Living in harmony suits Ars Viva couples
Francis Lynch and Mary Jo Deysach | Photo by Gayle Heatherington
Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra
Performs at theNorth Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie
Information at (847) 673-6300 or visit www.arsviva.org
Updated: February 13, 2013 2:44PM
“Did music bring them together? Does music keep them together? We do sometimes marry the people we meet at work, so it’s no surprise that musicians marry musicians.
Still the Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra, which plays at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, has an especially large number of married couples, either as regulars or frequent substitutes.
“I was preparing the paychecks a while back,” said Gayle Heatherington, who is executive director and board member of Ars Viva, founded and conducted by her husband Alan Heatheringon, “and as I put some of them in the same envelope, I noticed that we had so many couples like me and Alan, working together.”
She did the math and found 16 players, eight couples, five with one member in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “That is about 30 percent of the orchestra,” she marveled. “I think that is probably quite unusual. Plus we have two board members who are also married, Mary Jo Deysach and Francis Lynch.”
Deysach was one of the three founding board members of Ars Viva in 1996, along with the Heatheringtons. “When we expanded the board,” she explained, “Francis and Joan Brakefield were the first two members to be added.”
Deysach and Lynch met in November of 1997 after the last of three outreach concerts Ars Viva had contracted the Chicago Master Singers, which Heatherington also conducts. Lynch is a tenor in the ensemble.
“A group of 12 or so went to Gulliver’s to celebrate Alan’s birthday,” Deysach recalled. “Francis and I started talking about the music of Gerald Finzi and Wordsworth’s ‘Great Ode’ and the rest is history.” They married in the fall of 2000 and live in Evanston.
Michael Buckwalter, principal horn in Ars Viva, had a good long time to get to know his future wife, Elizabeth Anderson, a member of the orchestra’s cello section. “We met during a 17-week run of ‘Carousel’ playing in Marriott’s ensemble,” he said. “Marrying her was the best thing I ever did.”
In addition to Ars Viva, the couple plays together in the Lake Forest Symphony, which Heatherington began conducting in the fall of 2000. “Twelve years for me and 24 for Elizabeth,” Buckwalter explained. The two also play in the Chicagoland Pops, led by Arnie Roth and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, led by Orbert Davis. They also play with orchestras for Broadway in Chicago and in the CityLights Orchestra, “Too Hot to Handel” and the Park Ridge Fine Arts Symphony.
Musicians always practice, practice, practice, so a musician-couple must have a place where each can each work without disturbing the other. Anderson solved that problem by finding a two-story condo in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood for them. Buckwalter called it a “master stroke.” “It’s in the shape of a cube with her studio in one upper corner and mine in the opposite lower corner. Not only that, but my studio is below grade, with no common walls with our neighbors, which is very nice for a brass player.”
Trumpeters Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer, who are married, know something about the perils of practicing a brass instrument. In the span of one year Butler was evicted from five apartments. “When Charlie and I first met, I was a graduate student at Northwestern University about to win the principal trumpet position with the Grant Park Symphony,” Butler explained. “But Charlie, who is a bit older, was already in the Chicago Symphony.”
Butler had finally found a top floor apartment in a house in Evanston where her hours of serious practice created no problem. “It was fine until he started coming over to play duets,” she continued. “Shortly after that they told me they were evicting me, because of all the playing I was doing with ‘that student.’ I told them, ‘He’s in the Chicago Symphony,’ thinking that would really impress them.”
It did not and she was evicted yet again.
Their home in Lincolnshire, with a small stable adjacent to a forest preserve area, affords them plenty of space to practice at the same time. “If we had to take turns, it would take forever,” she observed.
In addition to Ars Viva, they play together with Music of the Baroque and Chicago Chamber Musicians, plus since 1998 they have been trumpet professors at Northwestern University. Previously they taught for nearly two decades at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and in July they will begin teaching at Rice University in Houston. During the summer they play in Jackson, Wyo., at the Grand Teton Music Festival Orchestra.
Butler is quick to point out the advantages of playing together in an ensemble: “camaraderie, empathy, sharing of social circle, carpooling. Playing the same instrument we have so much in common, shared knowledge, shared library,” she added.
“Working together is 99 percent wonderful, one percent challenging,” she admitted. “In performances we are instantly simpatico…but making musical decisions during rehearsals can be amusing. One of our colleagues listening to us debate how a phrase should go, likened it to two lion cubs swatting at each other before settling down to the feast.”
They share performance pressures as well. While on a cruise they were facing a big program upon their return. “So we used the excuse that we were going to enter the cruise ship passenger talent show as a reason to be playing in the lounge every day,” Butler explained. For the show, which included men playing the guitar and little girls singing songs from “Annie,” they performed a Baroque trumpet duet. “The audience didn’t know what to think,” she concluded.
Violinists Ilya Kaler and Olga Kaler, who live in Wilmette, play the same instrument. Initially, however, Olga was a star-struck 16-year old from Odessa in Ukraine, who was in the audience for the 1986 Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. It was the third major international competition in which then 23-year old Ilya won first prize. He had captured two previous gold medals, the Sibelius in Helsinki in 1985 and the Paganini in Genoa in 1981.
“I saw him later in the lobby and told him that were I to judge, I would have awarded him a first prize and would not have awarded second or third to anyone else to show the difference,” she declared.
She saw Ilya later when she was a student at the Moscow Conservatory. “I was too shy to initiate a conversation,” she admitted, adding that he always seemed to give her that “where have I seen you?” look.
They didn’t find each other again until the summer of 1994, this time in the United States. Olga, who came to this country in 1992, was performing with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, a summer job she still holds. The Moscow-born Ilya had arrived here in 1991 and was violin soloist in the symphony’s performance of Paganini’s Concerto No. 2.
As he walked off the stage he stopped in front of her stand and said, in Russian, “I couldn’t forget your face. Where have I seen you before?” “This time he remembered me well,” she added, with obvious pleasure. “We were married in 1997.”
The couple performs together not only in Ars Viva, but also share a stand in the Lake Forest Symphony, where Ilya is concertmaster and she is principal associate concertmaster. They have played duo recitals in this country and Canada, plus both hold full-time professorships at De Paul University’s School of Music, which they call their professional home.
London-born Roger Chase and his wife Yukiko Ogura, who was born in Nara, Japan, are both violists. Ogura, a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, met Chase at a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of a mutual friend. “Afterwards we rode the same train homeward,” Chase explained, “and talked about the music we heard as kids.”
In addition to Ars Viva, the two play in chamber groups in Chicago. “We actually love playing together,” Chase said. “We have a small pile of duos which we play in friends’ houses or in pubs in England and Japan.”
Chase teaches at Chicago College for the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and though Yukiko does some coaching when asked, her husband added, “The CSO schedule makes major demands and she loves having peaceful and quiet time at home.”
Chicago Symphony orchestra bass player Michael Hovnanian and violinist Lori Ashikawa played in the same youth orchestra in Los Angeles. “But we didn’t meet until we were both renting rooms in a house full of struggling freelance musicians after college,” he explained.
“Before we were a couple, Lori and her fellow roommates ‘interviewed’ me as a potential roommate,” he added. “I came within an inch of losing out to a violist, who admitted to being something of a ‘neat freak.’ Both of our lives might have turned out a whole lot differently if I hadn’t passed that ‘interview.’”
In addition to playing together in Ars Viva, they have played together at summer festivals, including Roundtop in Texas as well as in the Carmel Bach Festival in California. Hovnanian teaches at DePaul and runs a publishing company, while Ashikawa plays in ensembles playing for Chicago Opera Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet, plus with the Baroque Band.
Also in Ars Viva are cellist Mark Lekas and violinist Michele Lekas, who met playing in Granada, Spain with the 11-member New American Chamber Orchestra, and toured Europe for more than a year.
Their home in Willowbrook has two music studios, solving the question of who practices when. They also play together for Broadway in Chicago and the Northwest Indiana Symphony.
Ars Viva often calls on spouses of regular players when substitutes are needed. For example, Michelle Wynton-Taylor, wife of CSO violinist and Ars Viva concertmaster David Taylor. Mary Gingrich plays regularly and her husband, CSO hornist Daniel Gingrich has played with Ars Viva, and also clarinetist Teresa Riley, wife of John Bruce Yeh, CSO clarinetist, have played with Ars Viva in the past. In addition Ars Viva percussionist Patricia Dash, is a member of the CSO and her husband Douglas Waddell, of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, subs with Ars Viva when he is available.
Gayle Heatherington knows why the ensemble has so many married couples. “Chicago Symphony Orchestra players have spouses who also pay extremely well,” she said. “They are here because their spouse plays with the CSO.”
As for the Heatheringtons, who will be married 19 years in March, they each have their own office in their Libertyville ranch home. “Alan studies scores almost every day,” Gayle said. “I am working more and more as a graphic designer, but my main occupation is executive director of Ars Viva. He conducts the Chicago Master Singers and I am a member of the first also section, plus I serve on the board. We have been known to email each other from our separate offices!”
Gayle sang in the Chicago Master Singers when it was called the New Oratorio Singers and Thomas Wikman was conducting. At one point, she left the ensemble. “Then a good friend of mine invited me to sing with them again in Handel’s ‘Messiah’ at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall,” she explained, adding that by then Alan was the conductor. “He was conducting a benefit concert to raise money for the Sunshine Kids, in honor of Rebecca, his daughter who had just died. I was so impressed by the experience that I rejoined the chorus.”
For a number of years she also worked for the Lake Forest Symphony, both in the office and as a graphic designer.
Explaining their harmonious relationship, Gayle observes “We love all the same things and love each other. What else can I say…”