Tom Schilke

Tom Schilke is a fixture on the first stand of our second violin section. Tom started with wcfsymphony in 1984 to complement his work as an orchestra teacher in the Waterloo schools. He retired from his “day job” in 2007 after 33 years of award-winning teaching but continues his “night jobs” playing with wcfysmphony, maintaining a private studio, directing the Northern Iowa Junior Orchestra and performing with Mariachi De Colores. Tom spends a good part of his free time outside, studying and watching the flora and fauna of the natural world. He enjoys photography, bowhunting, leading birding and nature hikes, and is the current president of the Prairie Rapids Audubon Society.

“Growing up in Wisconsin, Colonel Caboose was a popular children’s show on WBAY TV. They offered a segment of televised simple piano lessons for young viewers. Those without a piano, like my family, could send for a cardboard keyboard to follow along with the lessons. That didn’t work very well so my parents bought a piano and I enrolled in formal piano lessons. My mother played violin in school and offered me her violin and private lessons when I reached 6th grade. About the same time my father - who claimed the only thing he could play was the radio! - bought us a Masterwork stereo record player and a number of Reader’s Digest record collections including “Festival of Light Classical Music”. That was my first real exposure to classical music. I joined the school orchestra and had good teachers but it was my parents’ continued support that kept my interest in music alive in the long run.

“As a musician, I label myself as a semi-professional in that my primary income comes from another source. It is a challenge in today’s world for a professional performing musician to earn an income reflective of the training and hours needed to develop skills and meet performance demands.

“As a member of the orchestra there are often pages and pages of music to learn. Besides learning the notes and woodshedding the challenging spots, much of my practice these days is spent maintaining my skills on the violin and doing what it takes mentally to fully retain all the details. As a teacher and orchestra member it is good to have it all come together with a successful performance for me, the orchestra, and my students in the audience. I value the common bond with other musicians on stage and with music lovers in the audience.

“It is hard to beat live music. On stage I have one of the best seats in the house. The energy, emotion, and resonance surrounding me as we create music is hard to duplicate anywhere except as a part of a musical ensemble. In addition, I get to play music that seemed out of reach in my formative years.

“Music triggers emotions in us in a number of ways. Following a performance it is not uncommon for me to hear comments about how the music took a listener back to a place or time in their life or brought tears to their eyes. These are the reasons we do what we do in an orchestra.”


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