Alumnae Story: Sprezzatura Trio
Alyssa Fridenmaker ’08
Music has always been a part of my family. My parents are musicians; I grew up in a family like the Von Trapps. My family made music everywhere we went ― from leading worship in our church to singing "Happy Anniversary" in harmony to the cashier at the store. Family gatherings always involved singing, with me at the piano or taking my violin out of the case. My parents and grandparents were supportive of my violin and piano endeavors, and that encouraged me to pursue what I loved in college.
I studied piano and violin at SPU. Two highlights from my time in the Music Department were private study with Ilkka Talvi (violin) and Dr. Wayne Johnson (piano), and the extensive chamber music I was able to study and perform. Both Mr. Talvi and Dr. Johnson played significant roles in my time at SPU. Their investments in me — both as a musician and as a person — will stay with me forever. Mr. Talvi coached me in violin duos, and that was one of my favorite chamber experiences. In addition, I was able to study piano trio and piano quartet literature. I worked several quarters with a piano duet partner, and I was in the President's String Quartet for three years.
Dr. Johnson encouraged me to explore piano chamber music. His prompting, along with Mr. Talvi's and others' encouragement, eventually helped inspire the birth of Sprezzatura Trio several years down the road. Ilkka Talvi was my violin teacher, but his investments in me far exceeded just the role of a teacher. He weekly taught life lessons in addition to music lessons, giving insight into my own life and both challenging and encouraging me in the person I was becoming and continue to become. I learned so much about myself and I am a different person — and now teacher myself! — because of him.
Perhaps the biggest way my faith grew at SPU was learning to view my faith in light of the entire Christian narrative. Dr. David Nienhuis discussed this in classes I had with him, and it made a lasting impression on me. My faith is more deeply rooted, as I understand it to be an ongoing story that's constantly unfolding. My time at SPU was a time of exploring my faith in a more holistic way and my years since graduating have been full of learning how to let Christ direct a beautiful journey.
Now that I've graduated, I have my own private piano and violin studio where I teach students of all ages and levels. I also am a staff accompanist in the SPU Music Department, accompanying the string studios. I freelance, both as a soloist and as a piano collaborator. Chamber music is a passion of mine, so Sprezzatura Trio is a highlight of my music career. We have a regular concert season where we perform standard trio literature in addition to introducing our audiences to more obscure works and new compositions.
Someone who inspired me in music was Dr. Paul Elliott Cobbs, Tacoma Youth Symphony conductor. I remember a specific moment in my working under him. It was at a summer music camp, and we were playing one of my favorite pieces, Pines of Rome by Respighi. I remember being overwhelmed by the excitement of playing such a great piece and filled with the desire to play it as well as I could. As I looked up at Dr. Cobbs leading us through the fourth movement, his passion for the music mingled with the reverence I had developed for him, and I suddenly knew I didn't have a choice. I would play it well because this man believed in us and had prepared us, and it was within my ability. His passion empowered us.
At SPU my faith grew a lot. I was challenged and inspired by my friendships, the leadership opportunities I chose to be a part of, and my classes and professors. The diversity of the school's faculty, staff, and students is an indispensable resource to growth, and the classes attempt to challenge things we take for granted through our faith journeys. My junior year, I applied to be a part of group, one of the worship ensembles on campus. I was terribly intimidated by the idea of doing something I had so little experience with, but it was incredible.
I also loved my world music classes with Dr. Ramona Holmes. I'm passionate about people's expression of who they are, and I get excited to think of how diverse these expressions can be. This is similar to the joy I feel when teaching cello students. I also cannot speak highly enough about my private cello instructor, Ms. Meg Brennand, or thank her enough, for the skills and confidence she inspired in me. Lastly, doing chamber music with Ilkka Talvi was important in showing me why I love and gravitate toward chamber music.
I graduated in 2009. Now, a few years later, and after years of working in food services and retail, I am doing what I want to do. By being diligent in jobs I didn't really care for, I developed the relationships I needed to open a private studio, and I can now support myself off my teaching and playing alone. I play cello with my piano trio, Sprezzatura Trio. This is very fulfilling to me, because I have invested so much into both the relationships and the craft.
My first violin teacher was a great mentor to me. She challenged me and wouldn't let me get away with anything. But she also helped me to think critically about music and make my own musical choices.
I found out about SPU because I was very involved in the Cascade Youth Symphony organization, which was directed by Gerry Marsh, professor of music at SPU. He encouraged me to check out SPU.
During my time at SPU, my faith was stretched in a very different way than I would have expected. I began to question many things about my faith and to be honest about my doubts. This led me to shed any unnecessary trappings of religion and be even more grounded in my core beliefs.
One SPU instructor who left a lasting impression on me was Mr. Ilkka Talvi. He taught me that being a good musician means being the best human being you can be. His care and support changed me as a person. And Mr. Talvi's incredible musical knowledge, experience, and insight expanded my musical horizons. I became a much more competent and independent musician through my lessons with him.
Some of the highlights of my time in the Music Department were my experiences with chamber music, quartet, and "Musica de Camera" with Ilkka Talvi. This gave me a chance to explore violin duet music and also violin/cello duets.
During the program, I made some lasting friendships, especially with Alyssa Fridenmaker and Ellen Pew in the Sprezzatura Trio.
I am currently a professional violinist, teaching privately and coaching an alternative middle school orchestra, coaching four additional orchestras, playing with Sprezzatura Trio, and performing with Northwest Sinfonietta.
Student Eric Johnson shares about his experience in the Music Department.
Learn about Chérie Hughes, director of vocal studies in the Music Department.