50 Years of Alumni: Erin Berglund
I attended Michigan Technological University, and graduated this spring with a BS in chemistry.
What years were you in GTCYS?
I was in GTCYS from 2012 to 2017, and I graduated high school in 2017.
What skills or lessons did you learn in GTCYS that you still use today?
The summer after 7th grade, I was looking through a list of various summer camps that I got in the newspaper, and I decided to sign up for summer GTCYS so I would have an excuse to practice over the summer. I ended up playing in GTCYS every summer and school year until I graduated (5 years total), and it gave me so much more than an excuse to practice more! All these years later, I still wish I had found out about it sooner! Playing in GTCYS helped me to gain self-confidence and improve my teamwork skills. As much as I liked school orchestra, there were a lot of people who did not want to be there. In GTCYS, everyone wanted to be there, and everyone cared about the music they were making. That difference in the playing environment really helped me to grow as a person and as a musician, and made me realize how much I love playing viola! I did not continue playing in orchestra after graduating high school, but I continued going to fiddle camps every summer and playing viola for fun. I love the extra challenge of learning by ear and having to transpose some of the tunes down an octave to make them playable on viola. Those were not skills I learned in GTCYS, but without GTCYS, I likely would have feared the extra challenge, rather than embrace it. I love exploring how viola can fit into other styles of music beyond the classical orchestra setting, and GTCYS played an important role in giving me the confidence to realize it’s possible!
Why do you think GTCYS is important for students now?
In general, GTCYS is important, because it helps students form friendships, learn how to work as a team, grow as a person, and learn to embrace challenges. Obviously, GTCYS helps students grow as musicians as well, but it does so much more than that! Right now, GTCYS is especially important because the opportunity to make music with others gives students a sense of normalcy when there are so many crazy things happening in the world. It gives them a break from screen time and the news, and a chance to see and interact with people face-to-face. Playing music also brings joy and provides a way to escape the world’s problems.
How does music still play a part in your life?
I still play viola for fun, but I’ve shifted to mainly playing fiddle tunes (though I’ll play pretty much anything-Beatles music, Broadway show tunes, my old favorite classical viola solos etc.). I started attending fiddle camps every summer starting the summer before my freshman year of high school, and I’ve continued to go to fiddle camps every summer (8 years and counting!). As a classically trained violist, fiddle camps are definitely a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun and I love the way violas sound in fiddle music. Everything is taught by ear, and learning by ear was not something I had done before (or something that I normally do the rest of the year).
What is your favorite composer or piece of music?
I have way too many favorites to pick just one! My favorite orchestral piece of music is Variations on a Theme of Haydn by Brahms, but if you move beyond classical music to something more jazzy, I would definitely add Leap of Faith by Randy Sabien as another favorite orchestra song. My favorite classical solo is the Courante from Bach Cello Suite No. 1. Some of my favorite fiddle tunes to play include My Cape Breton Home by Jerry Holland, Blarney Pilgrim (Trad. Irish), and Rove Riley Rove (Trad. Old Time/Appalachian).
What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I learned how to cross-country ski when I was three, and I started out in the same ski club as Jessie Diggins, who (along with her teammate, Kikkan Randall) became the first American cross-country skier to win an Olympic gold medal!
What do you hope to see from GTCYS in the next 50 years?
One thing I would like to continue to see from GTCYS in the next 50 years is the effort to break down barriers to participation. Currently, this is being done through scholarships (by making it so students who cannot afford it can participate), and through the Harmony program (by making learning a string instrument affordable and accessible to underserved students). I’m a little biased as a violist, but I would love to see viola added as an option for Harmony students.
Another thing I would like to continue to see from GTCYS in the next 50 years is the effort on diversifying the repertoire by choosing music from a variety of cultures, styles, and time periods. It can be easy to think that orchestras only play music written by dead European men, but there’s so much more awesome music for orchestras that doesn’t fit into that category!
Something I would like to see more of from GTCYS is free concerts for underserved communities. I know most of the orchestras do a concert like that around the holidays, but I don’t think it needs to be limited to holiday-time. I think it would be cool if GTCYS helped to arrange chamber groups to play at nursing homes, homeless shelters etc., because it would be easier to reach more people that way, and some of them might not have a space big enough for an orchestra and an audience.
Lastly, I would like to see GTCYS continue to grow while still feeling like a giant family. For example, when I volunteered at auditions a couple years ago, Miranda knew and greeted all of the returning students (and many of their parents too!) by name as they came in. The conductors also make a point to get to know the parents as well as the students, and that is a lot of faces and names to keep track of! Another example is when I waved at Maestro Smith after a Minnesota Orchestra concert, and he recognized me as a GTCYS student, and walked over to say hi and ask what I was up to after graduating, even though I did not have him as my conductor. A third example is when I wore a GTCYS shirt to fiddle camp, and a few younger kids came up to me to tell me they were in GTCYS too and we talked about the orchestras we were in. I think it’s really cool how GTCYS is such a huge program and still feels like a family. It would be amazing if it can keep growing without losing that close community!