The Chequamegon Symphony Orchestra recently celebrated 50 years of performing in northwestern Wisconsin. Danielle Kaeding reports the orchestra has tied community members and generations together over the years through their shared love of music.
Ashland teen Aaron Thornton’s interest in music started with listening to his dad play trumpet.
“I would always sit in the kitchen and listen. I would bug my dad. I would be like, ‘Can I blow a note into it?’” said Aaron.
Music is a family affair for Aaron, his younger brother and his dad. All three play instruments in the Chequamegon Symphony Orchestra. Father Trevor Thornton said his son Tyler fell in love with the clarinet at a young age.
“One day he says, ‘Hey dad, when am I going to get to play the clarinet?’” said Trevor. “I think it was the summer after he finished first grade he got it. He tried to play it….Air was coming out of everywhere except the instrument….Finally, he got a note. It came out and then he got excited. ‘Oh, see I can do this.’”
Thirteen year-old Tyler Thornton said playing the clarinet just looked really fun and so did playing with the orchestra.
“It gives me the opportunity to play with a full group that most people at my age don’t get and it’s good practice to be able to play exactly with the group,” he said.
Orchestra conductor and Northland College Music Professor Joel Glickman said he welcomes talent from musicians of all ages and backgrounds.
“Ashland is not the most populous place in the world. We tend to need people from all age groups to reach the proper size and variety for ensembles. When there are younger players that are ready for what we’re doing, it just makes sense,” said Glickman. “But on the other hand, it’s not a chore. The spirit of cooperation and the spirit of mentorship from more seasoned players and adults – it’s just been the great fun about being the conductor.”
Trevor said the diversity of players is what makes the Chequamegon Symphony Orchestra unique.
“Having much older players sitting right next to very, very young players and then the Northland College students who come from all over the country, everybody brings their experience onto the stage,” he said. “It does make for a different experience.”
Saxon’s Leslie Kolesar agreed.
“I think the older members are really proud of the fact that we’re a training orchestra,” she said. “We want to share our love of music with the generation that’s coming up.”
Kolesar has played flute with the orchestra for the last 25 seasons. For her, it never gets old.
“I love the people best,” she said. “I love where I sit. I’m right in the middle of everything. I’ve got the clarinets behind me, the oboes to the left, the strings in front and the low brass behind me. I love being right in the middle and in the center of everything.”
Glickman said there’s something special about the orchestra that he hasn’t experienced elsewhere in his more than 40 years of conducting.
“There is this thing,” he said. “I’ll just evoke the French. It’s got that certain je ne sais quoi. I don’t know what it is.”
Whatever “it” is, it’s clear members share a love of music that spans generations, setting the stage for musicians like Tyler and Aaron to share that love with players and audiences for years to come.