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.

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