In my day-to-day work I make sure the bills get paid, make sure the librarian has music to distribute, correspond with musicians and community members, and make sure venues are secured. I work closely with the Board of Directors to help accomplish their goals and am in close communication with the Music Director to assure he has what he needs to accomplish his musical goals.
This position allows me to exercise my mind – and on concert days, my feet! – and do work that doesn’t always feel like work. I feel fortunate to be in a position where I can do work that is important, while learning and growing myself and supporting such a great community asset. I hope you will join me in supporting the BSO in some way – Maybe you’ll audition to play, join the board, make a donation or attend a concert. No matter what you do, your time and effort is valuable to the BSO.
This month’s musings features Brianna Wassink, violinist with the Bloomington Symphony. We are grateful to Brianna for being brave and sharing her story. We hope you enjoy this Musician’s Musings!
I’ve always been shy. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned ways to overcome my shyness, but it’s always there and definitely a part of my personality. As much as I wish sometimes that I was more naturally outgoing, I have my shyness to thank for my career as a violinist and orchestra teacher.
I started taking violin lessons when I was in Kindergarten. At the time, my school district (Wayzata Public Schools) had a K-12 strings program. On the first day of school, they took all of us kindergarteners into the cafeteria and the orchestra teachers demonstrated the four string instruments for us. I was immediately obsessed with the idea of playing the violin. I came home that afternoon and very resolutely told my mom that I was going to play the violin. She laughed, of course, at the curly-haired kindergartener standing in front of her making such a sweeping statement. She probably figured I would forget about it in a day or two and go back to the previous week’s obsession of getting a pony for Christmas from Santa and taking riding lessons– typical 5 year-old stuff, right? I didn’t forget, though. I kept asking and asking, and finally she agreed… “Yes, Brianna, you can take violin lessons.”
That was 25 years ago. Little did we know, my mom’s decision to allow me to start taking violin lessons would change the course of my life. I played violin all through high school, then went to Luther College and earned a Bachelor’s degree in K-12 Instrumental Music Education. I joined the BSO in 2007 when I moved back to the Twin Cities after college, and I’m happy to now be on the Board of Directors. Professionally, I’m teaching 4th, 5th, and 6th grade orchestra in the Roseville Public School district, teaching 550 students how to play the violin, viola, cello and bass. It’s a lot of work, but I love what I do and it’s very rewarding.
That last paragraph almost didn’t happen, though, thanks to my shyness. Not long after starting those violin lessons, I came to the realization that playing a violin is actually pretty difficult. You can’t just pick it up and all of a sudden play really well… It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort. Funny how kindergarteners don’t think of things like that when they decide to start a new instrument, isn’t it?
Over the years, there were many times I wanted to quit. It was too hard, it was too frustrating, I was never going to get it. My mom, in all her wisdom, always responded the same way: “Fine, but you need to be the one to tell Mrs. Loing.” Mrs. Loing was my violin teacher from kindergarten until 5th grade, and I adored her. She was kind, patient, and understanding, but always had high expectations. I’m still grateful to her for showing me how to teach that way, long before I had any idea that I would someday become an orchestra teacher myself. I couldn’t fathom having to tell Mrs. Loing that I wanted to quit; she would be so disappointed in me. So, thanks to that shyness that has plagued me my entire life, I never worked up the courage to tell Mrs. Loing I wanted to quit. So, I just kept playing.
After a while, with practice and Mrs. Loing by my side, it eventually started to get better… I could hear myself improving, I played great music and made great friends playing in my school orchestras and local youth symphonies, and my cat wasn’t running to the other room every time my violin came out of the case anymore!
Before I knew it, I was a violinist. A shy violinist, yes. But a violinist nonetheless. It’s my hobby, my career, and my passion all rolled into one amazing experience. I’m grateful to be a part of the BSO, and for the wonderful friendships I’ve developed over the years, and the beautiful music we’ve made together.
This month, we feature Matthew Cummins, BSO cellist, for our Musician’s Musings. This article was written shortly before our first concert of the season, “In the Spanish Style,” but we haven’t had a chance to post it until now. We hope you enjoy this opportunity to learn more about our players.
Putting the “Community” in Community Orchestra
by Matthew Cummins
There’s a beautiful moment at the beginning of España by Chabrier that puts a smile on my face every time we play it. The piece begins with a series of pizzicatos in the string section, starting with the violins and violas and quickly joined by the cellos. As Maestro Laureano raises his baton to count us off, one might expect that all eyes are on him. Instead, the string players’ eyes are all on each other. The exposure and timing of the pizzicatos requires a precision and unity that can only be achieved by doing this; that is, by watching and moving together, at the same time – the very definition of an ensemble.
Of course, playing as an ensemble is one of the keys to success for any piece, not just for three measures of my beloved España. It’s not easy to do, and conductors like Manny constantly have to remind us to get our heads out of our music stands, and to get our eyes and ears off of him (but not for too long!) and onto each other. What can help make ensemble play easier, though, is when you have a tight-knit group of musicians that know and care for each other. In the 16 years I’ve been playing cello, I’ve never been part of an Orchestra where that’s not the case.
That’s one of the main reasons I love playing in Orchestras so much. There’s always a strong sense of community that tends to foster many life-long friendships and enjoyable moments. Of the friends I still see from high school, almost all of them were in Orchestra with me. Every time we get together, we always laugh and reminisce about the good times we had: going out to eat downtown before playing at Orchestra Hall; competing against each other in auditions for first chair; and playing an entire concert without a C string (not me!), among other shenanigans.
The best testament I can share around this goes back to the 2007-08 All-State Season. I knew two other people going into the season, but everyone else was a complete stranger. After less than a week at St. Olaf, I came away with a lifetime of memories and some fantastic new friends – an All-State Clique, if you will. We’ve seen each other once or twice a year ever since, and it’s usually shortly after those get-togethers where my stomach hurts from laughing so hard. It’s simply amazing to me that a bond that close can come from less than one week of time together; but that, to me, is the power of music.
What excites me most is that I see great potential for something similar to come out of my time playing with the BSO. This is my second year as a regular member, and I’m already feeling like a part of the community. Truthfully I didn’t think it would be that quick, since I knew coming in that most of the musicians had been in the Orchestra for many, many years. I’ve come to find out that my concern was unfounded; all of the musicians are so welcoming and take a genuine interest in each other. I can’t wait to continue to get to know more of the members and to form new friendships. Who knows, maybe a BSO Clique is on the horizon?
For now, I’ll keep smiling as Manny gives us the downbeat on España, with the other musicians smiling right back.