Cascade Symphony Music Makers: After 58 years with CSO, Clydia Pappenfus passionate about power of music

Clydia Pappenfus

We present the first of occasional profiles of musicians from the Cascade Symphony Orchestra.

When I became executive director of the Cascade Symphony Orchestra (CSO) one year ago, I quickly realized that I had a lot to learn about this much-loved bastion of the Edmonds arts community. CSO’s history goes all the way back to 1962, when Robert Anderson founded the orchestra and began his tenure as its conductor and music director.

Some of the original musicians continue as members of the orchestra to this day. Violinist Clydia Pappenfus is one of those remarkable performers.

As one of CSO’s founding musicians, Clydia has brought her talent and love for the violin to the orchestra for 58 years. During this time, she has dedicated countless hours, including over one thousand Monday night rehearsals, to help build one of the finest community orchestras in the country.

I interviewed Clydia to learn more about her life, her journey in music, and her experiences playing with the Cascade Symphony Orchestra.

Tell us about your early musical life. How did you become a violinist?

I was born in Yakima, Wash. in 1937. I started learning piano at age 5, but I always wanted to play the violin. I got my first violin when I was about 11.

At that time a violinist and band/orchestra director named Bill Herbst led a school orchestra summer program in Yakima. It was geared for younger children — at least the part in which I participated was — more than the high schoolers he usually taught. I have always been sort of an overachiever, so I auditioned for concertmaster and got it. Then I had to have my appendix [taken] out and my mother cautioned me that I probably would not still have that position, because of missed rehearsals. However, when I went back, to my delight, I still held the position.

The Yakima High School orchestra and band were excellent, playing standard symphonic literature, nothing watered down. We went to the Music Educators National Conference [now known as the National Association for Music Education] competition, and met students from all over. We played Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2. That’s when I fell in love with symphonic music.

After high school, I enrolled as a violin major at University of Washington. I got married between my junior and senior years of college. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

I spent two summers at Musical Academy of the West in Santa Barbara [Calif.]. [Violinist] Jascha Heifetz showed up. I was in the opera orchestra for their complete performances of Die Fledermaus and Der Rosenkavalier. The conductor was Maurice Abravanel, who was the conductor of the Utah Symphony at that time and the opera coach was Lotte Lehmann. I realized at that point that “this bird ain’t gonna fly.” I wasn’t going to become a professional musician. For one thing, I hated teaching! I still don’t like it.

What I really wanted to do was go to medical school, but at that time women in medicine were an anomaly. After I got married, and when my son was in kindergarten, I got my nursing degree. I worked at Virginia Mason for 25 years.

Did your work as a nurse ever intersect with your life as a musician?

Yes — for all the 25 years I was at Virginia Mason, I would take my violin in at Christmas time and go from one end of the hospital to the other, playing whatever Christmas music patients wanted to hear. If you are in the hospital at Christmas, it is a bad time. You should be home. I would enter patients’ rooms and ask what their [musical] favorites were and play them. I played everything from Ave Maria to Jingle Bell Rock! During the year, when some patients would have to return for whatever problem they had, often they would say “you’re the nurse with the violin, aren’t you?” The staff looked forward to it, too. Right after Thanksgiving, I started getting questions about when I would be bringing the violin in.

How did you come to play with Cascade Symphony Orchestra?

I first heard about the Bremerton Symphony, which I joined. We rehearsed on Monday nights. [Robert] Anderson was the music director. Bob brought the woodwinds and strings, including cellist Norma Dermond and Kathy Moellenberndt, who are both members of Cascade Symphony Orchestra today.

In March of 1962, the Bremerton Symphony had hired another conductor to be music director and called Robert Anderson the night before a dress rehearsal to tell him he had been replaced.

Sitting on the ferry coming home from the concert, I asked the question to my fellow musicians, “why not form a symphony on this side [of Puget sound]?” I made phone calls to the other string players, and two weeks later, on April 7, we held our first rehearsal at Mountlake Terrace High School. The first concert was June 4, 1962. Bob asked me to serve as concertmaster of the new group, which became the Cascade Symphony Orchestra.

Later, another violinist named Joy Perry was concertmaster, and I sat next to her as assistant concertmaster. We shared a music stand together for 40 years.


A Cascade Symphony Orchestra concert poster from the 1963-1964 season.

How does today’s CSO compare with CSO 58 years ago?

The orchestra was doing well under Bob Anderson, but we had trouble recruiting an audience. That changed when we collaborated with Rick Steves on the “A Symphonic Journey” concert in 2011. After that, our concerts started selling out regularly.

Our venue has changed. I remember when they were going to tear down our venue and I testified at the Snohomish County and Edmonds City Council meetings. I said, “How dare you call yourselves an arts community if you don’t have a theater with a large enough stage for an orchestra?”

So, they decided to gut [the former Edmonds High School school auditorium and gym] and redo it, and now we have the Edmonds Center for the Arts!

What was it like to work with Robert Anderson?

He was the nicest person. He was no-nonsense. Bob would say things like, “when you encounter an unknown work from a well-known composer, there’s a reason!”

Bob’s wife Georgia was also wonderful. She made the musicians sandwiches for the CSO dress rehearsals. She was a gardener, and the orchestra would bring her manure for her garden as a thank-you gift.

What is it like to work with the current CSO Music Director Michael Miropolsky?

Michael is a breath of fresh air. Everybody was thrilled when he was hired. He has a remarkable way of verbalizing what he wants. Each year he pushes us a little harder, and a little harder still.

What do you think is the best music for musicians to be playing or practicing right now?

Hard music. Music that uses your whole brain and is totally encompassing intellectually.

What music are you practicing right now?

I have been practicing Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin. I have never mastered it, and I can only work on it for so long due to a hand injury. I am actually finding that practicing piano is much more satisfying than practicing violin, since piano music doesn’t require an ensemble or accompaniment for it to feel complete.

What do you think is the best music for folks to listen to right now?

People need to hear beautiful music. I recommend the Rachmaninoff piano concertos. Piano Concerto No. 2 is my favorite. I love the big romantic orchestral sound. Some people think they don’t like classical music, but they haven’t really experienced it. When people who haven’t heard classical music say they don’t like it, it’s like someone saying that the very best meat in the whole world is a well-cooked hot dog, and they haven’t tasted tenderloin. This music speaks to the triumph of the human spirit. Composers endured a lot, and many lived in a time before antibiotics when deaths from diseases like pneumonia were common.

Music can be a tremendous stabilizing influence. I listen to KING-FM [classical music radio] most of the time. I get up in the morning, put on my glasses, and turn on the radio. Especially in this time, classical music keeps you sane. It is capable of lifting you to a different plane. It doesn’t change, and it doesn’t care about being politically correct!

Music held me together through a divorce and through single parenthood. For 58 years, it has been a leitmotif in my life. When things are not going well, the intellectual involvement required to play music is like a vacation. You have to be totally focused to play music. I remember coming home tired from work and going directly to CSO rehearsals, and feeling rejuvenated. The music is beautiful and uplifting – it lifts you out of the muck!

— By Rose Gear

Rose Gear is executive director of Cascade Symphony Orchestra in Edmonds. She is also a classically trained bassist.



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