Betsy Barsamian

Betsy Barsamian, violin

Betsy for Website 120x125

If you see a violinist with swath of medals around her neck, that’s Betsy. She’s participated in more marathons, triathlons and half Ironmans than all other members of the orchestra combined (she wouldn’t really wear all her medals, but we can fantasize).

Betsy is a Bay Area native, growing up in Oakland. Her mom wanted the kids to play piano, but in 4th grade she came home with a school violin and announced that she was going to play it. Her music teacher was—for real—named Mr. Smiley. They had a great little orchestra and her mom acquiesced and bought her a violin, which she still has (although it’s not the one she plays on now). She played through junior high and then senior high, at Skyline High, which had a very good music program under the direction of Richard Adams. “A lot of my classmates there are now members of the Oakland and Vallejo Symphonies, Philharmonia Baroque, San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and the ‘Freeway Philharmonic’ (those hardy musicians who make a living traveling the freeways from gig to gig—check out” Betsy also played with the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra (YPSO, which is still in existence after 50+ years), where she met our conductor Eric when they were just 16 years old!

Betsy wanted to major in music at UC Berkeley, but her mom told her “that’s not a profession,” and she instead became a landscape architect. However, she still played in the UC Berkeley Orchestra (Eric Hansen was there too!). She also took private lessons with Jim Shallenberger (former member of SF Ballet Orchestra and Crowden Music School instructor) who “was a real turning point for me in intonation and counting!” During this time, she played in a quartet every Sunday at St. Joseph of Notre Dame Church’s mass in Alameda.

After graduate school at the University of Oregon (where she played in their orchestra), Betsy eventually landed a landscape architecture job with the California State Department of Parks and Recreation in Sacramento. While there, she played again—in the Camellia Symphony for a couple of years—and saved money for a nicer violin.

The lure of the Bay was strong, and Betsy came back to work at Caltrans in the City, while living in Oakland and eventually a tad further east over the hills. She took lessons from John Koenigsmark (SF Symphony); Barbara Riccardi (SF Opera) and played with the San Francisco Recreation Symphony (now SF Civic Symphony), conducted by former Prometheus conductor Karla Lemon, and then later by—he just keeps popping up in Betsy’s life!—Eric Hansen. “When Eric decided to conduct Prometheus, he knew I lived in the East Bay and he poached me. I joined Prometheus about 20 years ago (hiring a babysitter every week) and took private lessons from Eric for about 10 years.”

Betsy loves the big orchestra sound (“Beethoven is my man!”) and feels completely connected to music. So much so, she’s even played with a broken collarbone from a biking accident. Ok, maybe we won’t ask her to wear her medals—too much strain on the neck—but we’ll know she’s one accomplished musician!

~Joyce Vollmer

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