A magnificent return to a passion long buriedFeb 27, 2023 12:11PM ● By Leanne Goebel
D.Jo was 9 when she told her mother she wanted to learn to play the violin. She started with a rental, but her mother Wilma told her that if she practiced, she could get her own.
“I just fell in love with it,” said 76-year-old D.Jo, eyes twinkling. “Playing the violin was all mine. It was my own little world.”
She did get her very own violin, but so did her older sister, Terry. A natural competition developed between the sisters in both piano and violin, but Terry proved to be the superior violinist. She went on to major in music at the University of Nebraska (UNO).
D.Jo didn’t want to go to college, but she attended the University of Guam, where her military family was stationed. She majored in piano with a minor in violin.
When her family moved back to Omaha, D.Jo continued her studies at UNO, but realized she wasn’t good enough to make a career out of music. She switched her major to psychology but dropped out of college when she married Don, a clarinet player.
D.Jo, her new husband and his three small children moved to Eckert to help manage her grandfather’s fruit orchard. Terry and her husband, a gifted pianist and composer, joined them soon after.
D.Jo’s mom, Wilma Lowell, was one of the Valley Symphony’s founding members.
A musical family
D.Jo’s mother Wilma had majored in music and played piano and French horn. With all of her family’s musical talent in one place, Wilma decided they should play music together.
After a couple of months, the family discussed the idea of starting an orchestra. They, along with a few friends, rehearsed in the Lowell home before moving to Cedaredge High School.
“My mother always thought it was unfortunate that there was nowhere for people to play their instruments,” said D.Jo. “She often said she brought a dust rag to those early rehearsals to dust off the instruments.”
Their first organized performance had an audience of 15 or 20 people. Walter Birkedahl, who taught at Mesa College and played with the Grand Junction Symphony, was their first conductor.
“Our first concert was horrible,” D.Jo recalled. “We had fun and people clapped, but it wasn’t anything like the Valley Symphony’s performances now.”
D.Jo and Don soon divorced, and she finished her degree at Western State College and commuted to symphony rehearsals at Delta High School.
In 1980, she moved to Louisville, Kentucky and earned her Master’s in Divinity. Eventually, she returned to Colorado, working in the mental health field. Then she completed her advanced chaplaincy training at Swedish Medical Center, and developed the spiritual program at the Anschutz residential substance abuse treatment center in Denver.
“They put [the spiritual program] on the same level as biopsychosocial and made everyone listen to me,” D.Jo said proudly.
She spent 10 years there and retired.
Picking up the bow again
While D.Jo isn’t sure when the organization became known as the Valley Symphony, a board of directors joined in 1978, and by 1982, 30 musicians practiced once a week at Delta High School.
In the many years since she left the symphony, she rarely picked up her violin. She recalled a time when she opened the case only to find the hair on the bow had fallen off. She repaired it but still didn’t play.
When D.Jo and her wife Sue moved back to Paonia, she didn’t think the Valley Symphony still existed. When she heard they were having a concert in 2019, she went and was blown away. She knew then, at age 72, she wanted to pick up the violin again.
“I got the violin back up but had no muscle memory. I couldn’t play it,” she said.
She took lessons from Debra TenNapel, the symphony’s former concertmaster. She knew she had to start over, but when TenNapel asked her what her goals were for learning violin, she responded with: “I want to return to the symphony and be in the first violin section.”
TenNapel fed her passion and in 2021, D.Jo returned to Valley Symphony to play in the Christmas by Candlelight concert.
D.Jo moved to Grand Junction, but that hasn’t stopped her from playing. Now she plays first section violin with the symphony and drives to Delta for weekly rehearsals. She continues her lessons with Sandra Sundstrom, the symphony’s current concertmaster, and has lessons with her sister over FaceTime.
“I practice every day and I’m getting better,” said D.Jo. “Remembering the music is a challenge. I never practiced scales, but Terry has helped with that. There’s a gratifying difference in my playing.”
Valley Symphony Association brings together some of the best volunteer musicians of all ages from the Western Slope to discover and perform works of great composers.
“This was Mother’s dream,” said D.Jo. “She would be grinning ear to ear with satisfaction at what this has become.”
For information on upcoming concerts, tickets and the audition process, visit ValleySymphony.net or call 970-765-8323.
Fill in the gapsThere are many stories across the Western Slope involving the Valley Symphony, but there are gaps within its 51-year history. If you have stories or memories about the symphony or some of the people involved, reach out to Stacey Ryan, director of communications and development, at [email protected] or 970-765-8323.
See D.Jo play in Valley Symphony’s next performance
Pop Stars & Superheroes
Saturday, April 22 • 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 23 • 3 p.m.
Montrose Pavilion, 1800 Pavilion Dr.
It’s a bird...it’s a plane...it’s the Valley Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in their final performance of the season! This jam-packed concert teams up some of the most iconic superhero themes of all time, along with pop songs that are the stuff of legend. These songs connect us across oceans and beyond borders, forming links to the past, present and future. With cape or guitar, everyone needs a hero! Come to this family friendly concert that’s just plain fun! Tickets are $25 for adults and $5 for students.