I have a very Midwestern fear of bothering anyone, but when I found out that various Twin Cities musicians were putting together a benefit concert for Safe Hands Rescue this spring, I immediately began bothering event organizer (and Minnesota Orchestra sub violist) Jen Strom to let me write the program notes. Jen said yes, and so I spent a few amazing afternoons last month learning and writing about the repertoire…and the composers, most of whom were animal lovers themselves.
Jen Strom is not only a fabulous viola player and the organizer of this event, but a talented photographer who volunteers regularly to take pictures of the rescued Safe Hands animals. I emailed her to talk about the concert, photography, and why we musicians love animals so much!
SOTL: When did you start subbing with the Minnesota Orchestra? What has that whole experience been like over the years?
JS: I’ve been subbing with the Minnesota Orchestra for about 20 years. It’s been a fantastic experience, with a great blend of musicians, audience, and conductors. And as you and your readers know, the viola section is full of characters.
SOTL: Tell us why animals mean so much to you!!
JS: I’ve always had animals in my life – dogs, cats, a guinea pig and a rabbit – and each has enriched my life in their own wonderful way. I think I would be lost without the connection to a companion animal.
SOTL: When did you start photographing, and photographing animals especially? And how did you get involved with Safe Hands? Obviously there are a lot of animal rescue groups out there… Why is this particular organization special to you?
JS: Until I got involved with Safe Hands nine years ago, I’d mostly photographed my garden and my dog, Boo. Not only was he a great companion, he was a natural photo subject and would hit pose after pose whenever he saw the camera in my hand. After he passed away, I worried about how to choose the right dog for me. So many rescues and shelters, so many dogs… My friend Megan sent me a link with a profile of a Safe Hands dog and I went to their adoption event to meet Moxie. I had such a good experience meeting her and the Safe Hands people, I started volunteering for them. One day Lynne, one of Safe Hands’ founders, asked me to take photos of the dogs. It’s evolved from snapping candids at adoption Meet & Greets to taking portraits of each pup. Not every dog is as willing a subject as Boo, but I enjoy the challenge of drawing out the personality of each one.
I am thankful that Safe Hands rescued Moxie and chose me to adopt her. She is a smart, nutty girl who knows how things should be and is always happy to tell me so. I am also thankful to be part of the Safe Hands family, which is united by love for the dogs (and some cats and even a hedgehog) who come to us from difficult circumstances in the rural South and Korea.
SOTL: I’ve noticed that a lot of my musician friends care deeply about their pets and animal welfare. And I was surprised and delighted to discover when I was researching the program notes that many of the composers on the program were actually huge animal lovers. Borodin, for example, basically ran a cat rescue organization out of his apartment, which I never knew until I wrote the notes for this concert. Do you think there’s something about being an artist or a musician that draws so many of us to animals?
JS: Perhaps. We need to be adept at recognizing and tapping into non-verbal expressions of our emotions, and that is an essential component of having a relationship with a pet.Or maybe it’s that we spend so much time working on the fine details of our playing, we appreciate the non-judgmental nature of animals. Well, mostly non-judgmental. Boo used to leave the room in a huff whenever I practiced music by certain composers.
SOTL: Which musicians are playing who readers might be familiar with?
JS: SOTL readers will likely know Sam Bergman, Minnesota Orchestra violist and host of the Inside the Classics series, as well as flutist Adam Kuenzel, violinist Rebecca Corrucini, violists Becca Albers and Sifei Cheng, and harpist Kathy Kienzle. If readers have attended MO concerts, they will recognize librarian Valerie Little (performing on viola at the benefit) and many frequent substitutes and 1-year contract musicians – violinists Colleen McCullough, James Garlick, Natalia Moiseeva and Troy Gardner, cellists Kirsten Whitson and Sally Dorer, and bassist Charles Block. We are also happy to welcome pianist Ivan Konev from UWRF and Tanya Remenikova, professor of cello at the U of M who, with Natalia Moiseeva, perform as a trio throughout the Twin Cities. In fact, most of the benefit musicians are active in the community as teachers and chamber musicians.
SOTL: I want to thank you publicly for putting so much time and energy into planning this, and I want to thank all of the musicians who are performing, too.
As someone who has done this benefit concert three years in a row now, do you have any advice for other musicians who would like to arrange benefit concerts for causes near and dear to their hearts?
JS: Do it! Start planning early and ask for help – it takes a lot of people contributing to make it all happen. Everyone involved in these benefit concerts has been incredibly supportive and generous with their time and ideas and I can’t thank them enough.
Here’s a poster to share on social media!
As the poster says, the show is on Sunday April 17th at 3 pm at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, 4801 France Ave S, Minneapolis. The program includes works by Mendelssohn, Rossini, Borodin, and others. Suggested donation is $25. You should go.