Playing some of the world’s greatest music as a member of a major symphony orchestra can be an incredibly rewarding career. It’s also a high-stress occupation, one in which perfection in performance—or at very least near perfection—is expected day in and day out.
Minnesota Orchestra musicians Greg and Julie Williams, one of several married couples in the world-class orchestra, have found Plymouth an ideal place to share their love of music, unwind from the demands and stress of their careers, and replenish their physical and mental resources. The couple met in 2007 when Julie joined the orchestra, and they married in August 2010.
St. Louis, Missouri native Gregory T. Williams joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 2006 as associate principal clarinet and E-flat clarinet. He was chosen in auditions from a field of about 100 candidates. It wasn’t his first audition with the orchestra: In November 2005, Williams and a musician friend had driven up from Iowa and auditioned—unsuccessfully. No candidate was chosen, so Williams had the opportunity to try again in 2006, and this time, he succeeded. In March 2014 he was promoted to the position of acting principal clarinetist, replacing a musician (Joe Longo) who had previously occupied that chair for about 45 years.
Before arriving in Minnesota, the 38-year-old Williams served as principal clarinet with the Kansas City Symphony for three of his four years there. He has also performed with several other orchestras, including the Cleveland Orchestra and New York Philharmonic.
Oboist Julie Gramolini Williams joined the Minnesota Orchestra in September 2007 after two seasons as a member of the Omaha Symphony. (Like her husband, she has performed with a number of other orchestras). Growing up in Rhode Island, Julie Gramolini was only 11 when she began learning to play the oboe, considered one of the most difficult of all orchestral instruments. It’s a double-reed instrument, demanding many hours of practice and a high degree of precision. When she chose her career path as a high school senior, “I didn’t know what I was getting into and how difficult it would be,” she says, although she’s glad she chose a career in orchestral music. “Fortunately, I loved to practice.”
Maintaining some degree of separation between their professional and personal lives helps promote marital harmony, the Williamses say. At home, Greg and Julie practice in separate rooms two to four hours per day (Greg in the basement and Julie upstairs). They don’t make a practice of offering each other advice on navigating challenging orchestral scores. “That could get a little touchy,” Greg says. When not occupied with the orchestra, the Williamses sometimes perform in a classical trio along with Minnesota Orchestra bassoonist Chris Marshall, who also lives in Plymouth.
The couple has lived here since 2010, when they bought a home in the Mission Trails neighborhood. Julie Williams says she and her husband were attracted to the neighborhood by its “really nice energy … And we have great neighbors here.”
They both appreciate the proximity to the city’s well-developed system of recreational trails. “I can quickly get on the bike trail and go around Medicine Lake or just about anywhere,” Greg Williams says. Julie Williams likes to unwind by jogging in French Regional Park, which is only a quarter-mile from home. Running not only helps her stay in shape for playing her demanding instrument, but also benefits her “mental clarity,” she says. Like her husband, she appreciates their adopted hometown’s combination of proximity to a big city and pastoral setting. “We’re just very lucky to be here,” Greg Williams says.
Currently, the Williamses are one of three couples composed of full-time Minnesota Orchestra members. There are also two other couples in which full-time members are married to substitute musicians. Three other full-time orchestra musicians are married to staff.
Music’s in the Air
This year, the Minnesota Orchestra will present holiday-themed concerts November 28–29, and December 2, 4–6, 11–13, 18–20 and 31. Two family-friendly concerts on the orchestra’s holiday schedule are Home Alone in Concert, featuring the score from the hit classic holiday film Home Alone on November 28–29, and Young People’s Swingin’ Nutcracker, planned for December 2–5.