When the pandemic shut down most activities last year, Greta Hulterstrum took the opportunity to hone her musical talent.
A little over a year later, the junior from Litchfield High School reaped the rewards for her concentration on the flute.
Hulterstrum was one of two winners of the Willmar Region Symphony Orchestra’s annual Young Artist Competition, and she will be participating in the Orchestra’s Young Artists Concert at 7 p.m. on Saturday May 15 at the Willmar Arts and Education Center.
When she was picked in the fall, there were questions about whether there would be an in-person concert she would play, due to pandemic restrictions, but the concert will continue live, with a limited number of free tickets available for the public.
“It would be fun to play in front of an orchestra, because I’ve never done that before,” Hulterstrum said. “It’s different than, you know, playing with an accompanist when you have it all behind you. I have never had this experience before.
Of course, there was a lot that Hulterstrum hadn’t experienced until last year – a year that was difficult but also one of discovery.
Hulterstrum turned the pandemic downtime into an opportunity to practice flute for about five hours a day. And through that incredible commitment, she learned that the flute was something she wanted to take beyond the orchestra hall and marching band at Litchfield High School.
“I realized how much I liked it when that was all I did all day, every day in the summer,” she said. “After playing so many hours, I definitely developed a lot more skills that made me want to consider getting into the flute in the future. And I don’t think, without the pandemic, I would really consider this at all. “
Hulterstrum, the youngest of John and Katie Hulterstrum’s three daughters, said she started playing the flute, largely because her older sister Ellen played.
“We had one (a flute), and I always admired her playing the flute and piccolo, and I knew I wanted to play piccolo in a marching band when I watched her,” Hulterstrum said. “And that was probably the main reason. She helped me with some notes, I remember. And now she always encourages me when I play.
Like most students in Litchfield Public Schools, Hulterstrum chose his instrument in grade six. She started taking private lessons in ninth grade. But it took a pandemic, she said, for her to really take the instrument seriously.
“It kind of started with the pandemic that I really started to invest my time,” she said. “I didn’t really invest more than an hour of my time (per day) until the start of the pandemic. And then I had all this free time, and I really had nothing to do but play the flute.
Once uncertain about her career path, the summer of musical introspection and growth helped Hulterstrum choose a direction. She plans to study flute at university, with the goal of landing a teaching position at the university and continuing to play in an orchestra.
It’s a path others have apparently seen before Hulterstrum.
“Greta has a musical sense that can be found in those who dedicate themselves to instrument pedagogy – and that dedication is rare in a high school student,” said Joel Green, vocal music teacher at LHS. “I see this musical desire and this commitment in her when she sings in Dragonaires. In first grade, Greta struggled to sing loudly, her singing voice was huffed and her vocal range was limited because she had not “discovered” her breath.
“The fact that she was pushed to play the flute to a high level gave her the springboard to discover her breath as a singer – which is why she sings so well today,” Green added. “When you discover your tune, singing and playing a woodwind instrument takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes more enjoyable.
Knowing about Hulterstrum’s dedication to music, Green encouraged her to audition for the Young Artist Competition. Green was familiar with the Willmar Symphonic Orchestra program and considered it a good learning experience for an exceptional student.
“I immediately thought of Greta and passed the information on to her,” Green said. “What happened next is the real story, as she developed her skills to a very high level. “
Green also agreed to attend the Hulterstrum audition, playing a piano accompaniment on a recording she submitted as part of her audition.
“She and I are similar in our desire to be really good with our instruments,” he said. “I competed in concertos when I was in high school – it was fun to be a part of his audition. My choir teacher, Mike Ellingsen, was my accompanist when I competed for a spot to play with the Minnesota Orchestra, so the circle has come full circle for me as a player and now a teacher.
However, winning the Young Artist Competition is only one part of Hulterstrum’s musical endeavors over the past year. While she practiced, she looked for outlets to perform. Last summer, she launched her own YouTube channel and Instagram page where she posted videos of her musical performances, and she took part in a few “porch concerts”, sharing the music she worked on with small groups of family and friends.
“It was kind of a summer pandemic project,” Hulterstrum said. “I mean, it kind of gave me a purpose. It gave me the goal of a gig in the sense that I would perform, even though I was still at home. “
She also experimented beyond the flute, creating “quartet” videos mixing together recordings of herself playing the flute, piano and even cello after her sister found one used.
“So I learned a few things (on the cello), and it was a good try,” Hulterstrum said. “But, like I said in the video, I think I’ll stick to the flute.”
It would be a tough decision to dispute, given Hulterstrum’s obvious talent and success with the instrument.
Beyond all of that, however, she said playing the flute was just plain enjoyable.
“It kind of allows me to get away from the world for a while,” she said. “It depends on what I’m playing. I always like to make sure that I play something just for my fun every day, even though I’m working on something really complicated that is going to stress me out a bit and is very difficult. That’s what quartets gave me because they’re not super tough, musically challenged, but they’re fun to do. So I do them, but I also work on a hard piece of music in my classes. It’s good to have a balance between the two.