This may be the first year that I will be performing with the Midsummer’s Music Festival, but it is also my twenty-first June spent in the beautiful Door Peninsula.
I was only a seven-and-a-half-month-old baby during the premier season of MMF in 1991, and although I obviously do not remember a thing, it marked the beginning of an annual tradition for me as I grew up with my parents performing in the festival each year: driving up north from Chicago right after school let out (or, in some lucky years, a few days before), getting to be cared for by my favorite babysitter (often one of my mother’s violin students), and experiencing all of my favorite Door County traditions, from golfing at the Red Putter in Ephraim to eating at the “Goats on the Roof” restaurant in Sister Bay. Probably my fondest memories of those early years are of the annual party for the musicians thrown by Jim and Jean Berkenstock at their charming Gills Rock home, which normally consisted of an abundance of fantastic cooking, animated conversation, and wheelbarrow rides for the children given by none other than Jim himself. After the evening’s activities had died down, and the musicians were having one last piece of cherry pie, I would often take out my miniature-sized cello and play whatever pieces I had been working on lately. My renditions were always greeted with enthusiastic applause, and although I knew little of what the professional music world was really like, the warmth and encouragement I received from my parents and their colleagues inspired me enormously. I was just a beginner, but I was making music just like they were, and to my six-year-old mind that seemed pretty cool.
When I was eight, I composed a short trio for a fine arts competition sponsored by the Parent Teachers Association, and it advanced to the Illinois State Level where it received honorable mention. When my mother told Jim about it, he suggested that a performance of my piece be given during a children’s concert at the Miller Arts Center in Sturgeon Bay. The performance was a great success and was even broadcast on a local television station. As every year went by, I wrote a new piece for the same competition, and every summer between 1999 and 2004, these pieces were subsequently performed by the Midsummer’s Music ensemble, first as part of the outreach concerts for children or retirees, and then as un-programmed “preludes” at one of the concert series. The continued support of my compositional efforts from the audience and the musicians was indeed quite meaningful to me. Here I was, just a kid dabbling in a complex art, and they clapped with the same enthusiasm they had for Beethoven or Brahms. As a gesture of gratitude for their support, the first year I was in high school (and therefore no longer eligible for the fine arts competition I had participated in previously), I wrote “Up the Door Peninsula,” a quintet which depicted several locations throughout Door County and was once again performed during the MMF season.
During these years, the musical experiences I had in Door County enriched my personal growth as a musician. Having my compositions performed as preludes at concerts meant I would have to bite the bullet and listen to the rest of the program, something which isn’t always easy for a ten-year-old. Unsurprisingly, some of those first years found me drifting off into daydreams, drawing detailed pictures on the program, or reading a book in whatever room was serving as the backstage that evening. But as I grew older, I began to become attracted to the tones emanating from the stage which I had recently been standing on myself. I noticed the musicians interacting with each other, marveled at their focus and intensity, and felt the pull of the music drawing me closer into the mass of sonority which they were producing. I began to discover that a concert is not merely entertainment, but an intellectual and emotional experience. By the time I entered high school, and began to become serious with my cello studies, I had already learned much about the awe of a live performance – to let the sounds of music pour out of one’s very being, channeled through an instrument and sent spiraling out into that eternal silence of a concert hall. During my high school years, I encountered all of the usual stressors an aspiring musician might face – all-state auditions, the ugliness of musical politics, making the decision to pursue music as a career, and the resulting uncomfortable doubts if one has really made the right choice. But every June as I returned to Door County, I was reminded once more of where my passion for the art began – here, in the rolling meadows, bubbling brooks, and majestic harbors that gleam red-orange in the dusk.
Now, as I look back on two decades of Junes spent in the peninsula, I feel forever indebted to the musical and personal experiences I have had here. Throughout the ups and downs of attending summer music programs, taking auditions, and ultimately attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, I was always sustained by the knowledge that there is a place where music is brought to life in its most innate form, a place where musicians are comrades as opposed to competitors, and a place where you can sit in the back of a rustic gallery and listen to the strains of genius as the sun sinks into the harbor and the wind whispers in the softly swaying trees. That place is Door County.
Note from Kathleen Pearson, Executive Director: Zachary will be performing with Midsummer’s Music on Program D, Summer Evening Magic. This program features the music of Kennan, Hofmann, Grieg, and Svendsen. The performances will be on Tuesday, June 28 at the Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor; Thursday, June 30 at the historic Fish Creek Town Hall; and Tuesday, July 5 on Rock Island (the Rock Island event is sold out). Tickets are available at 920-854-7088 or via our website at www.midsummerSmusic.com. We hope you can join us and see Zachary’s professional debut with Midsummer’s Music Festival!