Michael Schaefer A Musical Life: Our Teacher

May 19, 2020 | Staff

A Student and Friend:
Written by Jephta Bernstein

Moving here when I was 7 years old gave me an unique perspective on the musical landscape of Fort Collins. I’ve seen the musical side of this town through the eyes of a young Suzuki student to a young adult, studying with the founder of the Fort Collins Symphony and CSU Professor of Violin, Will Schwartz. And coming full circle by returning home 25 years later, I don’t take for granted the privilege of promoting  high-level chamber music performance and low-cost or free music education for the children in this community.

But one of my biggest musical influences along this path was a young music educator and violinist that I met when I was 11 years old, Michael Schaefer. As a mentor, Michael generously introduced me to the eye-opening experience of chamber music. He dragged me to meet every amateur and professional adult chamber musician in our local area for day-long sight-reading sessions and marathon chamber music week-ends, diving into piles of the standards and more hidden treasures of the great classical composers. It was an invaluable lesson on the art and skill of sight-reading,  counting, and perseverance, which forever instilled a genuine love of the genre. I met and made life-long friends, cultivating skills that would benefit me for my entire musical career.

He’s taught in the public schools for over 30+ years. Having him involved in Off the Hook Arts’ Academy music education programs is a huge honor. I know how much he’s impacted me personally and watching him mold the next generation of young violinists at the Academy of Arts and Knowledge is a particularly emotional thing for me to witness. From not knowing which end is up (on the violin) to learning over 15 songs in four months, little do they know how fortunate they are to start their musical journey with him.

The Musical Life of Michael Schaefer:

Written by Michael Schaefer

When I was in Junior High at (Old) Lincoln one of our Social Studies assignments was to list our top three career choices.  My choices were Orchestra Conductor, Cowboy and Fireman.  Two out of three came true; I did not become a fireman. 

My cousin is a world-class fiddler ranging from western to bluegrass to jazz.  When I was in school we spent summers on the “Happy Jack” ranch west of Cheyenne Wyoming on the Happy Jack road.  Watching him play since I was seven years old I fell in love with the fiddle and wanted to start lessons.  My mother took me to Professor Wilfred Schwartz at Colorado “A” & “M” (years later CSU) and he took me on as a student as I began the fourth grade.  After I studied for a year my mother began taking me to the faculty piano trio concerts with Diebel, Schwartz and Rushkin and later John Parsons became the cellist.  

In Junior High, my mother began taking my brother and I to Fort Collins Civic Orchestra concerts as well as the Trio concerts.  I played in my school orchestra in Jr. High and High school then my junior year I joined the second violin section of both the CSU Orchestra and the Fort Collins Civic Orchestra. (Later as the budget grew we were allowed to use the determination “Symphony” in our title)!  I attended the CSU Summer Music Camp for seven years and when I graduated from College I was a counselor and then the sectional coach for the top Symphony Orchestra.  I spent the next seven summers working closely with Bruce Hangen the Guest conductor.  He is now one of the associate conductors with the Boston Pops Orchestra. 

When I majored in music at CSU I moved to the first violin section in both the CSU orchestra and Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra. After graduation I began teaching orchestra in Loveland and then moved back to Fort Collins in 1980.  I continued playing in the FCSO and eventually became the assistant concertmaster and assistant conductor.  I programmed and conducted several summer concerts “Mozart on the Roof” concerts and special events when I was the assistant conductor.  I spent 13 seasons as music director and conductor of the Loveland Chamber Orchestra and when my son was born I gave up the LCO.  

I still guest conduct and work as a clinician in middle schools and high schools.  I present sessions for “Large Group Tuning Procedures” and “Teaching Technique Through Performance Literature” (Life After Method Books) at State and National Music Conferences such as CMEA and National ASTA conferences.  I also teach a STEM class for middle school students where we build balsa wood violins and yes they sound very good!  I am still learning, still interested and still loving all I do, I hope you find the joy I experienced every day.