Musical interest runs in the Bergstrom family so it was no surprise when 5-year-old Ben's eyes lit up when he spied an old violin during a visit to his grandmother's house.
The violin likely belonged to his great-great-aunt Belle Mehus, a highly trained pianist who encouraged many budding, young musicians through her conservatory in Bismarck before her death in 1988. Since eyeing that violin more than 10 years ago, Ben Bergstrom has spent many hours pursuing mastery of the instrument. Much of his training has occurred on another hierloom violin, crafted in Minneapolis 100 years ago and used by his great-uncle as a child.
This weekend, Bergstrom will perform on his newer, Italian-made violin as guest soloist with the Minot Symphony Orchestra at its annual children and family concerts. Concerts will be held Friday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Ann Nicole Nelson Hall at Minot State University.
Jill Schramm/MDN •
Ben Bergstrom runs through scales on his violin Jan. 9 while in Minot at an All-State Orchestra audition. He performs this weekend with the Minot Symphony Orchestra.
"I am really excited to play with the symphony. It's the first time I'm playing a major concerto," Bergstrom said.
He will perform the first movement of Max Bruch's Violin Concerto in G minor.
The concerto is just one of a list of challenging pieces that he has made it his goal to play some day. The sophomore at Devils Lake High School has already achieved some noteworthy accomplishments.
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Bergstrom, who turns 16 next month, has been named his school's outstanding strings student every year since 2004. He was selected to participate in the North Dakota All-State Orchestra and received the "Best Performance" award at the North Dakota State Music Contest in 2009.
His musical training began at age 2 with piano lessons taught by his great-grandmother, Alma Studness. Studness, an accomplished musician, had been a student at the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and performed with the Berlin Philharmonic in Germany. Bergstrom gave up piano for a time to focus on the violin, reviving the piano lessons a couple years ago with instructor Lynda Pearson in Devils Lake. He enjoys the piano for composing music or just to play to have fun, he said.
It's all seriousness, though, when it comes to the violin, which Bergstrom has been studying since age 5 with instructor Richard Neukom in Devils Lake.
"He's a very hard worker and he really loves to play, and I think that's a recipe for success," Neukom said.
Bergstrom's desire to pursue a musical career, possibly in performance or teaching, isn't out of reach, according to Neukom.
"I think he can do whatever he sets his mind to," he said.
In addition to working with Neukom, Bergstrom has studied the past two years with Jon Rumney at Minot State University. Rumney described Bergstrom as a bright student who readily absorbs the lessons he's being taught.
"He's incredibly responsive," he said, noting that Bergstrom isn't afraid of a challenge.
"He will do anything I ask. He's a real pleasure," Rumney said. "He doesn't take himself too seriously, though, and I think that's so healthy."
Both Neukom and Rumney credit a supportive family network for contributing to Bergstrom's success. For a time, his parents, Renard and Candace Bergstrom, transported him regularly to Grand Forks to study with Chung Park. Now one of his parents is on the road with him every other week for the two-hour drive each way to study in Minot. They not only attend the lessons but take an active interest.
Music is a family affair for the Bergstroms.
Uncle Sam's Good Time All American Family Fun Band is the family trio named by Ben's brother, Will. In 2007, Ben on violin, Will on bass and Renard on piano took first place in the Farmers Union "North Dakota's Got Talent" competition with a rendition of Mozart's Turkish March arranged by Neukom.
The trio formed in 2004 and has performed around the Devils Lake area. Will Bergstrom currently attends Harvard. Renard Bergstrom, a former Air Force and Air National Guard pilot, operates a car dealership in Devils Lake.
Ben Bergstrom has recruited his father, brother or friends to join him at times in performing at summer Chautauquas as Ben & Buddies.
He enjoys playing in smaller groups.
"I like chamber music a lot," he said. "You still have your individuality in playing but you are coming together as a group."
He has participated in school chamber groups and in training at Dakota Chamber Music at MSU in 2008 and 2009, a summer arts camp in Interlochen, Mich., in 2008 and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music's Summer Strings Academy last year.
Bergstrom has orchestral experience with the Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, University of North Dakota Honor Orchestra and was concertmaster in 2008 at the North Dakota Orchestra Festival, in which he has participated the past three years. He was concertmaster in 2008 for the orchestra at the International Music Camp, which he has attended four summers. He was concertmaster with the Devils Lake Community Orchestra in 2009 and continues to play with the orchestra.
Bergstrom finds it difficult to explain why he's so captivated by the violin, but he knows the structure of music fascinates him.
He said there's something about "the way it all comes together. I just think it's cool."
He's particularly a fan of classical music.
"I like classical because every time you listen to it, you find something new," he said.
Bergstrom's dog, Lucky, seems to share in his love for the music. Bergstrom said Lucky sits at his feet and howls when he plays the violin. At first, he thought the sound of the violin must be hurting the dog's ears. But when he moved and set up elsewhere, Lucky followed the music and took up the vocal part again. So now they practice together.
When not engaged in long hours of music practice, Bergstrom is involved with Student Congress, drama, speech and publications at his school and the worship team and AWANA at church. He works as a lifeguard in the summer and enjoys scuba diving in Mexico.