This is another in my series of columns on people who “stay put” with the same employer for 40 years or longer. Columns will appear on occasional Wednesdays. Call me with suggestions at 563-383-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at 500 E. 3rd St., Davenport, Iowa 52801.
Carol Pedigo Phoenix of Bettendorf is uniquely music. It’s been locked in her mind and fingers since she was 9, barely old enough to tuck a violin under her chin in a Monmouth, Ill., grade school.
She has earnest eyes that follow the mood of the music. Watch her, the assistant concertmaster of the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra.
Symphony has been her “home” of sorts for 44 years, although it took a few tries to get her foot in the door.
“I was confident during my first audition in 1967. I was a graduate in music education from Illinois Wesleyan (before getting a master’s at the University of Iowa) and was ready for Jim Dixon, the symphony conductor.”
The tryout brought a form letter of rejection.
“I was devastated. I was terribly crushed,” Carol says with a moan that is heartfelt yet today.
The next year, Carol returned for another audition. She had spent the summer practicing and waiting on tables. In 1968, she made it.
Now, as assistant concertmaster, she is not shy to say, “After being with the symphony for 44 years, I’ve worked my way up here.”
Every day, she carefully removes from its case her Vinaccia violin, made in Italy in 1731, and practices. Over and over. Practice and playing is her life and she says, “If I couldn’t play, I’d die.”
She plays for me the lovely “Meditation from Thais” and it drifts over the newsroom like a mist. Reporters and editors pause at their keyboards. For a few moments they appear entranced. They applaud.
“Music is supposed to do that,” she says, and then perkily breaks into a hoe-down tune.
She quietly apologizes to me after that newsroom “concert.” She says her violin did not quite sound right so she was heading for David Pope, the Quad-City “violin doctor.”
“Violins get colds too,” she says.
BEFORE CAROL tucks away her violin, I reach out to stroke its shining patina. She pulls it aside in a friendly but determined manner and says “No.” Her violin is not to be touched by others. It is a beloved part of her being.
“Even other violinists will not touch another’s instrument,” she says, ever so seriously.
She loves the symphony as a family. “We have a great camaraderie and are among the best,” she says.
“Carol is someone thoroughly dedicated to the symphony — and she’s a marvelous musician,” says Kris Kendell, who is in the violin section and is a music teacher in the Davenport schools.
CAROL HAS PLAYED has played with the best and brightest, remembering when concerts were performed in the bowl-shaped Masonic Temple auditorium that is now Vickie Anne Palmer Hall and Lyceum on Davenport’s Brady Street hill.
“I was in the orchestra, within a few yards of such musical greats as Pinchas Zukerman, Yehudi Menuhin, Sherrill Milnes, Richard Tucker and Marvin Hamlisch,” she says. “There were times, too, when the symphony was needed for Bob Hope and Ray Charles.”
For this weekend’s First Presbyterian Church Christmas concerts, she organized — and will be lead — a 36-piece symphony orchestra.
As with many musicians, the sharps and flats run in their veins, passed down from parents or other relatives.
“My mother, Ruth Yenerich Pedigo, was a great musical influence. I can’t say my success was luck; I say that I was blessed. Music was my gift. If a person has a talent — any kind of talent — they must use it; never allow that gift to waste.”
An interview with Carol is like a visit with a friend. She looks outside and says, “Look, the sun is shining; it’s brisk, but the grass is green. It is like a song.”
She adds, “Life is good.”
Contact Bill Wundram at 563-383-2249 or email@example.com.