Musician’s Musing – October 2016

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!


Laila Stainbrook performs at her first violin recital

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.

The Sunny Era Band

The Sunny Era Band

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

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!


Musician’s Musings – September 2016

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by substitute flutist and BSO Board Member, Charlotte Bartholomew. 

Does music give you chills?

Charlotte Bartholomew, BSO Board Member & Substitute Flute/Piccolo

Charlotte Bartholomew, BSO Board Member & Substitute Flute/Piccolo

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.


Musicians Musings – April 2016

Jenna Loeppke

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.


Musician’s Musings – March 2016

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

SaraI 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.


Musician’s Musings – February 2016

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!

Brianna Wassink, age 6

Brianna Wassink, age 6

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.


Musician’s Musings – January 2016

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.

My All-State “Clique” with that year’s conductor, Nancy Stutzman

My All-State “Clique” with that year’s conductor, Nancy Stutzman


Musician’s Musings – December 2015

Peter Chang, BSO viola and violin

Peter Chang, BSO viola and violin

Today we welcome Peter Chang, acting principal viola and violinist with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, to this month’s Musician’s Musings. We are enjoying the chance to feature thoughts from our musicians and hope you enjoy the same. 

Five Enchantingly Beautiful Orchestral Melodies That You May Not Have Heard Of

You’re probably no stranger to major composers like Mahler, Debussy and Brahms. There are favorites in the orchestral repertoire that frequently get the spotlight, but the world of classical music is so vast that it’s a shame not to explore the fringes.

Here is my list of five lesser known gems to add to your listening list:

Arthur Foote; 4 Character Pieces (Op. 48) – Andante Comodo

American composer, Arthur Foote’s 4 Character Pieces was based off a Persian selection of poems, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. To reflect the Middle Eastern nature of the work, Foote makes use of a Phrygian mode to great effect.

You can listen to this piece here:

Carl Nielsen; Symphony No. 2 (Op. 16) Mvt. 3

Symphony No. 2 titled the Four Temperaments is Carl Nielsen’s musical characterizations of four strangely specific moods such as “Choleric” and “Phlegmatic” (both of which I had to Google). Not the moods I would have picked, but I’ve written no symphonies. Movement three is “Melancholic”.

You can listen to this piece here:

Kalinnikov; Symphony No 1 Mvt. 2

This Symphony was written by Vasily Kalinnikov when he was 28. The second movement is surprisingly sublime when compared to the rest of the work, which tends to sounds like the work of a young composer.

You can listen to this piece here:

Aram Khachaturian; Spartacus Suite No. 2 – Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia

From the Ballet of the same name. Spartacus and wife escape from captivity and enjoy a well earned happy moment alone to this tune.

You can listen to this piece here:

Shostakovich; Piano Concerto No. 2 Mov. 2

This famous piano concerto doesn’t fit the ‘obscure’ descriptor quite as well as the rest of this list. Plus one could argue a piano concerto is not a purely orchestral composition. It is however, most definitely enchantingly beautiful.

You can listen to this piece here:

Have you heard of any of these before?

What other pieces can you add to the list?


Musician’s Musings – November 2015

Welcome to the first of the Bloomington Symphony’s Musician’s Musings! This new feature will be posted on the first Monday of the month and will highlight one of the BSO’s players. We hope you enjoy the chance to get to know the stories behind some of the names and faces you see at our concerts. 

Becky Jyrkas, Principal Horn

Becky Jyrkas, Principal Horn

My Horn Story

by Becky Jyrkas, BSO Principal Horn

I am often asked – why did you choose the horn as your instrument?  Here is my story:

Just like every 5th grader in my town, we had an evening to see and touch instruments before choosing one that we would play for the whole school year.  What that elementary band director didn’t know was that I had already chosen the horn.

My mom played horn through college and still had an old instrument in the basement.  It smelled a little funny, but it was really neat looking with all of that curved metal.  Mom would play it occasionally, but she would keep saying she was out of shape (I didn’t know what that meant, but now I do!)  I also like to say that my parents brainwashed me by often playing the Mozart Horn Concerto records (yes, records!) as background music.

So there I was, a 5th grader choosing the horn.  The band director was thrilled since all of the other girls wanted to play flute or clarinet and all of the boys wanted to play trumpet and trombone.  Mom and Dad were happy because they didn’t need to rent an instrument – the smelly one in the basement was just fine to start.  I can almost hear them – “let’s see how this goes before we invest in something”.

Little did Mom and Dad (or that elementary band director) know that I had caught the horn bug.  It turns out that with some practice, I could really play and play well.  Along with the guidance of a few really good teachers, I went to college with majors in music (my passion major) and math (my practical “make money after graduation” major).

Throughout the years, that old smelly instrument in the basement (that my parents still have by the way) was replaced with better and better equipment.  And that same little 5th grade girl is still enthralled by the curvy metal and the Mozart Horn Concertos.