Erin Aldridge's life-long musical journey plays out well in the Northland


Dr. Erin Aldridge is a University Professor, DSSO Concertmaster... and passionate about football. 

Dr. Erin Aldridge. Photo submitted.

Erin Aldridge has known since the age of two that she wanted to play the violin. As she has been told since, she proclaimed to her mother, “I want to “pway the bioyin.”

And, she has indeed been playing ever since, beginning shortly after that pronouncement on a tiny 1/10th size violin.

Erin explained, “The biggest influence for me was my grandmother who was a violinist in Toronto, Canada. She was one of my biggest supporters and an amazing woman. There is a picture of her with her violin that lives in my case and she gets to go with me to all my concerts.”

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Erin stated, “’I’m an only child with two amazing and supportive parents who were not professional musicians but instilled a love of all types of music from a very early age.”  Her father played saxophone (as later did Erin) and her mother played piano.

“I was very lucky to have access to some very amazing music programs,” she added. “I started at the age of two in a Kodaly Musicianship Class at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee. From there, I started the violin at age two-and-a-half and piano at age four.

She continued her music studies in the String Academy of Wisconsin under the direction of her teacher, Mimi Zweig. Aldridge attended the Indiana University Summer String Academy every summer in Bloomington, Indiana, also under the direction of Mimi Zweig.

Fortunate to go to Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts and the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, she also became a member of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Program.

“All these programs truly afforded me some incredible experiences, including international travel and masterclasses/performances with renowned musicians. I even got to play for Luciano Pavarotti in a student quartet from the Youth Symphony,” she stated.

Aldridge attended Indiana University and received her Bachelor’s degree in Violin Performance. She received her Master’s degree and Performer’s Certificate in Chamber Music Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she was also a member of the Leonard Sorkin Institute of Chamber Music. She continued her studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Violin Performance.

Life-Changing Mentor

She explained that her most important mentor was her violin teacher, Vartan Manoogian, with whom she studied when she attended UW-Madison.

“When I started my doctorate, I was completely burnt out but knew I needed the degree to get the job I wanted (which was teaching at a university). The music world can be brutal and it can run you down, a space I was in when I started with him.”

“Vartan understood me, understood what I needed, and knew how to teach me in such an incredible way. I use his teaching all the time in my own lessons. I was pretty close to quitting the violin and going in a completely different direction. When I started with him, he gave me back my love of playing and music. He believed in me and supported me in a way that I couldn’t help but recognize that he was right. My goal is always to give my students that same level of belief and support he gave me. It was life-changing, and why I can do what I am doing.”

Teaching Career

She started teaching while pursuing an undergrad degree at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. She says she felt lucky to be a teacher in a pre-college string program and was able for that to be her job to help support herself through school. From there, she was a violin teaching assistant at both grad schools with a small private pre-college studio on the side.

Since 2003, she has been on the music faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Superior where she serves as Professor of Violin and Director of Orchestras. “I am currently in my 20th year of teaching at UW-Superior. “For me, my students are everything. The best part is that lightbulb moment when I see them either walk off a stage, finish a presentation, or any culminating event with a giant smile on their face. When they are happy because they all realize they have the power to do anything they want, that is as powerful as it comes for me as a teacher.”

Erin is in her 20th year of teaching at UWS. Photo submitted.

Being Concert Master

Dr. Aldridge is also in her 20th year with the DSSO and 18th as Concertmaster, having won the position in 2005. Her jobs as Concertmaster are the on-stage responsibilities, including essentially being the DSSO Director Dirk Meyer’s right-hand person and helping to lead the section, as well as the orchestra.

Erin is Concert Master with the DSSO (first chair on the left side). Photo submitted.

There are times when there are Concertmaster solos built into the orchestral parts, so she is responsible for that as well. She also tunes the orchestra, and acts as a liaison between the musicians of the orchestra and their guest soloists.

She added, “Off stage I am responsible for the thing I hate the most (but is one of the most important aspects of string playing), bowings. I have to go through every piece of music and mark my part which direction my bow will go. From there the other principals mark their parts so that the whole string section is in unison. For the sound of the strings, bowings are crucial. It is a painstaking process, but worth the work. I also work a lot with the office staff and board members.”

Eclectic Taste in Music

“I have eclectic taste which surprises most people. I actually don’t listen to a lot of classical music,” she stated.

“I have played a lot of different styles of music including fiddling, Klezmer, jazz, folk, funk, and rock. I am currently a member of the Bluegrass/Americana/Folk band Danny Frank and the Smoky Gold.”

Erin plays with the band Danny Frank and the Smoky Gold at Blue Ox Festival in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Photo submitted.

Off the Clock

Erin said she is a die-hard football fan and likes watching sports, in general. She noted, “I watch a lot of movies because movie scores are always fascinating to me (and I teach classes on film music). And I love getting my hands dirty with art projects.”

“With music, I have had the privilege of traveling a lot, especially internationally. The most recent trip, that for me was really the trip of a lifetime. was to Ghana last January, with students and faculty from the UW-Superior Music Department. It was life-changing on so many levels. I learned so much, not just about music and the culture, but about finding joy in every aspect of life regardless of circumstance. We were embraced so warmly by the people of Ghana, and their zest for life is one that I try to emulate.”

Erin and her UWS tour group of students and faculty visiting Ghana, West Africa. Photo submitted.

Soloist, Guest Artist, and Award Winner

In addition to being a soloist with the DSSO and the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra, Dr. Aldridge has been a performer and guest artist with a number of other musical organizations, including the Long Prairie Chamber Orchestra, the Mesabi Symphony Orchestra, the Itasca Symphony Orchestra, and at the Indiana University Summer Music Festival, Arizona State University, DePaul University Contemporary Concert Series, Madeline Island Music Camp, Ashland Chamber Music Series, National String Workshop, and “Live at the Chazen” Concert Series.

Erin performs and conducts at the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra. Photo submitted.

She was selected for the “20 under 40” award by the Duluth News Tribune in the fall of 2007, an honor given to 20 professionals who are successful in their chosen fields and role models in the community. In 2012, she received the Community Enrichment Award from the Duluth Depot Foundation Annual Artist Awards and was also honored by the American Association of University Women as one of four “Created Here” artists in the Duluth-Superior area.

When asked about what is most exciting for her when performing for a full house of patrons for the DSSO concerts, she said, “The energy! There is nothing like that. We always have an incredibly supportive and exciting crowd at symphony concerts. When the house is packed, it adds that extra layer of excitement, and there is this beautiful connection that you can feel on stage with the audience."

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