The flutist from Florida, and other true tales of commuting to play in the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra

by Gwendolyn Hoberg, Special to MPR
November 21, 2013

MOORHEAD, Minn. — Since 2008, when I joined the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra (DSSO), I have lived in several Minnesota cities. For a few years I commuted from Coon Rapids and Minneapolis, then I moved to Thief River Falls and got to know Highway 2. From 2011 to this past spring, when I lived in Duluth, I had a break from commuting. Now I live in Moorhead, and once more I have a long way to travel to play horn in the DSSO.

I miss carpooling, which I haven't done since 2010. Being a solo driver has its perks — like stopping when and where you want and listening to audiobooks, but indulging in a late-night burrito or milkshake just isn't as fun when you're by yourself. Carpooling has advantages apart from companionship, like environmental benefits and saving the orchestra money, but mainly the advantages relate to the people in the car. Riding together has been a dependable way to get to know musicians I would otherwise only talk to occasionally, like woodwind players. Conversation — about anything — helps you stay awake when it's midnight after a tiring work day and the evening's rehearsal, with an hour of driving still to go.

I've been lucky to have some first-rate conversations with other DSSO members. There was the time Steve Grove, the tuba player, and I listed all the Shakespeare plays we could remember (I think we only missed two). There were also the physics conversations I had with Steve and with Benjamin Skroch, the trombone player who explained his wife's dark-matter experiments.

"The best thing about commuting," says Steve, "is the opportunity to be locked in a small enclosed space with disparate people. I have developed deep friendships, shared experiences and laughter with people who are nothing like me, exchanged political views to discover amazing common ground, quoted Latin, and managed to create moveable feasts of buffets — including corn on the cob, not easy to eat while driving — all in the process of sharing the gift of music with the northland."

Principal flutist Claudia White says, "I've been commuting to the DSSO for 20 years — from Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, and now Tampa. Sounds ridiculous, but when you consider that orchestra jobs of any size and stature are few and far between, keeping a job in a good regional orchestra just makes sense. Besides, most of my best friends conveniently also happen to play in the orchestra! There really is a camaraderie amongst the commuters. We look out for one another, always trying to be sure that no one is driving alone, especially in bad weather. We have genuine friendships that endure over the years. We play chamber music together outside the DSSO."

Zach Armstrong, a violist from Minneapolis, mentions some practical considerations. "My in-laws live in Duluth — free housing! — the rehearsal/concert schedule works out pretty well for me, and the pay is high enough that I can take the second half of the week off from teaching and spend it in Duluth, a city I really like."

In the end, it's mostly about the music. That's really why the commute is worthwhile for me, and everyone I talked to expressed similar thoughts. There's a lot I would endure to participate in the high level of music-making that's possible with the DSSO. Even when I'm stocked up with riveting audiobooks and the weather is fine, the trek across the state can be tedious, but it's worth it to be able to play my horn in a great orchestra.

Gwendolyn Hoberg is an editor, writer, and classical musician. She lives in Moorhead, plays with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, and writes the Little Mouse fitness blog. She is also a co-author of The Walk Across North Dakota.

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