Spotlight #3: John Bumstead

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Brunch with John Bumstead, Cellist with the MSO for Over 35 Years

Submitted by MSO Board Member, Nick Quinci

Recently I had the pleasure of hosting John Bumstead for brunch.  John has been associated with the Melrose Symphony Orchestra for over 35 years!  He has had the privilege of playing under three conductors with the MSO: Christopher Blair, Peter Hazzard, and for the last twenty years, Yoichi Udagawa.

John grew up and attended public school in Wakefield.  Although neither of his parents were musicians, he was encouraged to play a musical instrument, and started taking piano lessons at the age of 7 with Jean Putman from Melrose. In 4th grade, he had the opportunity to try a string instrument and chose the cello. After studying privately with Phoebe Carrai and Mark Churchill, among others, he continued his studies in graduate school with David Finch from Melrose.  (David’s son Nicholas Finch performed as a cello soloist with the MSO a couple of years ago.) John continued his musical studies at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, Manhattan School of Music, and UMass Lowell.

In the 9th grade, through an outreach program, John had the opportunity to join the MSO as a student. Christopher Blair was the conductor at that time and his first concert included a performance of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. One of John’s most memorable moments with the MSO was when Christopher Blair’s stepmother, actress Maureen O’Hara, narrated Peter and the Wolf.  John recalled that he and other students were tickled by Ms. O’Hara’s “colorful language.”

John might have gone into public school teaching if he had not chosen the performance route. He has kept the educational component through teaching cello privately and as an adjunct professor at UMass Lowell.

He classifies himself as a Boston-based freelancer, and with his husband, violinist Peter Stickel, runs a business called Presto! Music. John and Peter were also the founders of the nationally known string orchestra, New England String Ensemble, which performed throughout Boston until 2010.

John enjoys the diverse nature of his profession: teaching students with differing abilities is endlessly challenging, and performance opportunities are widely varying. In addition to the MSO, John plays in Symphony by the Sea, in string quartets for concerts and special events, and in the pit orchestra at the North Shore Music Theatre. Les Misérables is one of his favorite musicals.

Baroque music is John’s favorite classical genre, including the music of Bach and Vivaldi.  He also enjoys reggae, jazz, and rock.  His favorite rock band is Blondie, which he follows religiously.  As an educator, John hopes that young kids will continue to be exposed to different types of music - including classical.

John enjoys hiking, gardening, and anything associated with nature.  Like many others, he also spends too much time on Facebook.

Since he has been associated with the MSO for over 35 years - about 2/3 of his life - he feels that the orchestra captures much of “the story of his life.” For John, MSO musicians include childhood friends, colleagues, musical mentors, and a number of his past and current students.

Spotlight #2: Priscilla Hunt

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An Interview with Priscilla Hunt, violinist with the MSO for 44 years
Submitted by Cathleen Schaad, MSO Board Member

When did you start playing the violin?
I first picked up the violin at age 9 at the Lincoln School in Melrose. I remember my first trip to the MSO where I saw my violin teacher, Barbara Steg, up on stage. My father said to me, “if you practice... you might be up there someday.”


Are you from a musical family?
My grandfather was a pianist/organist for silent movies and vaudeville shows. He played more popular than classical-based music. I also had an aunt who lived with us who played piano and was a trained singer.


Did you study music in school?
I attended the Lincoln School and Melrose High where I played in the orchestra. I received a Bachelor of Music Degree in Music History from the University of Connecticut, as well as a Master Degree in Violin Performance from U Lowell (now UMass Lowell.) My first teaching job was at Masconomet Regional High School in Boxford. I then taught string instruments and orchestra for grades 4-12 in the Wakefield Public Schools for 30 years.

There are students of mine playing in the  MSO today. Some, like myself, for over 20 years now.

I did my student teaching with Alan Hawryluk, former Director of Orchestras in the Salem Public Schools and current MSO Concertmaster.


Do you get nervous before a performance?
More like anxious than nervous, I suppose.


How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
I just keep playing; that mistaken moment is already gone.


Why do you volunteer with the MSO?
I just love to play violin. Also, I grew up in this community and was provided with opportunities and an education. It’s a way to give back to the community.


Why the violin? Do you play other instruments?
I was surrounded by pianos at home - and I didn’t want any part of them!  My 4th grade teacher, Barbara Steg, who was sweet and engaging, demonstrated the string instruments to my class. That, in combination with later seeing her play with the MSO, is why I chose the violin. My mom said, “but we have two pianos!” My parents relented and got in touch with the family of my great-aunt Mabel in Nebraska. They graciously agreed to send her violin to me. Soon a box filled with hay and two violins arrived. I’m only the second owner of my violin. I’ve used this same instrument ever since. I also play viola.


What was your favorite music growing up?
The Beatles. I saw them at Suffolk Downs. I subscribe to Sirius XM’s "Beatles Only" Channel.


Who’s your favorite Beatle?
George


What is your favorite orchestral piece and why?
I don't have one favorite piece, but I am very happy playing Brahms and Beethoven Symphonies. My favorite violin solo is Bach's Chaconne in D minor for unaccompanied violin.


If you could have a seat in any other orchestra in the world which one would it be?
Boston Symphony Orchestra


Outside of music what are your other passions?
Zumba. I love to dance and attend the Ballet. I enjoy reading/watching mysteries. I also collect dolls from the 1950’s and 60’s.


What lessons learned and inspiration would you offer child musicians?
Find a good private lesson teacher, try to practice every day—even a little bit. Attend concerts. Have fun playing with your friends who you make through music.

Disclaimer...I didn’t practice much as a kid, unfortunately.  I was dragged to my first private lesson, and came out liking it! My beloved teacher, Sarah Scriven, taught on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. She was very strict, but very kind, and I soon began to practice a lot.


Advice for adult musicians?
“Come play!” Find a place to play. Join a group. Playing alone is not as rewarding.


Fond memories of playing with the MSO?
I enjoyed serving as Concertmaster for 11 seasons. I actually played a solo with the MSO in March 1984. It was nerve-wracking, but fun. In addition to the musical part, I served as Secretary on the Board of Directors for several seasons. I continue to make lots of good memories with my MSO friends.

There’s a good confluence now right now with Yoichi. We have more Orchestra members, sponsors, and larger audiences today compared to my first years. And the Orchestra sounds great

Priscilla's favorite solo violin piece performed by Itzhak Perlman, London 1978