So many strings attached: chatting with violinists

05 Apr, 2014

by Molly Snyder

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The first time Pat stepped foot in the Pfister Hotel was in 1968, and she was immediately smitten.

She came to Milwaukee from Cleveland to audition to be a violinist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the auditions took place in the space which is now Blu on the top floor of the hotel.

There were so many people auditioning ahead of Pat that her fingers started to get cold and so she returned to her room to practice. She realized that something special, almost magical, was happening between her and her violin.

“That day, I played so well I think I knocked stars from the sky. They could have given me flies on a sheet of paper and I would have been able to play it,” she says.

Apparently, the concert master who led the auditions agreed, because Pat got the job and played with the symphony orchestra for 42 years. And a few years later, she and the concert master got married and were happily wed until he passed away in 2002.

“He must have really liked the way I played violin,” says Pat.

Over the past 10-15 years, Pat and another violinist, Karen, have met in the Pfister Lobby Bar to have food and drinks and to catch up on life. They also enjoy listening to pianist Dr. Jeffrey Hollander whom they have known through the music world for many years.

Karen joined the symphony is 1978 and she, too, married another symphony member, a trombonist. When I mentioned that musicians seem to marry musicians, she laughed.

“It’s hard for us to get dates that aren’t musicians. We all work weekends,” she says.

The two women say they feel more like sisters than friends.

“She’s like my younger sister,” says Pat.

“She’s like my older sister,” says Karen.

The women have a lot in common, other than both being violinists. They are both from the Midwest and they both learned to appreciate music at a very young age.

“My mother says from the time I was 3 I would run to the piano at my grandmother’s house,” says Pat.

And they both love the Pfister Hotel.

“It’s my escape. My home away from home,” says Karen.

“I told Karen that when I die, my spirit is going to be in the corner over there, next to the piano and the grandfather clock,” says Pat. “I don’t to be anywhere else except in this beautiful, beautiful place.”

There was a few seconds of silence while we all looked around, marveling at the warmth and opulence of the hotel. And then I started asking the questions again.

I really should know better than to ask grown ups what their favorite anything is. My kids ask me all the time and I usually tell them I don’t really have a favorite color, animal or song. It depends on the day, on my mood, on so many things.

And yet, I could not stop myself from asking Karen and Pat what their favorite piece of music was.

Not surprisingly, they both laughed. “What’s your favorite food?” asked Karen. “Who’s your favorite man?” asked Pat.

They then asked me if I was a musician and I tried to gloss over the fact I was a crappy bass player, a passionate but so-so singer and that I had been in a couple of bands. Their faces lit up and they started to ask me questions about my musical endeavors.

“I feel silly having this conversation with you two symphony musicians,” I said. “I’m a sloppy punk rocker.”

“No! This is wonderful” they chimed and asked more questions, which led into another conversation about conversation – specifically, knowing when to listen and knowing when to share.

“You two are really good at both,” I said.

“So are you,” said Pat.

I asked one more question, this time, not one that included the word “favorite.”

“Do you break a lot of strings?”

“Oh, it happens once in a while,” says Pat. “One time I broke an A string and had to steal one from someone else.”

“I broke an A string once, too!” says Karen. “I didn’t have another one so I played without it. A lot of alternate fingering. You do what you have to do to make the music.”

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About the author

Molly Snyder

Molly Snyder has lived in Milwaukee her entire life. She started keeping a diary when she was four and published her first poem at age 10 called “The Unicorn” in the now-defunct Shorewood Herald. Today, she writes less about mythical creatures and more about Milwaukee people and places. She is a senior writer at OnMilwaukee.com, where she has worked for the last 12 years. Telling people’s stories is her passion.

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