Sweet sounds: A pull between nature and nurture

Galactic Cowboy Orchestra

Galactic Cowboy Orchestra

By Margo Bissen

Austin Sympony Orchestra

Nature versus nurture is an issue that has been examined and debated since early ages.

Which has a greater impact on development; heredity or environment? How well I remember the animated and sometimes heated discussions in college psych and music courses.

Those memories were piqued this week as my fourth-graders and I explored the lives and music of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose family encompassed seven generations of musicians, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, child prodigy.

The students and I wondered; were children in those days born with musical skills or did they become musicians because there were no computers or video games, no organized clubs/sports but plenty of musical instruments available in their homes — and time to practice and perform together?

Lively discussion ensued, but alas, no definitive conclusion regarding nature versus nurture was reached. As this column continues to spotlight members of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, we may see strands of both emerge.

I asked Millie (nee Munro) Masse, ASO violinist, for her thoughts regarding nature versus nurture. She mentioned reading a book entitled The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean, which addressed the issue. Her take away was that we are all born with predisposed genes that can be turned on or off by our life styles and experiences.

Millie believes she and her siblings were born with a musical gene as grandparents, children and grandchildren were and are all musical, but the gene was and continues to be ‘turned on’ through opportunities and the sharing of musical gifts offered to her family.

Millie and her siblings were introduced to string instruments while attending Austin Public Elementary Schools. Music teachers, Harold Sundet, Jean Miller, Marge Dunlap and Paul Heltne, provided much support but perhaps the most important factor in the Munros’ musical success was their mother. She encouraged them, accompanied them on piano, and structured their day so that practice was part of the routine. Millie and her sisters, Ann and Margie, played in the ASO in high school. Ann married cellist Dave Sundal and Margie married cellist Dave Obst.

At one time all five were in symphony together. Several Munro grandchildren have also performed with APS musical ensembles and the ASO.

How fortunate for the ASO that the Munro musical gene was turned on by so many folks along the way.

Have you a western gene? Well saddle up, for our next concert, Wild, Wild West, features The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra, performing with the ASO. Also programmed is music from Rodeo by Aaron Copland, John William’s Cowboy Overture and themes from popular TV westerns. Mark your calendar for Sunday, February 22, 2:00 PM at the Paramount Theatre. Come and enjoy the riveting sounds of harmony the ASO and Galactic Cowboy Orchestra have to offer.

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