Becky Brooks serves as the Concertmaster and Principal Violin musician for the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra (BSO).
She, along with her brother Ronald, grew up in the small town of Cheney, Washington. Her father was a Ford Dealer and her mother taught piano at Eastern Washington University. Coming from a musical family (her mother played piano and, according to Becky, her father was accomplished at playing the radio), it seemed natural that she have musical talent as well. After her mother discovered that both she and her brother had “perfect pitch,” there was no question that their musical talents would be developed. They often sang Brahms’ Lullaby at bedtime, harmonizing all the while.
Becky began studying the piano at age 5, and switched to the violin at age 7 after asking her mother how a musician was able to play each string without touching the other strings. Her mother, eager to have her daughter pursue violin studies, arranged for her to take lessons from a local musician. Becky continued to study the violin during her youth, and went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Music Performance from the University of Washington (UW). Unsure of how she wanted to apply her degree, she enrolled in the Master’s program at UW, but discontinued her advanced studies when she was asked to work in a temporary assignment teaching music at UW. During this time, she was also accepted as a violinist in the Seattle Symphony Orchestra where she played for seven years, married her husband Dale, and had two children.
Dale, an accomplished pianist who earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from UW and studied at Julliard, wanted to teach. His job search led him to Bakersfield where he joined the staff of Bakersfield College (BC) in 1963. Early in his career at BC, Dale, Becky, and other BC music staff performed lunchtime concerts, which, if the gleam in Becky’s eyes when she recollected this time of her life, was truly a labor of love.
A Conversation with Becky Brooks, Concertmaster and Principal Violin Musician
By Renée Kinzel
According to an August 9, 2002 Washington Post article by Tim Page entitled The Modern Orchestra Concertmaster: First Among Equals, “. . . the position requires not only superb playing ability and broad musicianship, but also grace under pressure, the optimism of a cheerleader and the finesse of an ambassador.” Rebecca (Becky) Brooks embodies all of these qualities.
In preparation for writing this article to celebrate the musical career and impending retirement of Becky Brooks from the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, I spent an enjoyable visit with her at her home on a pleasant spring day during which she shared her history and experiences growing up, marrying and forming her own family, and pursuing a career in teaching and playing the violin (she also teaches viola). The following summarizes our discussion.
She joined the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra in 1963, then under the direction of Edouard Hurlimann, and strived to perform to the best of her abilities. In 1964 her efforts were rewarded when she was named Concertmaster and Principal Violin, paired with Jean Dodson on the first stand. This pairing and ability to “play as one” continued for 46 years, according to Conductor John Farrer.
The two violinists share a love of music and a respect for one another that has extended into their personal lives. Together they formed a string quartet in which they continue to perform at numerous venues and weddings. In addition to music, they both enjoy sewing and have a shared interest in family values. Becky also provided violin lessons to Jean’s daughter Donna, who has since formed a string quartet of her own.
Other fellow musicians respect Becky’s talent and knowledge, and her advice has often been sought over the course of her career. In 1992, Barbara Byers (also a player in the BSO strings) requested her assistance with the reinvention of the Bakersfield Youth Symphony Orchestra (BYSO). Since then, the BYSO has continued to grow and thrive as an important contribution to the musical education of our community and its youth.
In addition to leading the strings, Becky has performed solos several times with the BSO, including such works as the Violin Concerto by Sibelius and Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso by Saint Saens. She expressed her admiration of Conductor John Farrer for having built the BSO from an amateur group to a professional group and for his musicianship and judgment. She appreciates having had the opportunity “to flower under his baton.”
Conductor John Farrer expressed his appreciation for Becky’s outstanding service to the BSO and incalculable value to the organization during her tenure through the quality of her playing and inspiration to everyone in the orchestra to reach the highest level of performance possible. He commented, “As the leader of the string section, she has provided first-class professional advice about all aspects of string playing, especially bowing and the finer points of string technique. Throughout, she has maintained a cheerful attitude and provided a vital communication bridge to all of the musicians of the orchestra. We will miss Becky very much, and wish her the very best of everything in the years ahead.”
In addition to her work with the BSO, Becky extended her musical talents to play in the Mozart Festival in San Luis Obispo for 18 years. During this period, she visited with her brother Ronald, who was an accomplished pianist and harpsichordist who taught at Cal-Poly, San Luis Obispo.
Since 2010, she has been paired with Julie Haney, Associate Concertmaster, who Becky respects as “an accomplished musician, well-equipped, and a wonderful person.” Having observed them together on stage, this writer feels it is evident that a similar camaraderie to that with Jean continues to exist at the first stand. Julie Haney will succeed Becky as Concertmaster following her retirement at the close of the 2012/2013 Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra season.
Contributions to the Community
Becky enjoys teaching violin and viola to local students, and considers this her greatest gift to the community. She has trained many accomplished musicians who have gone on to perform in the BYSO and BSO.
In discussing the meaning of music, Becky related that “music tells a story; every musical phrase can be adapted to something in your life.” She recalled a time when one of her students was having trouble playing a piece, and she gave him the assignment of writing a story to accompany the music. The student returned to the next lesson with a story for every note in the piece, and ultimately played the piece very well. She feels that applying meaning to the music helps to contribute toward the overall performance.
She shared that there was a time when she was performing on stage and “got lost in the music,” and forgot that she was playing for an audience. Afterward, she felt that this was the best she had ever played. That was a moment she will not forget and attributes it to having had a “connection” to the music.
She recalled another time when a guest pianist soloist commented that he loved watching her because she looked like the music sounded. Becky is very expressive in her face and movements while playing, and one can observe that she is not just playing the music, but is the music.
When asked what musical piece might encapsulate her life’s experiences, she could not name one piece, but identified one composer – Sergei Prokofiev. Prokofiev’s music has been with her and her family, beginning with her courtship with Dale, and continuing throughout their lives. She recalled a time after having her third child and returning from rehearsal to find Dale rocking the child to the strains of Prokofiev’s opera, The Flaming Angel ,in anticipation of her return to nurse the baby. If you know the music and the story behind the opera, you may think this an odd choice, but for the Brooks family, Prokofiev has been the music of their life.
After retiring from the BSO, Becky will continue to teach violin and viola, become more engaged in her other interests (i.e., sewing and gardening) and will finally have the opportunity to attend the BSO as a patron of the arts. It will be the first time in 49 years that she will be able to truly listen and enjoy the music. She’s excited at the prospect.