Grande dame of the Sinfonietta

Longtime cello player Heidi Schultz rosins up her bow.

Heidi Schultz rehearsers a piece she composed called "In the Beginning" with the Sinfonietta. —Gabrielle Mannino

“I’ll be playing music, so just come right in,” Heidi Schultz had told me over the phone. The energetic sounds of Bach’s “Allegro” from the Third Brandenburg Concerto welcomed me into her cozy house, where she on her cello and Jeff Nelson on his viola were practicing for the Vineyard Sinfonietta concert this coming Sunday, April 28, at 2 pm at Howes House.

I listened as they played, this private concert not even intended for my ears, one of my favorite pieces of music filling the room while I waited. They play together almost every weekend, as they have for the past three years, although Heidi doesn’t call it practicing. “When you have been playing for 80 years, you just know it,” she said.

She has been the doyenne of the Sinfonietta for as many years as I can remember. She joined soon after she moved to the Vineyard in 1956, finding a rather fluid group of musicians with “a history of coming and going,” as she described it. By the 1990s, four musicians formed the core of the group. Now there are 10. They play two concerts a year, usually with Heidi giving a musical précis to the audience, and cueing the musicians when to begin.

I met Heidi when she was town clerk in West Tisbury, when she and Janice Manter pretty much ran the workings of our town government on their own. They were quite an efficient pair in those days before computers and regulations about everything. Heidi retired in 1995, having served as town clerk for 21 years.

Since then, playing the cello and “running” the Sinfonietta have been her passions. She began playing at age 10, having grown up in a musical family in New York City. Her father was a prominent clarinetist, who also played the viola. Her mother played piano, violin, and viola. Rebecca Clarke was her aunt, THE Rebecca Clarke, well-known violist and composer, her name given to the Rebecca Clarke Society, an organization devoted to commemorate and encourage women in music. The family often played together after dinner, and Heidi remembers leaving her bedroom door open on Friday nights when quartet concerts were held.

The current membership of the Sinfonietta includes violinists Hatsy Potter, Emily Broderick, Mary Sossong, and Patricia Szucs; violist Jeff Nelson; flutist Holly Wayman; clarinetist Kai Dee Beach, and recorder player Carol Loud. For Sunday’s concert, Martha Hudson will be guest singer, and Richard Giaimo will conduct.

The program will begin with two pieces by J.S. Bach, “Air,” and the “Allegro” movement from the Third Brandenburg Concerto. “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” by C.W. Ritter von Gluck, “Menuetto” and “Trio” from the G Minor Symphony by W.A. Mozart, “Humoresque” by Antonin Dvorák, “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin, “Gavotte” by Jean Becker, “Toccatina” by William Hofeldt, and “In My Life” by the Beatles will make up the body of the concert. The finale will be “In the Beginning,” by Heidi Schultz. Heidi said she often composed music at the piano, and “feeling religious one day, wrote ‘In the Beginning.’”

Heidi’s practice partner, Jeff Nelson, stayed through our interview, and frequently commented on Heidi’s musical prowess. “It blows my mind what she can do with the cello. I have to practice like crazy to keep up with her, then she says, ‘Let’s play faster.’ She never practices,” he said. He also spoke about an accident with a chainsaw that left her unable to play for three months. Heidi feared she might never play again. Now she considers herself “back as good as ever.” Sunday’s concert will be particularly sweet.

Readers will note the personal tone of this article. I had thought Sunday’s concert would be Heidi’s last on the Vineyard. She had been planning to move away, closer to a daughter off-Island. But the first thing she told me was that she had changed her mind and decided to stay. What began in my mind as a tribute to Heidi’s musical life on the Island, her long presence in West Tisbury, my personal acquaintance with her and her late husband, Ronnee, became somewhat different. Somewhat. I’m glad she’s staying put.