Music has filled most of life for l Mary Hallman. Her father, though he loved the violin, mostly played the fiddle. Her mother was a singer, and she got Hallman started on a piano at the age of 4.
Growing up in Wichita, Kan., Hallman got involved in a string program for children in the fourth grade during the summer. She took private lessons in the fall.
She eventually moved north of Wichita back to a farm that had been in her family for generations. She attended a different school system but continued her private lessons with another teacher.
By the time she was 12, her teacher suggested they see the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. This gave her the opportunity to see a full orchestral string section in action. “I had never even heard of a symphony orchestra at that point, much less know that there was even one in Wichita,” Hallman says.
By her senior year in high school, she decided that she would study music and become a professional musician.
“When I left high school and went to college to study music, I was told you’ve got to practice your major instrument 6 hours a day and you’ve got to practice piano 2 hours a day. That’s 8 hours a day,” she says. “There wasn’t a lot of time for extra studying.”
Already playing violin, she also picked up the viola in grad school. “If you’ve played violin, you can generally play viola. It’s just a different clef … the alto clef,” she says. “If you play both, then you have a better chance at finding a professional job with an orchestra.”
Hallman has gone on to perform professionally in the U.S. and in Europe for approximately 38 years, playing in major concert halls in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, to name a few. She also spent some time teaching violin lessons.
Performing is “a competitive field,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate that I landed in places where they needed a violinist or violist.”
In 1990, she had a full-time job in Denver, and she was asked to help out with the Colorado Symphony where she continued playing the violin and the viola.
Here, another challenge presented itself.
“They rehearsed during the day, and I worked normally during the day, but I had some flexibility in my work schedule. A lot of the time, I worked at night and was able to attend the rehearsals during the daytime,” she says.
Hallman and her husband moved to Buena Vista in 2012, and it wasn’t long before she heard about the Alpine Orchestra.
She approached the conductor about getting involved and got started playing the viola in the orchestra. By the time Beth Steele become conductor, more viola players had joined the orchestra.
“I was having a little bit of arm trouble, so I decided to play violin. I floated over to the second violin section and helped out there,” she says.
Playing isn’t all Hallman does for the orchestra. As concert master, she also serves as assistant to the conductor as well as leader of the entire string section.
“When there’s a necessity for a string rehearsal, I’ll get together as many strings as I can, bearing in mind, of course, it’s volunteer,” she says. “We never know who can come … You can get six people to sound like 15 if you can get them all going in the same direction with the bow.”
When the conductor can’t make it to a rehearsal, Hallman will get called in to cover it, though she usually only knows the violin section of the scores being rehearsed amidst the many other orchestra instruments.
“That orchestra also includes flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, French horns, trumpets, trombones, tubas,” she says. “There are all these wind players back there too. And then there’s percussion.”
After the orchestra’s librarian retired, she filled that role as well. “They were looking for some place to store the music,” she says. “That gets a little tricky on occasion. We have about 290 pieces of music in our library, baroque, modern, a lot of original scores and whatnot. Some things have been rewritten a little bit to make it easier for violins and others.”
She’s played in some other small ensembles as needed, and she and her husband sang with the Collegiate Peaks Chorale while she also played the violin with them.
They weren’t living in Buena Vista too long before Hallman’s husband suffered a stroke. “For the last year and a half of his life, it was basically 24/7. I didn’t have a whole lot of extra time to do other volunteer things in the community. I elected to devote most of my time to the orchestra because that’s where the need was the greatest as far as having an extra string player,” she says.
Buena Vista High School drama teacher Tanner Oharah had asked Hallman to play in the pit orchestra of the high school musical this year, but it didn’t work out.
“I was scheduled for rotator cuff surgery on my right arm on Feb. 28, and I realized if I tried to play that I was going to do more damage to it, and I was already concerned as to how much it had been damaged,” she says. “I had to tell him I couldn’t do it, and he was very understanding. Of course, they just did one performance.”
She had planned to miss out on Alpine Orchestra’s spring concert for the same reason, though it was ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She did, however, attend a rehearsal for the concert playing percussion with her left hand, counting measures more than she’s used to doing as a violinist.
“It was hard. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says with a laugh.
It turned out to be a good time for her surgery as the COVID-19 quarantine has given her more time for recovery and physical therapy. Though she hasn’t had to rehearse, she also hasn’t been able to practice while recovering.
“The right arm for a violinist is probably the most important. It’s the one that gives you the sound, it gives you the various nuances. A lot of times it’s working really hard and very fast,” Hallman explains.
For now, the orchestra remains “in limbo. We’re waiting to see how things are going to shape up for our fall concert in November,” she says.