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Conductor, Åke-Eric Renqvist: Before leaving his native Finland to make his home in Virginia, Conductor/Violinist Ake-Eric Renqvist was awarded the distinguished title "Director Musices," as signed by the president of Finland in December 1995. For 29 years he was a violinist/violist with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Renqvist taught at the Helsinki Conservatory and a number of other music academies, and served as director of a private music school in Helsinki. He completed his studies in violin at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and studied conducting with Premysl Charvat, principal conductor for the National Opera in Prague. Renqvist has broad experience not only in performance but also in both musical research and administration. Renqvist moved from Finland to the United States with his wife, who is a Virginian. His studio is in Newport, in Giles County, where he resides with his family.

Violin I


Bridgette Seidel, concertmaster: Bridgette graduated with a Bachelor of Music Education, Cum Laude from Oklahoma City University. In 2000, she founded the Academy of Music Performance in Texas and was Head Violin Instructor to close to 50 young violin virtuosos as well as 1st violinist to the BCS String quartet. In 2004, she started a successful online business selling Violin lessons on DVD, and authored the teach yourself book "Picture Yourself Playing Violin".


Matt Chan, assistant principal: Matt has been playing violin since he was six and really enjoys playing with the Blacksburg Community Strings! Matt is finishing his graduate studies at Virginia Tech. Besides playing with the BCS, he plays with the Bedford Community Orchestra and the Blacksburg Community Band. He is also heavily involved in community theater groups such as the Summer Musical Enterprise, where he has been in the cast, played in their orchestra, and served as musical director for a few of their shows.


Mary Norris: Mary started playing the violin in her elementary school orchestra and continued through college. She has played on and off with the Community Strings since the group started. She also enjoys playing in the pit for the summer musical and occasionally at the local Irish jam.


Jenni Schoner, Publicity Chair: After many years of overlooking her great-grandfather's violin in the closet, Jenni started playing regularly again in Summer 2008. She initially learned to play the piano as a young child, but switched to violin at age 12 and played for ten years in school and community orchestras in Colorado. She finds both challenge and great joy in playing with the Blacksburg Community Strings.


Fangzhou (Leo) Sun: Since his father gave him a violin as a gift, Leo began playing violin at age seven and played for ten years throughout elementary, middle and high school in China. He had stopped playing violin until the last few months before his graduation from college. After coming to Virginia Tech as a PhD student, he was excited to discover the BCS, where he enjoys beautiful music and friendly people.


Bryant Watson, Membership Chair: Bryant began playing violin in his elementary school in Chesapeake, Virginia. His fifth grade class was the first year that his school system had a string program and it grew very quickly. He played with the same string instructor until his high school graduation, and played on the side while earning his English degree from Radford University, enough to earn a minor in music performance. After graduating and beginning his working career, he stopped playing until 2005. Through an internet search, he found the Bedford Community Orchestra. Fast forward ten years and he met another member of the Blacksburg Community Strings, who came to help the Bedford group and learned there was another volunteer group closer to his home, which leads us to today. After more than 30 years of playing, Bryant has no plans of quitting making music with his friends. He feels that it's the one place where he feels connected to something larger than himself, and enjoys donating his time to perform classical and contemporary music for all to enjoy.

Edie Carter: We often wonder how Edie has time to do it all, as she is a member of BCS, the New River Valley Symphony, the Summer Musical Enterprise orchestra, and the Radford University Nutcracker orchestera. This is aside from her violin, viola, and cello teaching responsibilities. We are fortunate to have Edie with us.


Airiel Barrientos:  Airiel started playing the violin in elementary school because her best friend chose the violin so why wouldn’t she? She ended up loving it and played throughout all her school years. Besides playing in the school orchestra, she played at church Sunday mornings, in random events, and high school musical pit bands. Now in college, she did not want to lose her ability to play. While playing for her church band in college, she found out about BCS by going to the Fosters Violin Shop.




Ginger Cope, principal: Ginger began playing the viola in 6th grade. She played with her high school's chamber orchestra as well as the Piedmont Regional Orchestra in Fauquier County, VA. Ginger put her instrument down throughout college and a few years after that but rediscovered the viola after she moved to the Blacksburg area and became involved with the Blacksburg UMC orchestra. She has been playing with the Blacksburg Community Strings since 2008 and joined the Summer Musical Enterprise in 2009.

Pamela Murray, assistant principal:  Pam began playing the violin in 6th grade, and switched to viola in high school. She has played with the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, Interlochen All State Orchestra, Charlottesville University Symphony Orchestra, Valley Chamber Orchestra, and, in its early years, Blacksburg Community Strings. Now retired from the Mary Baldwin College faculty, she is delighted to rejoin BCS. 

Violin II


Carl Derfler, principal and Vice President: Carl is not new to college town life, having taught music theory and sight singing at the University of Alberta and Radford University. Although he holds a Ph.D in music composition and theory, his first attempt at the violin was only a few years ago when he inherited both of his grandfathers' violins. He is now having a wonderful time in BCS and in the orchrstra pit of SME musicals "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "The Pajama Game," "Cinderella," and "Peter Pan." Carl is also our webmaster. If you have any comments or suggestions please write him at


Kate Reiman, assistant principal:  Kate began playing violin at the age of 10.  The move from England to America at the age of 12 was a difficult transition, but Kate joined her new middle school orchestra and found that they were playing the same song that she had been playing before she left, Canon in D. This inspired Kate to keep playing throughout middle and high school because music was the one constant thing in her life during this time. During college, Kate only played on the side but missed being in an orchestra. Since beginning veterinary school, she searched for a fun activity to participate in outside of class and discovered BCS via an online search. Kate is really enjoying being back in an orchestra playing music and interacting with other musicians. She looks forward to each rehearsal.

Teresa Hash: Teresa began playing the violin in 2008 after borrowing an instrument and loved it. She played the saxophone in the Marching Band, Symphonic Band, and the Jazz Band with the Pulaski County Cougar Band. Teresa really enjoys the Community Strings where she can continue to improve and challenge her playing skills.


Marie Henry, Co-librarian: Marie played violin and viola throughout middle and high school and into her first year of college with the University of Maryland orchestra. After a long "leave of absence," she returned to her instrument in 2002 when she found a chamber music group in New York. Marie finally moved back "home" to Virginia in 2008; she was thrilled to find BCS and to continue her musical journey here.


Becky Hepler, Co-librarian: Though Becky played piano as a kid, taking up the violin was a midlife crisis that has become a satisfying hobby and led her to the Community Strings, where she finds beautiful music, interesting people and enough challenge to never be bored.


Andrea Muscatello, Treasurer: Andrea started playing violin in the elementary school. She played sporadically in high school, college and some after college. After a 20 year break for career and family building, she found the perfect violin instructor and began to realize her dream of playing music for the enjoyment of others. Andrea has found a great challenge and throughly embracing environment with the Blacksburg Community Strings.




John Crawford, principal: John has been a life-long musician, studying piano since the age of 6. He began trombone in middle school, participating in numerous ensembles including church groups and marching, jazz, and symphonic bands at the grade school and college levels, including two seasons with the Marching Virginians. As a composer, John has written over 23 works of widely-varying genre and ensemble, two of which have been performed by his high school's choral and jazz ensembles. In addition, he received a semester of piano and composition instruction from Dr. Holliday at VT. John picked up the cello in May of 2010 studying under Maestro Åke-Eric Renqvist to make a post-graduation return to musical ensemble performance and to pursue a growing interest in classical works and the stringed instrument family. He is currently an active musician in the Blacksburg Community both as a cellist and as a pianist.


Marta Brinberg, assistant principal and President: Marta began her musical education with the cello after five years of chauffeuring her daughter to lessons. As a child, she played piano and flute. She joined the BCS in 2011 to force herself to play fast. With help from Lisa Liske-Doorandish and members of the Blacksburg Community Strings, she is indeed playing faster and also learning to play well with others.


Catherine A. Morningstar, Secretary: Catherine is one of Blacksburg Community String's "outlander" members, living in Floyd Co. VA. She started playing the violin in 2002 at the tender age of 43 and then began playing the Cello in 2009. Between playing the violin or cello and serving as BCS's librarian from 2003 to 2009, she has been honored to be an active member and remains thrilled to be part of the supportive environment of BCS, which continues to support all skill levels of amateur and professional musicians.

Gwen Woodmansee: After a childhood /adolescence of violin and piano lessons (never playing with others), Gwen laid her violin to rest, enjoyed piano on her own, sang with choral groups wherever she lived and then, upon retirement 4 years ago, took up the cello. She is finally able to experience the joy of playing with others, the camaraderie of fellow musicians and travels each week from her farm in Grayson County to rehearse and perform. Her awesome teacher, Anne Sellitti in Winston/Salem, provides guidance and inspiration. Gwen would love to expand her cello repertoire to include jazz, Celtic and traditional music with like-minded musicians, though she will always be transported to musical paradise with her beloved Baroque composers.





Larry Bernath, Social Chair: After barely earning a BA in Music in 1971, Larry played a variety of musical styles in club and wedding bands until 1987. He moved from New Jersey to Virginia that year and joined BCS in 2012 after a 25-year hiatus. This was possible only because his sweetheart owned a bass. In the off season, Larry enjoys traveling in the US, Canada and Europe. His passions are hiking, bicycling and kayaking.



In Memoriam


John Howell, 1936-2013: John Raymond Howell was Associate Professor of Music at Virginia Tech. He played with the Roanoke Symphony, Lynchburg Symphony, Southwest Virginia Chamber Orchestra, and Henry Mancini Orchestra, and directed shows at Disneyland and Walt Disney World and was a prominent member of the Blacksburg Community Band, Community Strings, and the Summer Musical Enterprise. He was the heart of our group and will be sorely missed.



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