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  • Denise Piche – Second Violin May 2, 2022

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    My name is Denise Piche’.  I play the violin in the MFSO Second Violin Section.  I just completed my 51st Season with the MFSO!  You say, how can that be possible ─ the MFSO has only been in existence for 24 years!  Prior to moving to Menomonee Falls, the orchestra was known as the Milwaukee Catholic Symphony Orchestra.

    Background

    I began playing violin in third grade.  My real passion was to play the piano.  As part of the parochial school curriculum, music in the classroom on a weekly basis was a norm.  Sr. Sophia, the Music Teacher was looking for children to learn an instrument.  I was told my hands were too small to reach an octave on the piano and the violin would be a better choice.  That’s how my musical background began.

    To encourage me with the classical music, my mother and I would watch the Leonard Bernstein Young People’s Concert Series where he would teach the audience and children musical resonance.  By middle school age I began playing with St. Catherine’s Grade School Orchestra and the Milwaukee Catholic Symphony Youth Orchestra.  In high school I continued to play with the Milwaukee Catholic Symphony Youth Orchestra along with the Pius XI High School Orchestra.  I took ...

  • Laura Beltz – Principal Oboe April 19, 2022

    Portrait of Laura Beltz

    My name is Laura Beltz and I am principal Oboe for the MFSO. I joined the MFSO in 1998 when the orchestra moved to Menomonee Falls.

    I started playing piano in 3rd grade. In 4th grade, I added the oboe. I attended Bay View High School, which housed the Visual & Performing Arts Specialty at the time. During that time, I added english horn, harp, violin and mallet percussion to my growing list of instruments. In college, I continued with oboe/english horn, piano and mallet percussion. I attended Midland Lutheran College in NE for two years and then transferred to Carroll College for my final two years.  I studied music performance while at Carroll. After college, I focused mostly on my oboe and shared my love of the instrument by teaching private lessons for 30 years.

    Music has always been an important part of my life. I have played in community orchestras and bands since I was in 6th grade. In middle and high school, I was invited to perform in the Milwaukee All City Band & Orchestra Festival three times (it was a biannual event). Other community groups I have performed with are the Milwaukee Recreational Orchestra (which I played in with my mom who played flute), Milwaukee Continental Youth Band ...

  • Jackie Oakes – Principal Cellist February 2, 2022

    Background

    Picture of Jackie Oakes

    Hi! My name is Jackie Oakes and I am the principal cellist.  Music has been a part of me since I could walk and talk.  Growing up in Cudahy, WI,  I was given the choice of a stringed instrument in the 4th grade.  I came home with the cello.  Never even tried anything else.  It has been a love affair ever since. 

    Music is so addicting for me that I picked up the oboe in 5th grade, piano in 6th grade, played all three throughout my school years and starting teaching piano at 18. Throughout high school I could play piano, cello, flute, oboe, English horn, saxophone, xylophone, and dabbled on percussion.  I also can play organ and double bass. Brass was never my thing. 

    But I had terrific friends in band, orchestra, marching band and jazz band.  Being an accompanist since 15 yrs of age has brought me a great deal of happiness as well!  My mom has always been my biggest cheerleader and gave me a huge gift of being able to study classically on piano at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.  I continued on cello there as a young adult and took music theory as well.  Julie Hochman and Ravenna ...

  • Kevin Becker – Double Bass January 2, 2022

    Background

    Portrait of Kevin Becker

    My musical background started in grade school with the piano, taking lessons and playing in recitals.  In middle school, after trying several instruments at a music department open house, I decided to start playing the string bass.  Soon after, I also started playing bass guitar.  I was a part of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra throughout high school, finishing with Senior Symphony in 2004.  In my senior year of high school, I was also involved in the symphonic band, marching band, orchestra, jazz band and pit orchestra for school musicals.  

    After a short break in college, I started playing string bass again with Carroll University’s (Carroll College back then) Wind Symphony and in a small group with the Vocal Collective choir there.  We performed with Anders Åstrand and the Global Percussion Network, along with the Trombones de Costa Rica, which was a great experience.  Post-college, I continued to play bass guitar in a couple of bands with friends, but I took a break from the string bass.  In 2016, a friend encouraged me to start playing again, so I joined the MFSO.

    Pieces from movie scores are what I enjoy the most, both performing and listening to.  Some of my favorite MSO and CSO concerts are ones where they play along with the movie.  Aside from movies, I would say ...

  • Robert Barwick – Percussionist December 1, 2021

    Background

    Robert Barwick

    I am a West Allis native and have always been interested by the rhythmic sounds made by common household items, such as clocks ticking, the dishwasher going through its cycles, turn signals on his car, and rain falling on the roof or windows. He says that when he listens to music, it is not so much the melody or the words that I notice; it is the beat, tempo and cadence of the song that fascinate me.

    While as a young child, my mother, a pianist, was the first to introduce me to music. I took some piano lessons, then some guitar lessons, but nothing excited me like the sounds and rhythm of the drums. Percussion lessons started in 5th grade, and I have not stopped playing since, from grade school through high school bands, followed by local wedding bands, and then playing with the West Allis Suburban Concert Band and the MFSO for the past 24 years.

    Why I like playing with the Menomonee Falls Symphony Orchestra

    I really enjoy playing along with the excellent musicians boasted by the orchestra. They make it a great challenge for me to keep up with their refined skills. I study the way the musicians in our orchestra and ...

  • Mark Gerard – Principal Trombone November 2, 2021

    Background

    Picture of Mark Gerard

    I play 1st Trombone with the MFSO.  I’ve been in the orchestra approximately ten years.  I started out subbing on bass trombone, and then officially joined, primarily playing 2nd trombone.  Eventually, I started playing 1st.  My only other orchestral experience was in college (Lawrence University) and a couple of times subbing in the Alverno College orchestra.

    I received a Bachelor of Music degree from Lawrence U. and taught instrumental music (band) in Cedarburg for nine years.  After getting married, I decided it was time to switch careers.  Eventually I went into industry and became a manufacturing engineer.  About five years ago I retired.

    Besides the MFSO I also play in two other musical groups: The Knightwind Ensemble, which I’ve been in since 1964, and the Waukesha Area Symphonic Band. Occasionally I sub in a WWII-era big band.

    Other interests

    Other types of music that I enjoy are:  Pop, Rock, Jazz, some Country, serious music – Orchestral and Wind Ensemble.  I love Mahler and other romantic composers.  I like music that has discernable melodies or themes.

    The MFSO provides me a place to actually play some of the pieces I’ve heard when I go to Milwaukee Symphony concerts.  ...

  • Mark Schrager – Principal Clarinet October 6, 2021

    Picture of Mark Schrager young
    Young Mark Schrager

    Picture of Mark Schrager
    Mark Schrager

    After a brief attempt at playing the violin (I was encouraged by my father who was a good amateur violinist), I found that I was strongly drawn to the clarinet, which I started to play in the fifth grade. Growing up in northern New Jersey, I played clarinet in my high school concert band and tenor sax in the marching band and dance band. After high school I continued my musical endeavors in both the concert and marching bands and, more importantly, the orchestra at Brown University. These groups provided some of my most treasured college experiences. After graduation I went on to medical school at Georgetown, but after my second year I no longer had the time to spend with my instrument and reluctantly took a break while I completed my further training at UW Madison and the University of Connecticut.

                An old college friend, who was a trumpet player, encouraged me to start playing clarinet again as I was finishing my rheumatology fellowship in Connecticut, and when I settled in Milwaukee, I got serious about the instrument again. I took lessons from Russ Dagon ...

  • Pam Kirk – Principal Violist September 19, 2021

    Portrait of Pam Kirk
    Principal Violist

    Hello, my name is Pam and I am the principal violist for the MFSO.

    I did not come from a musical home.  My parents listened to instrumental easy listening favorites (elevator music) and only in the car!  I was dared to choose a stringed instrument by the boy next door when I was nine, and I chose viola.  He chose bass.  My parents were surprised, but very supportive.

    Excellent music teachers from public schools in Watertown and Eau Claire taught me to be a musician.  They insisted on practice and excellence, but made learning fun.  I continued on to study at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire, where I received my Bachelor of Music Education degree.  In the following years, I taught music to children, ages 3-18, for the public schools in Kaukauna and in Menomonee Falls.  I performed as a violist with the Fox Valley Symphony and the Festival City Symphony as well as occasional fill in jobs with other Wisconsin community-based orchestras.

    I stepped back from teaching in order to spend more time with my children.  Thus ended a career, but not my musical vocation.  At about that time, the Menomonee Falls Symphony Orchestra moved right into my backyard.  Perfect timing for me!  I joined in 1999.  Over the ...

  • Judy Keene – Principal French Horn July 5, 2021

    Picture of Judy Keene

    My name is Judy Keene, and I am principal French Horn in the MFSO.  I first started playing with the orchestra about 25 years ago. 

    I have always enjoyed music, and I think this interest originated with my mother. Music had been a very important part of her life, and she played violin, marimba, and French horn.  Naturally she wanted to instill that love of music in her kids as well.  I started out playing piano. When I was old enough to play a wind instrument, I followed my mom’s lead and took up the French horn.  This was a decision I regretted in grade school when I had to carry the heavy case around!  In Junior High I began to appreciate the beautiful mellow sound of the instrument, and the way the horn fit into the ensemble. 

    When I went off to college, I was specializing in the sciences. I wasn’t sure how much time I would be able to devote to music.  Initially, I decided that I was just going to play in the orchestra. But by the time I graduated, I was taking almost as many music credits as in my major.  Music had become such a key part of my life. I have continued ...

  • Shannon Iler, Concertmaster June 1, 2021

    What is your role with the MFSO? How long have you been with the MFSO and in what capacity? 

    I’ve been the concertmaster since 2016. I joined the MFSO first violin section in 2004 after moving to Menomonee Falls and became principal 2nd a few years later. After a break in 2015, I was happy to be able to return as concertmaster. 

    Picture of Shannon Iler

    Do you play with any other orchestras?

    I’m a member of the Wisconsin Philharmonic and I sub with Festival City Symphony. In the past I’ve played with the Racine, Kenosha, and Green Bay Symphony Orchestras.

    What is / was your working profession?

    I’m a Certified Public Accountant and have worked in mutual fund and tax accounting. Currently, the majority of my time and attention goes to my 1 and 3-yr-old daughters. They are a blast and keep me very busy. Our days often include baking, ballet, biking, books, and blanket forts. 

    Do you have any hobbies?

    Apart from music, I enjoy running, yoga, being outside, spending time with friends and family, traveling, and reading widely. 

    Do you play any other instruments?

    Viola, singing and a bit of piano. I have dabbled with ...