In concert: Fritz Saenger

  • Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Taylor Griffith/Journal Scene Right, Fritz Saenger practices his clarinet with other Summerville Community Orchestra musicians during weekly rehearsal.

For Mount Pleasant’s Fritz Saenger, music has been a life-long passion.

The 77-year-old has been playing for almost 70 years and has been with the Summerville Community Orchestra for the past four, since moving to the Lowcountry from Ohio.

When growing up, Saenger’s father taught him and his three sisters to play the piano, his father’s passion, but it didn’t take long to discover the clarinet was the instrument for him.

“I have always preferred classical-type music, and the clarinet is an essential part of an orchestra,” he said.

Despite his passion for playing, Saenger put down his clarinet for most of his adult life.

As an engineer, husband and father of three, he said the time-intensive instrument was too time consuming.

For 35 years Saenger worked as an engineer in the welding business. He is an Ohio State alumnus.

But now that he’s reached retirement, Saenger has begun playing again.

“I actually went back to my high school teacher, who is now going to be 96 this year, and worked with him.”

He saught out orchestral opportunities, such as those with the Summerville Community Orchestra, as soon as he moved here.

Regardless of age, Saengar said it’s of the utmost importance for clarinetists to take lessons.

“With wind and string instruments it’s crucial to have a good teacher. Some people can teach themselves to play, but for wind instruments that simply doesn’t work,” he explained. “You have the keys, the mouth, your breathing… you can wind up practicing the wrong things. … Playing in tune is something professionals struggle with, not just amateurs.”

For that reason, he said picking up the clarinet again has been the perfect retirement hobby.

“When I do something I like to do it well. Playing music gives me the opportunity to be challenged. It is a challenge, and I’m aware I don’t play as well as I’d like to, so I play to get better.”

He entered the Charleston music scene four years ago when he and his wife of 52 years, Gretchen, moved to Mount Pleasant.

Of their three children, two live in the Carolinas. The decision was between Durham, N.C., and Charleston, and the couple chose to be near the water, he said.

Sailing is one of Saenger’s hobbies; they owned a boat for 25 years in Ohio. He and Gretchen also enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren in the area.

Since moving to the Lowcountry Saenger has immersed himself in area music groups. He has played with several music organizations, and says he likes playing in orchestras almost as much as he does with small wind ensembles.

In addition to tutoring clarinet students, Saengar also repairs instruments, a skill he used to pay his way through college.

He said while students may find learning an instrument challenging, the reward is worth it.

“Sometimes when we go to schools we say ‘How many of you think you’ll still be playing football when you’re my age?’ It’s not for everyone, but young people should learn to play an instrument. You can do it your whole life.”

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