Meet the Concertmaster!

Svend Rønning, Symphony Tacoma Concertmaster

Meet Symphony Tacoma’s concertmaster, Dr. Svend Rønning. You may recognize him by his world-famous laugh, but he is also known for his world-class musicianship on the violin. Rønning is a Northwest native who earned his undergraduate violin performance degree at Pacific Lutheran University. Rønning received his Master of Music and Doctorate of Musical Arts degrees from Yale University. While living on the East Coast, he had the opportunity to perform with big names such as Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, and André Watts, to name a few.

Now back to his roots in Tacoma, Rønning is chair of String Studies and teaches violin at PLU, working alongside some of his former professors. He is also Artistic Director of the Second City Chamber Series. Rønning did not realize when he returned to this region how big of a role the arts would play in the revitalization of the city of Tacoma. He considers himself “amazingly lucky” to be part of that revival.

Svend has a rich Scandinavian heritage. Though he was born in America, he was raised speaking Norwegian as his first language. He grew up in a musical family that played both classical and Norwegian folk music. As a young boy, he was involved in Scandinavian church music and folk music, and also played the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle.

Rønning also teaches a class on Scandinavian music at PLU. One may think his love of heritage prompts him to teach the class, but instead Rønning says it’s his love of the institution that does it. Svend believes one of the great things about being a musician is being able to represent an identity of a community of music.

Rønning loves to travel, garden, and spend time with family and friends. Other than these hobbies, you may not see much of a difference between his professional and non-professional life; they are both filled with music! Whether leading the string choir of the Symphony Tacoma or participating in his brother’s church choir, whether directing the Second City Chamber series or sitting with his friend’s fiddle band, Rønning enjoys playing music both in professional and non-professional settings.

Written by: Alexa Bayouk

Retiring violinist has been with Orchestra for 46 years

backstage pass

Symphony Tacoma violinist Carol Minkema grew up on a farm in the Puyallup Valley where she fell in love with music and horseback riding about equally.

Music won out early on.

She found a violin under her big sister’s bed and decided to give it a try. It felt very natural under her chin, and she began studies at age seven with a private instructor at a whopping $2 per lesson. At age 13 she entered Puyallup High School where conductor Robert McNamara took her under his wing. He placed Carol in his violin section—and she took off from there. In addition to the PHS orchestra, she studied all through high school with Blanche Yorkthiemer. She remembers her graduation solo as “the most terrifying thing I did in high school.”

She continued violin studies with Arthur Thal in college, and finally—and most memorably—with Maestro Edward Seferian at the University of Puget Sound. She earned a Bachelor of Music Education at Western Washington University and a Master of Administration, Curriculum and Instruction at Gonzaga University.

Carol has fond memories of her first years as a member of the UPS Symphony Tacoma, with Seferian as its music director. “He was a colorful personality, a big guy with a booming voice,” she remembers. “We had so much fun back then; everybody knew each other! We didn’t get paid, but I didn’t even think about that. I just wanted to play.”

Carol worked as a music educator in the public schools of Bellingham and Tacoma, then moved on to classroom teaching. She taught highly capable 4th graders for 13 years at Wainwright, then Honors and AP English at Mount Tahoma High School, where she was appointed Dean of Students. She even found time to run a violin school and direct the children’s choir at Mount Cross Lutheran Church. In the midst of all this, she and her husband Henry raised four children together.

During her 46 years with the Symphony Tacoma, Carol witnessed firsthand its evolution—and that of Tacoma’s performing arts scene in general. She herself played a multifarious role in that transformation. Her musical activities have been prolific, including playing in the Tacoma Opera orchestra for a decade and in the pit for The Nutcracker for a solid 25 years; serving as Principal Second Violin of the Symphony Tacoma for 20 years; and performing as a member of the Bello Sono String Quartet for 20 years, among many others.

“Sticking with the Symphony Tacoma until it became what it is today was just a natural progression as I slid into my professional status,” she says. “Now the orchestra is strictly pro, as it should be. The cultural climate of Tacoma is more sophisticated, and TSO is leading the way.”

Carol retired from the Symphony at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 Season. She and Henry, also retired, are enjoying spending more time with their four children and a plethora of grandchildren. They are avid boaters, among other activities. She particularly looks forward to the Seattle Opening Day, where for once she will be able to enjoy the parade and other activities with her friends and loved ones—instead of spending the bulk of the time practicing in her stateroom.

“My heartfelt gratitude goes out to my teacher Edward Seferian, who was the cornerstone of the TSO,” she states. “Also, to Cindy Iverson, my stand partner through hundreds of rehearsals and concerts; Dr. Richard Bowe and Sara Bowe for sponsoring my chair for so many years; and to my husband, Henry, for attending almost every concert, and never complaining when we had to miss so much because I had to practice, rehearse or perform.

“Most of all, thank you to our patrons, many of whom are friends I see in the audience time after time. I will miss seeing you from the stage, but I look forward to joining you in the audience!”