Ode to Janet Peterson: The ‘Concert Mistress’ of Upcoming Christmas Concert

By Jodi Rawson
Reader Contributor

It is a small miracle that there is orchestra music available at all in our community. As the “Concert Mistress” of the Pend Oreille Choral and Orchestra, Janet Peterson is one key player in making this happen.

Over 20 years ago, Mark and Caren Reiner desired to hear the works of classical masters. They realized they would have to take charge, and that initiative built up a group of local talent and a loyal fan base over the years. But they are quick to admit that the strength of the group depends on the diligence of the members, which fills them both humility and gratitude.

“I have nothing but praise for Janet Peterson,” said Mark Reiner. “Thank you.”

Peterson’s role as “concert mistress” is no small task and includes extra leadership duties.

“The concert mistress for the violin section has the authority to figure out what bowings we are going to use and if there are specific ways we are doing things, like style and the technical aspects of playing the piece on the violin,” said Peterson. “If everyone is doing their own bowing or their own style it gets really muddled.”

Her task is to decide the bowing and style for the chosen pieces, write out these interpretations and email them to the violinist members. Reiner emphasized how responsible Peterson is and how she has ultimately lessened the load for him and Caren.

Peterson shows up an hour early to orchestra practice each week for months, in preparation for the upcoming concerts. My daughter, Dinah, the youngest member of the orchestra, depends on Peterson’s extra guidance.

By local standards, Peterson is still new, but in the four years she has lived here she has become a key player in several groups. She has performed in three Sandpoint Festival Orchestra performances, for instance. She is also a member of the Bonners Ferry Orchestra and several smaller performing groups.

Peterson has been playing violin for over 50 years. In high school she was very serious about music and considered a musical career, but her interests were broad.

She majored in American history and liberal arts in college and went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration. She played with the symphony in college, and while she was in graduate school she practiced and performed chamber music with a small group.

When Peterson began to work “an 8 to 5 for the state” in Olympia she took on the challenge of auditioning for the Olympia Symphony “playing all of the great works.”

“I am so glad that I tried out when I did,” she said.

Peterson said that in the 30-plus years that she was a member of the Olympia Symphony, they grew more competitive, intense and polished. But Peterson kept up.

“I think most people don’t understand how disciplined an orchestra has to be,” she said. “It is way more disciplined than what I was doing in my regular job. You have to be really careful about being on time, practicing your part, not playing wrong notes, not playing in the rests, and all the other things that go along with being in a group. If people don’t do that, especially in a group the size of the Pend Oreille Choral and Orchestra, it is really noticeable.”

Peterson’s favorite piece is Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony. One of the major works of the 20th century, it requires great skill and a full orchestra (our local orchestra is about a quarter of the size of a full orchestra like the Olympia Symphony).

“I think it is a hoot to play,” said Peterson. “It is very anti-war, and there are parts of it that make fun of the military culture under Stalin.”

Peterson’s first job was teaching high school social studies and, decades later, she has returned to teaching through music. Currently she teaches private lessons through the Music Conservatory of Sandpoint and in Bonners Ferry.

“I love watching the kids progress,” she said. “They are a lot of fun.”

“One of the things in life I value most is creativity,” said Peterson. “As a violin teacher I can let my students be creative and encourage them to enjoy. I think creativity brings out the best in people. I think music is a great vehicle for compassion and expressing emotion.”

Peterson will be playing at two upcoming Christmas concerts at the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Friday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 17, at 2 p.m. She is especially excited about the Carpentier and Vivaldi pieces.

“I have never played the Charpentier (pronounced sharp-on-tee-aye),” she said. “I think it is a gorgeous piece. It is very early Baroque, antiquated and light. Vivaldi is always lively.”

The Pend Oreille Choral and Orchestra has always performed free and open to the community and there are free refreshments served after the show.

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