Longtime orchestra member donates violin to Centralia College
Early on, Jean Wheeler’s relationship to the violin was complicated. Her mother cleaned houses to pay for her lessons and 8-year-old Jean dutifully attended those lessons. But, her grumpy violin teacher didn’t make it easy for her. He cut off her fingernails and would snort when she made mistakes. She says she endured the lessons until high school, when she found a new way of playing.
A shy person by nature, Jean connected with her high school orchestra teacher and he instilled in her a deep appreciation for playing with an orchestra. At home, she played in trios with her sisters – one sister played the piano and the other played the clarinet. But, in the orchestra, she felt at home and was able to come out of her shell.
Jean went on to play in orchestras across the northwest. She worked as a kindergarten and primary school teacher for 48 years, but her family moved a lot for her husband’s work. Nearly everywhere they went, she could find an orchestra and an immediate connection to new friends and musicians.
“Everywhere we went, there was an orchestra that needed a violin,” she recalled. “In some of the small towns, I was the only violin around, so it was easy for me to find opportunities to play.”
It was no different when the couple moved to Napavine in 2001. At that time, Jean played with musicians through her church and with Centralia College’s community orchestra. When the Pacific Northwest Chamber Orchestra formed in 2003, Jean was right there. She has been playing with the PNCO ever since. In addition, she served as concertmistress and tuned the orchestra ahead of performances for many years.
Earlier this month, Jean announced her retirement from the PNCO. The arthritis in her hands makes her playing days unpredictable and, frankly, she’s ready to let the next generation take her chair in the orchestra. She also announced a desire to donate her beloved violin to Centralia College. It will be available for future music majors to borrow if they don’t own a violin of their own.
Jean hopes the violin will help other musicians find the lifelong love of music she’s enjoyed for so many years.
“I’m so grateful to my mother for cleaning houses and paying for my lessons,” she said. “Without her, I would have missed out on such a big part of my life. I’ve just loved it so much. I’ve had wonderful and interesting experiences, and it’s been so much fun. Music did that for me. I just hope we can get back to having concerts again soon.”