Area farmer enjoys participating in Ferris symphony

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BIG RAPIDS — On Sunday, April 17, area residents boldly went where no one has gone before at a space-themed concert at Ferris State University.

The free concert, “Out of this World,” took place at 4 p.m. on Sunday at the Williams Auditorium. Among the musicians who acted as guardians of the galaxy during the performance is a Rodney resident who’s been playing the same violin for more than 40 years.

Patrick Nellis is reverent as he sets his violin down on the kitchen table before tuning it using a fork and pitch pipe.

“My parents bought it for me when I was in seventh grade in 1974,” he said. “I value my life on it.”

The violin player has lived on the same farm in Rodney his entire life. His father purchased the property while overseas during World War II and when he returned, he opened a dairy. Nellis said he has always enjoyed playing music.

“My mother played piano and taught piano lessons. She even played piano for the church up here and conducted the choir along with it,” he said. “When my mom was pregnant with me, she played the piano a lot. The unborn can hear that. I guess I got addicted to music. After I was born, I wasn’t crying for milk, I was crying for music. I have a need for it.”

Nellis said he first got into playing the violin in 1971 at the insistence of his father, who always wanted to play.

“When he was going into ninth grade he went to the Barryton School, which was called the Fork Township Agricultural School. They had a string program there, so his first year at that school he took up violin,” he said. “There was a project going on there in the 1930s where they were going to add onto the school building. They dug a basement next to it, but the building was on a foundation of sand, so it made the school crumble down. That was his last day of violin lessons, and he was always disappointed about that.”

Nellis and his brother are now working on converting the family farm from dairy to beef, but they are keeping up a tradition of making maple syrup.

“My dad started it with us. He’d done it when he was a little boy and his dad taught him,” he said. “When he moved out here he taught me and my brother how to do it and we continued it on. We used to just boil down in a sap pan, then we got an evaporator and built another building.”

Sunday will be far from Nellis’ first time performing on stage. He is a member of the Original Michigan Fiddler’s Association in addition to playing violin in the FSU West Central Chamber Orchestra. He first started playing with Ferris because he missed playing the violin after graduating high school.

“You go to school and graduate and you miss playing the violin,” he said. “I heard about this orchestra out at Ferris that accepted members of the community. I never did go to college, but they accepted me anyway. I was there for about four seasons before work got hard on the dairy. I got back into playing with Ferris this past fall after 31 years.”

Nellis said he had to do a little catching up after more than 30 years away.

“When I wasn’t in the orchestra I would listen to the music and pick up the tunes. I know how to play at jamborees, but after 25 years of not reading music I was a little rusty,” he said. “But I know the notes and I know how to play them.”

The performance Sunday is going to be a fun concert for a lot of different reasons, according to Scott Cohen, musical director and conductor.

“There’s an outer space and sci-fi theme, so I’m calling it ‘Out of this World,’” he said. “We’ll be doing stuff from ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Star Wars’ and some stuff from ‘Halo’ and a couple of other pieces.”

Nellis said he is particularly excited to play some of the music from “E.T.”

“It’s like I’ve got a part in the movie,” he said.

The concert doesn’t stop with just space pieces, Cohen said.

“We’re also doing a few pieces of music for Ferris students who are going to be graduating,” he added. “Those won’t really fit into the space theme, but they will honor those students.

“We have enough strings now to actually do some full orchestra stuff. We’ll actually have the winds and the percussion joining us for the ‘Jupiter Symphony,’” he said. “It will be a celebration of students and a fun theme with three different sets so you get a lot of variety. It’ll be fun.”

 

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Posted by Adam Gac

Adam is the Pioneer City/County Reporter, covering government in Mecosta County. He can be reached by e-mail at agac@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8347.

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