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Faces in the crowd: Woodlands violinist passes on her knowledge

January 8, 2019

— Editor’s Note: “Faces in The Crowd” is an occasional series in The Villager intended to spotlight local residents who have unique stories or experiences. If you know of someone who would be an interesting profile, please send tips to Editor Jeff Forward.

Jenny Stern knows three languages: Mandarin Chinese — both the standard and Shanghai-dialect — English, and the “language of music.” While the third one is not technically spoken, it’s an equally important way she communicates.

“Music brings my life happiness and cheer,” Stern said. “Every time I don’t feel happy, I play for 10 to 15 minutes and after that, I feel energized. I’m like a car, I need gasoline to fill up and regain energy.”

Stern has been a violinist since she was four years old, so it seems that playing music is as natural as speaking to her. Although Stern is a resident of The Woodlands and a member of The Woodlands Symphony Orchestra, she’s originally from Shanghai, China.

“There are no boundaries between countries with music. It’s a world language,” Stern said.

Stern grew up attending rehearsals and concerts at the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, where her mother played violin. As a child, Stern would watch her mother play — it was there where a fascination began.

“I followed my mother everywhere. She was busy with rehearsals and concerts, so I followed her every step. I grew up in that world,” Stern said.

Stern’s mother first taught her how to play, but her music education was then passed on to a Shanghai Conservatory of Music professor Zhang Shixiang.

After playing violin in the Shanghai Youth Symphony Orchestra and going on to teach lessons, Stern met her late husband, Peter. They moved to The Woodlands just two years ago, and when she first arrived, she said she was lonely because she didn’t know anyone.

But, she started teaching violin lessons to both children and adults here, which she still does, and met people that way.

“I want to let children know that music will cheer their life up, so that they have the energy and power to make their own music,” Stern said.

Stern also auditioned for The Woodlands Symphony Orchestra, and was ushered into the group as first violin. Through those avenues, she said she has gotten to know many people in the community.

“Even when I encountered difficulties, I kept moving forward step by step,” Stern said, explaining that music was the common thread throughout her life.

Darryl Bayer, the artistic director at The Woodlands Symphony Orchestra, said Stern has been the group’s biggest cheerleader, passing out fliers and putting up posters to advertise for the concerts.

Bayer said that kind of initiative is how the group thrives — as a sort of hybrid between a professional and communal organization.

“We treat it like it’s a professional-level orchestra, but part of our mission is that we want to lift up the community players,” Bayer said.

It’s not likely for Stern to stop playing violin anytime soon; in fact, she has even begun passing the craft down to her five-year-old daughter Linnea, just as Stern learned from her own mother.

jane.stueckemann@chron.com

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