Brian Groner has been music director of the Fox Valley Symphony since 1995. From time to time he will share his thoughts with you right here in his blog.

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We are family......
May 22, 2015

I spoke from the stage recently about how the FVS is a family, a large family, a family of talented, dedicated people. Each member of this family has a different idea of what they want and need, what they would like from other members of the family and a different idea of what their role might be.

Using family terms now to describe individuals, there is “Aunt June”. Her insecurities can often come across as hostility, but you love her anyway. There is “Uncle Reggie”, whose opinion of his own playing is no longer as accurate as it once was. Then there is “Cousin Lucie”, who is a complete and total ray of sunshine, lighting up each room she enters, usually entering at the very last moment.

Just like in a very large family each person knows just a small subset of all that is going on in the lives of other family members. Before any typical rehearsal I may hear comments from one player who feels that it is THE most important thing in the world that someone else’s pitch issues be addressed. OK. I may hear comments from another player talking about the unfortunate way the orchestra is set up and how hard it is to hear another section of the orchestra when they are playing. OK. At that moment that is what is most important to them. I may speak with a member of the orchestra who shares with me that a family member has passed away suddenly and that they decided to come to rehearsal to play through their feelings and apologize that they might not look involved in the music or look up at the podium too often that day.

After the Friday evening rehearsal of The Nutcracker something happened that further reinforced my idea that the FVS is a family. Our substitute English Horn player stepped to the podium at the end of rehearsl. This was her first time playing with the orchestra. Something was wrong with her English Horn and she was desperate to find a way to have a professional woodwind repair person look at it. She didn’t know our area well and needed help. At least 5 members of the orchestra stopped packing up their instruments and helped her examine the instrument in question, offering up information about who might have a loaner instrument that could be obtained before the noon dress rehearsal t on Saturday. One of our players made some adjustments to the instrument but it would not fix the problem. Before rehearsal the next morning the root of the problem was discovered. There was a crack in the top joint of the instrument. This clearly could not be fixed before the performance.

But, the FVS family came to her rescue. In short order the English Horn player had an instrument to play. An instrument was loaned to her by a complete stranger (a friend of one of the musicians) who was helping out a fellow musician with an instrument crisis. The substitute player mentioned the next day that she was amazed by the all of the help offered to her. She said that it was very emotional experience, and that she would definitely find a way to pay it forward.

Ok. When you talk about family, the FVS is the best kind of family.

Why I love article that says it clearly.
Apr. 11, 2015

"....Musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime.

Every day, they face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they'll never work again.

Every day, they have to ignore the possibility that the vision they have dedicated their lives to is a pipe dream.

With every note, they stretch themselves, emotionally and physically, risking criticism and judgment.

With every passing year, many of them watch as the other people their age achieve the predictable milestones of normal life - the car, the family, the house, the nest egg.


Because musicians and singers are willing to give their entire lives to a moment - to that melody, that lyric, that chord, or that interpretation that will stir the audience's soul.

Singers and Musicians are beings who have tasted life's nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another's heart.

In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, nature, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes."
- David Ackert, LA Times

Just a quick note
July 2, 2014

Hello All,

I am at the Birch Creek Music Performance Center in Door County. Things are progressing with amazing speed as we prepare for tomorrow's opening night concert which will be recorded for broadcast on Wisconsin Public Television.

I will write more later on but wanted to share a link with you. My daughter raises funds every year for a wonderful group called Charity Water. There is a lot of information on the page which explains why water and water rights are becoming a central issue in the world.


By the way, I am not shy about mentioning that I am really proud of her and what she has accomplished.

A little poetry to start your day.
May 9, 2014

Dancing to The Rhythm of the Words

The sounds are words
The thoughts are phrase and line and form
We play with all our love the dreams our minds command
We give them sound
and shape
and life

Our souls in tune with patterns clear
which seems invisible to most
untouched, unloved but needed
Living with the muse inside
which pleads - feed me, share me
It pleads to speak of love
and life

The notes are words
The thoughts are sound
The dreams are phrase

And so I choose to live my life
Dancing to the Rhythm of The Words.


You like what??
Mar. 26, 2014

Wow! What a night!

It was such a joyful evening, a great night of making music! I am referring to last week’s FVS concert with Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons.

This past week it has been interesting to read the comments on Facebook about that concert. I somehow feel that I am sitting in the middle of a cultural clash.

I have been once again thinking about just what it is that an orchestra does. There are many answers, as many answers as there are people who have heard an orchestra. From my perspective I first need to say that the Symphony Orchestra is one of the more amazing creations of human civilization. Some people think that an orchestra is a place where cherished relics of the literature are re-shared with the public, bringing a glimpse into the lives of times and emotions past. They are right. Some people think that an orchestra should aggressively branch out into areas which cross over into other genres and share insights into contemporary thought and current issues. They are right too. I am not one to confine this great creation (the orchestra) to one paradigm. It is a flexible, vibrant medium. There are things that it does well, very well, and things to which it does not do justice. I have lived inside of the orchestral arts for the majority of my life, branching out on occasion to play or conduct other styles. I paid my rent in college performing as a jazz violinist, and my first professional gigs were doing recordings in old Motown studios. I spent nine years living/​working in Nashville doing countless studio sessions and live performances with many of Country’s biggest names. I played movie scores and hung out with some of the greatest cross over artists in the business, like Mark Feldman (avant-garde jazz violinist) and the legendary double bassist Edgar Meyer.

The one thing that this varied experience showed me is that good music communicates something special within the performer to something special within the listener. It taught me to refrain from belittling someone else’s musical taste because I don’t like what they like at that moment. Instead, it showed me that it is better to seek the good in whatever style of music which I find non-appealing at the moment. If I am too old to learn and change and grow then I am too old...period.

Politics are more polarized these days, as are musical tastes. Some would find my love of Metallica instrumentals (not the vocals) or my admiration of the high level musical craft of the band Tool (whose precise metric shifts should make high brow musicians envious) to be somehow a reflection on my professionalism.

As a bit of a self check I have a short list here:

Have you ever listened to how “in tune” Willie Nelson sings? It is amazing!

Have you ever felt stunned at Billy Holiday’s delivery of a song? Could you feel her pain? Did it touch you?

Have you ever been surprised to love a piece of orchestral music that you thought you were going to hate? Did you assume it was going to be too “something” for you to like it?

Please don’t put me or my musical taste in a box. All people that hear and are touched by music are the ones I serve, and love, and work for. Find it in yourselves to embrace the diversity of music and the diversity of people who love music in all of its forms. Listen with an open heart and mind. For those of you who make music, play it well, play it proudly and make a difference in someone’s soul as you share your love for art - all of it.

Older AND Better
Jan. 19, 2014

This interesting list was sent to me by a member of the FVS, Ronna Swift. There are a number of &ldquo;Strads&rdquo; out there not on this list, of course. A couple of those are the &ldquo;Verderhr&rdquo; and the &ldquo;Machuda&rdquo;, instruments I have had the pleasure of playing at some point in time. Something to note is that they are now so expensive that many of them are purchased by investment groups and loaned (or leased out) to the violinists playing them.<hr /​>
Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari died in 1737 &ndash; 276 years ago. A protege of Nicolo Amati, it is estimated that Stradivari made approximately 1100 string instruments in his lifetime &ndash; with around 650 having survived today.
But who now plays on what?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
* Itzhak Perlman (1714 Soil)
* Leonidas Kavakos (1724 Abergavenny)
* Gil Shaham (1699 Countess Polignac)
* Frank Peter Zimmermann (1711 Lady Inchiquin)
* Joshua Bell (1713 Gibson ex-Huberman)
* Ivry Gitlis (1713 Sancy)
* James Ehnes (1715 Marsick)
* Ray Chen (1702 Lord Newlands)
* Paul Huang (1713 ex-Wirth)
* Janine Jansen (1727 Barrere)
* Ida Haendel (1726 Sleeping Beauty)
* Maxim Vengerov (1727 Kreutzer)
* Gidon Kremer (1734 Baron Feilitzsch)
* Anne-Sophie Mutter (1703 Emiliani)
* Anne-Sophie Mutter (1710 Lord Dunn-Raven)
* Julian Rachlin (1704 ex-Liebig)
* Akiko Suwanai (1714 Dolphin)
* Vadim Gluzman (1689 Auer)
* Alex Kerr (1692 Falmouth )
* Nikki Chooi (1700 Taft)
* Yoojin Jang (1697 Rainville)
* Viktoria Mullova (1723 Jules Falk)
* Lorin Maazel (1722 Artot)
* Kristof Barati (1703 Lady Harmsworth)
* Isabelle Faust (1704 Sleeping Beauty)
* Nigel Kennedy (1707 La Cathedrale)
* Chee-Yun (1708 Strauss)
* Jossif Ivanov (1699 Lady Tennant)
* Soovin Kim (1709 ex-Kempner)
* Svetlin Roussev (1710 Camposelice)
* Jennifer Koh (1684 ex-Elphinstone)
* Ryu Goto (1715 Duke of Cambridge )
* Frank Almond (1715 Lipinski)
* Philippe Quint (1708 Ruby)
* Cho-Liang Lin (1715 Titan)
* Arabella Steinbacher (1716 Booth)
* Elisabeth Pitcairn (1721 Red Mendelssohn)
* Nicola Benedetti (1723 Earl Spencer)
* Gyorgy Pauk (1714 Massart)
* Chad Hoopes (1713 Cooper)
* Tobias Feldmann (1703)
* Caroline Goulding (1720 General Kyd)
* Clara-Jumi Kang (1683 ex-Gingold)
* Geza Hosszu Legocky (1715 ex-Joachim)
* Andrey Baranov (1708 Huggins)
* David Garrett (1716 Ex-Busch)
* Lisa Batiashvili (1709 Engleman)
* Karen Gomyo (1703 ex-Foulis)
* Augustin Hadelich (1723 ex-Keisewetter)
* Baiba Skride (1725 Wilhelmj)
* Koh Kameda (1727 Holroyd)
* Corey Cerovsek (1728 Dragonetti-Milanollo)
* Pierre Amoyal (1717 Kochanski)
* Sayaka Shoji (1729 Recamier)
* Benjamin Schmid (1731 Lady Jeanne)
* Alexandre Da Costa (1667 Dubois)
* Erzhan Kulibaev (1733 Rode)
* Yuki Manuela Janke (1736 Muntz)
* Daishin Kashimoto (1722 Jupiter)
* Alexandru Tomescu (1702 Lukens)
* Los Angeles Philharmonic (1729 ex-Jack Benny)
* Australian Chamber Orchestra (1728)
* Martin Beaver of the Tokyo String Quartet
* Kikuei Ikeda of the Tokyo String Quartet
* Halle Orchestra (1695 Lincoln )
* Oslo Philharmonic (1689 Arditi)
* Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (1687 Mercur-Avery)
* Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (1685 Eugenie)

Water, water everywhere!!!
Jan. 11, 2014

It is so interesting to see water in all three states as I look out my studio window. There are clouds heavy laden with vapor floating by. There is still some rain water flowing along the sides of the street from the amazing amount of rain which fell in the last few days. And, of course there is ice and snow still piled up in steep peaks on either side of the driveway.

Speaking of water, did you know that the average American uses around 150 GALLONS of water per day? Compare this to persons in developing nations who have to work hours each day to find an average of 5 gallons to supply all of their cooking and sanitation needs. Often this water isn’t even safe. Please click on the link below to see what my daughter did to help. Have I ever mentioned that I am proud of her?


To help a bit here at home I am going to add one more rain barrel to my house this year. Also I plan to purchase a solar powered pump to help us water the garden exclusively with rain water. I figure that should do something to help.

I have fond memories of my father’s rain barrel which stood on the corner of the garage in the back yard of our family’s house on Elm Street. I am finding that the longer I am around the more that I value the things that he taught me or spoke about. He used to discuss how we should imagine ourselves “in the other person’s shoes” and frequently mentioned that almost everyone takes themselves “too seriously”. I am glad that he said those things. It is important to clearly imagine how it would feel to be that person carrying water each day. If you can’t do it just give it another try. Imagination is good, and the truths that it shows us help us to take ourselves a little less seriously and maybe do a little more good along the way. Thanks Dad.

Season's Greetings
Nov. 15, 2013

Wow! What a difference a few days makes. The cold weather hit like a brick. I took advantage of the change in weather and used it as an excuse to roast vegetables, make soup and of course, mull some wine, between answering emails and studying music. Since I make a decent percentage of the wine I consume I feel no wine muller’s remorse when I add (to one of my own wines) two cinnamon sticks, a dash of vanilla and a bit of pumpkin pie spice to the saucepan. One must find ways to enjoy each season.

A good friend of mine posted a link to an article written by one of America’s most respected conductors. It describes the number of string players necessary to fill a hall with the kind of sound we expect to hear from a great orchestra. It is a good article, not necessarily a balanced viewpoint, but a good article none the less. One thing which I have talked about to audiences on numerous occasions is the change in the numbers of players in an orchestra shortly before and after the French Revolution. This article takes that information several steps further forward in music history.


Much Love To All,

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