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!