Staples of your Orchestra: Jan Coldwell

  • Thursday, October 10, 2013

Michael Quirk/Journal Scene Summerville Community Orchestra bassoonist Jan Coldwell plays her instrument beside the Single Smile Cafe where she performs with Presa.

Jan Coldwell did not set out to become a bassoonist nor did she think she would end up in South Carolina. The Lincoln, Neb. native took a circuitous route around the norm. Her journey to the Summerville Community Orchestra is as unique as the instrument she plays.

Born to a pair of engineers, Coldwell was raised in St. Louis along with her twin brother James and younger sister Kelly. Not a particularly musical family, her father claimed “turning on the radio” as his only musical talent.

In fifth grade she took up the clarinet but quickly found herself in need of a new instrument.

“I had really sensitive teeth which doesn’t work when you play the clarinet, so in seventh grade they put me on the oboe.”

Coldwell attended the University of Kansas where she studied music education. In her four-plus years in Lawrence, she played in the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra, the university orchestra, and performances in Topeka and Lawrence. She also worked part-time as a waitress to buy an English horn.

After becoming more enamored with working and performing, she left school and moved with her now ex-husband to Fredonia, N.Y. where he was pursuing a masters degree in percussion from SUNY-Fredonia. She worked in an office for three years, playing the university symphony before her next excursion.

“After he finished his masters we moved to Buffalo (N.Y.) so he could get his doctorate,” she said. “I enrolled at the University of Buffalo to play in the orchestra and worked the graveyard waitressing shift. Three years later he didn’t finish (his doctorate), we got a divorce and I moved to Cleveland, Ohio.”

She attended Baldwin-Wallace College in nearby Berea, Ohio and studied there for another three-year interval and moved back home to St. Louis.

“I lived at home for three months before my brother got a job as a mining engineer in Juneau, Alaska. He found me a job as a bookstore manager and my first question to him was, ‘Do they have an orchestra there?’”

When she got to Juneau, they told her they had enough oboes but were in need of a bassoon player. Wanting to “broaden her horizons” and play in an orchestra, she took up the unique instrument and played in the Juneau Symphony Orchestra.

Over a ten-year period she split time between Juneau and Lawrence playing in orchestras, attending classes and working odd jobs to make ends meet. In 2001 she moved across the state to Anchorage, working as a quality control manager with a construction company.

She played the newfound bassoon in the Anchorage Civic Orchestra and her familiar oboe in the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra. Coldwell believes that playing different instruments in two orchestras helped her as a musician.

“It helped me grow because in Juneau out-of-the-blue they needed bassoonists to fill a niche and trying to be as good as your peers with an instrument you just started...helps you grow.”

Not only did she find her calling in the Last Frontier, she met her husband Luke.

“He’s not very musical but he loves listening and is trying to learn the mandolin,” she said. “He was stationed down here when he was in the Navy so we retired to Holly Hill two years ago.”

Coldwell knew that she had to find an orchestra nearby and came across an advertisement online for the SCO. She and her husband went to listen at the concert to make sure the sides were a good fit for one another. The two were a match and she became the orchestra’s bassoonist.

“This orchestra does very well with playing difficult music and it is so diverse that anyone can find something they like,” she said. “Professional groups are wonderful, exciting and challenging. Community groups are full of talent too and they’re a good family who go out of their way to make you feel welcome.”

SCO oboist Sarah Teuscher, flutist Lisa Peters and Coldwell formed the Summerville Orchestra Trio Presa and perform around the Summerville area. Looking for new music for each performance, the trio recently played a rendition of “Thrift Shop” by Seattle-based rap artist Macklemore, a style new for them.

“It really is a hoot ... we have a lot of fun with the trio,” Coldwell said.

Everywhere Coldwell has gone, she found an outlet for her music. Whether it is a big city or a small town, she believes music is a foundation for success.

“Arts are what attract people and that is imperative in a small town. After food in their mouths and a roof over their heads, needs turn into wants and people always want art.”

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