Respectfully submitted by Allyson Fleck
Ann Palen has played violin with Midsummer’s Music since 2014. Growing up in Edwardsville, Illinois, Ann studied Suzuki violin. Her start to instruction was somewhat of a challenge for her mom, but not what you might think. Ann’s mom was teaching Suzuki violin, and her students were not improving as fast as her mom hoped. So, taking young Ann as a guinea pig violin pupil, she tested to see if the fault was the student or the teacher. Ann proved a positive test case and both teacher and student continued their line of discipline with much success.
Ann grew up in a country lifestyle: lots of open space and living on a farm with goats and other animals. She said they lived in a town where there was one stoplight. Because of this small-town atmosphere and her mother’s wonderful violin instruction, lots of kids signed up for Suzuki. Violin was the new normal for this town. “All the kids were into music, it was wonderful. It is just what you did.” Ann eventually moved to a bigger city in Michigan. Fondly, Ann recalls her early days of violin were filled with friendships and kindness.
As a side note, Ann Palen and David Perry, who just celebrated his 20th anniversary as a violinist with Midsummer’s Music, grew up together in Edwardsville. Ann studied violin with Kent Perry (David’s dad) and occasionally with David’s teacher, John Kendall. Both Ann and David are grateful they get to play in Door County together again after all these years.
Ann was not always sure she would be a professional violinist. She had an interest in French studies and early on considered working as a translator or ambassador. Violin pulled her away from French and after early college years in Michigan, she transferred to the Eastman School of Music and finally to Peabody Conservatory for graduate school. Ann remembers college orchestra tours to Germany and Russia. These experiences inspired her to continue violin and develop her appreciation for other cultures. Ultimately, Ann won a job with the world-famous Lyric Opera Orchestra of Chicago.
On March 13, 2020, most of the U.S. went into stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19. Lyric Opera was in the middle of Puccini, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner. The halt was gut-wrenching for Lyric musicians. On a normal work week, Ann got up very early and caught a 9:00 am train from Elmhurst to downtown Chicago. That gave her enough time to warm up before the 11:00 am – 2:00 pm rehearsal. After rehearsal, she quickly caught the 2:40 pm train back home to get dinner for herself and family, which includes her husband and two daughters, and then headed back downtown for a 7:00 pm performance, finishing around 10:30 pm. She would make it home by midnight to repeat a similar schedule the next day. It has its physical tolls, and that doesn’t even include the hours of practice she did every day anywhere she could find time. For Ann, and for most professional musicians, she typically spent ten hours of individual practice for every one hour of performance, plus rehearsal time. Ann misses Lyric and hopes that everyone can be safely back together soon. In the meantime, she has really enjoyed some time to read, take walks, cook from scratch, and watch fun shows on Netflix.
Ann said the best advice she ever received was from Midsummer’s Music co-founder Jean Berkenstock. The two worked as colleagues at Lyric. Jean approached Ann, who had been at Lyric for five years, and asked Ann to join the orchestra committee. Jim Berkenstock was the chair of the committee at the time. It turned out that Lyric went into lockout that year and needed a strong orchestra committee. They had horrible negotiations. But the orchestra came out with a better contract. During those stressful days, Jean told Ann: “this too shall pass.” Ann thinks of this advice often and especially during these past few months.
When asked to share a funny story growing up, Ann commented that she, her brother George, David Perry, and David’s sister, Susan, started a 4-H club in Edwardsville. Both sets of parents were involved with the club. Ann’s father, who was a journalist, established the newsletter, and Ann’s mom coordinated the activities along with other parents. Both David’s mom and Ann’s mom are still in touch today. They learned many skills including sewing, woodworking (David’s interest), bicycling, and cat care (Ann’s interest). The group, named by Ann, was the Magic Clovers. Ann’s family soon moved to Michigan after starting the 4-H club, and David, attempting to be “cool” in high school, never forgave Ann for leaving behind such a name.