Meet the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra

FAcebook

Stephen J. Ramsey
Music Director/Conductor
(bio)
Barb Swanson
Violin
Music teacher, 30 years with WASO
Gerald Saetveit
Violin
Retired Music Educator
Renaissance Festival Minstrel, Outdoorsman
Frank Lawatsch
Violin
Retired health care administrator, member since 1998 Benson, Mn
Lisa Zeller
Violin
Orchestra Teacher
 
Barb Holmgren
Flute 
Teacher
Jordan Wrobleski
Violin
Reception/Accounting
Brianna Johnson
Violin
Accounting Assistant
Karissa Poe
Flute
Volunteer for area ministries
Kate Hansen
Viola
Occupational Therapist
 
Maeve Winter
Bass
WHS Studentl
Robert Whitney
Oboe 
Whitney Music, 30 years with WASO
Michelle Suter
Violin
WHS Orchestra Director
Stephanie Hendrickson
Violin
Raye Eyrich
Oboe/English Horn 
Psychologist
 
Marie Nelson
principal cello
Joshua Pierskalla
Viola
Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist
James Bakker
Cello
Willmar Senior High School
Bridget Revier
2nd violin/viola 
Engineering Manager
Susann Karnowski
Horn
Civil Engineer
 
Bonnie Hauser
Horn
WHS Elementary Teacher
Erin Nielsen
Viola
Full-Time Spanish Teacher at NLS HS
Timothy Pieh
Trombone
Ophthalmologist 
Mary Pieh
Horn
Piano teacher retired music therapist     
Paula Ulicsni Halvorson
1st violin
 
Adam Lietzau
Violin
Lietzau Taxidermy
Tim Pearson
Bass
JoEllen Kimball
violin
Grandmother of 10
Mark Nelson
Trombone
Marlyn Orson
Tuba
Electrician
Adam Lietzau
 
Joel Gronseth
bass clarinet
Devin Veenstra
Trombone
Music Teacher
Helene Doring 
Cello
Lorie Skaro-Johnson
piccolo
Brian Pearson
Trumpet
Retired Music Teacher
 
Ben Anderson
String Bass
HS Math Teacher
Lisa Nordberg
Cello
Rick Berg
Organ/Harpsichord
Organist/Choir Director
Molly Dylan White
French Horn
NLS Student
Deb Hanson
Flute
School Psychologist
Faith Bierma
Violin
1st grade teacher
Kaylee Helgeson
Percussion WSHS
Mathematics Teacher
Sarah Cady
Cello
Learning & Development Lead
Heather Shumaker
Paraprofessional at NLS
Clarinet and Percussion

History of the orchestra

The Willmar Area Orchestra began in March of 1957. In the beginning the orchestra met in the home of its co-founders Dr. Lawrence Opsahl and his wife Margaret. A few friends got together to try some simple string ensemble pieces. In a few months there were both strings and winds getting together on Sunday evenings for musical sessions in the Opsahl living room.

Over the years the orchestra has had three different names and six conductors. From 1957-1964, it was known as the Willmar Philharmonic Orchestra. Dr. Opsahl is quoted as saying, "We decided to put our tongues in our cheeks and settle for the name Willmar Philharmonic Orchestra, which had a pleasant ring to our ears, even though it might give our audiences some reason to wonder."

In 1964, the new Willmar Community College brought in Chet Sommers to organize its music department. A collaboration between the Willmar Philharmonic Orchestra and the college began and the orchestra was renamed Willmar Community Orchestra. Chet Sommers directed the orchestra until May 1997, a period of more than 30 years. Robert Whitney stepped in to fill the void left by the retirement of Chet Sommers. He recruited members from surrounding communities and it was decided that the name of the orchestra should become the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra.

After Robert Whitney, Steven Eckblad was brought in and conducted the orchestra for ten years, stepping down in May of 2013. The 2013-14 season was a year of transition with a yearlong audition process.

Sergey Bogza led the orchestra for two seasons from the fall of 2014 to the spring of 2016. In the fall of 2016 we welcomed Stephen J. Ramsey to the podium. A position he continues to hold. Much like the group of friends that met in the Opsahl's living room in 1957, today's orchestra members volunteer their time just because they enjoy getting together to make music.


Stephen J. Ramsey (Music Director/Conductor) is the founding music director of the Dakota Valley Symphony. He is in his 31 st season conducting the Symphony and the Summer Pops Orchestra. He is also in his 23rd season as Music director/Conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra of Austin, Minnesota. After assisting James Riccardo on several occasions with his duties as the founding music director of the University of Minnesota Health Sciences Orchestra, Ramsey has been pleased to serve as its music director for the past six years.

A well-known conductor in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Ramsey has led performances at many area colleges, concert halls and churches. He has served as music director and conductor for Lakeshore Players and Applause Community Theater. He has held the positions of Director of Ensembles for Hamline University and Conducting Associate for the St. Paul Civic Symphony. At various times, he has also been the music director for productions by Chimera Theater, Anoka-Ramsey Community College, and the Minneapolis Jewish Community Center’s Chamber Orchestra, mixed chorus, women’s chorus, and their Genesis Theater Company.

Ramsey is an active guest conductor throughout the upper Midwest, and has led the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, the Bloomington Symphony, the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, the St. Paul Jewish Community Center Orchestra, Kenwood Symphony Orchestra, Linden Hills Chamber Orchestra, the Central Chamber Orchestra, the Suburban East High School Orchestra Festival, and the Des Moines Junior High School Music Festival Orchestra.

Ramsey holds a Master of Music degree in orchestral conducting from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music. He has studied with Leonard Slatkin, William McGlaughlin, Dr. Glenn Block, Dr. Lee Humphries, Max Rudolph, Dr. Maurice Jones, Dr. Samuel Jones, Harold Farberman, Kirk Muspratt, Dr. Eph Ehly, and Dr. James Sample.

Steve is so very pleased to have the opportunity to serve the members of the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra, it’s very active board of directors, and its tremendously supportive audiences. Please welcome him into the Willmar community and tell him what you would like to hear!!!