Central Oregon Symphony Wilma Hens

Central Oregon Symphony violinist Wilma Hens grew up in 1940’s Germany, with a father of grandparent age struggling to make ends meet. The youngest of five children, Wilma’s exposure to music was limited to listening to her mother sing opera. Though she wasn’t formally trained, she sang all the time, and opera became the music Wilma grew up with and loves to this day.
The young Wilma wanted to learn piano, but knowing the house was too small and the budget too lean to accommodate one, she asked for a violin. It was more than two years, but finally at age 13 she got her violin, used as it was. She took violin lessons from a symphony member “whose mouth of missing teeth and dripping saliva” so frightened the teenager that she made up a story that guaranteed she wouldn’t have to return.
A different school and a violinist music teacher was the stimulus that would carry Wilma’s passion forward. Her teacher was the father of renowned German cellist and music educator Claus Kanngiesser. He saw how the teenage Wilma loved music and the violin, and when she could no longer afford lessons, he taught her for free.
After many years, Wilma and Chuck reconnected with Claus during a recent trip to Germany. Their reunion resulted in his performing as soloist with COS in the 2015 fall concert.
Wilma went on to get a major in music with a minor in English at a teaching college and after graduation taught grades 1 through 10… all subjects! It was there she met Chuck Hens, a U of O music major and violinist, who was in Germany for a 10-month comparative music study program. One more year of teaching and Wilma had saved enough money to move to Oregon, unite with Chuck and enroll in the U of O music education program. The couple married in 1966.
Fast forward 10 years, two children, several more years teaching in Germany to quell Wilma’s homesickness and a final return to Eugene, where both Wilma and Chuck played in the Eugene Symphony. In 1976 Chuck accepted a position teaching strings and music theory at COCC and Wilma remembers “unhappily” moving to Bend.
But after 18 months, she said she’d never leave. Wilma taught music at St. Francis School and began her 40-year stint with the Central Oregon Symphony. She remembers playing “simpler music at a tempo that was plausible.” Between children in east coast colleges, family in Germany and then grandchildren in California, Wilma says her performances with the symphony were intermittent.
Regarding the changes in 40 years of COS, Wilma acknowledges that every conductor moved the orchestra forward, but that the “most wonderful thing that happened to the development of the orchestra was the arrival of Michael Gesme. Michael came with a concept of community orchestra, fine music played well and open to any musician who could play it.”
Today Wilma is practicing like crazy for the upcoming concerts and admits that she is struggling to play the tempo the music demands. She said that Michael makes rehearsals fun, dissolving some of her tension with his humor. Most importantly she loves that he gives her the opportunity to meet the challenge of the music. And will she play in May? Only practice will tell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *