by Len Lear
When Chestnut Hill resident (for nine years) Renee Warnick was 27, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor while pregnant with her first child.
“Fortunately, the tumor was benign,” she told us last week, “and the craniotomy and resection were successful, I suffered no brain damage or longterm side effects, and my son was born healthy and strong. The best possible outcome in every way.
“The experience of facing my own mortality crystallized this important truth for me, that life is a precious and fleeting gift, and beauty is my North Star: the beauty of love, friendship, nature, music, art, food, family, generosity, diversity, etc.”
Warnick, 44, who grew up in Manheim, a small town and rural farming community in Lancaster County, holds Bachelor and Masters of Music degrees from Temple University, where she studied with Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Violist Chong-Jin Chang. She is a member of the music faculty at Germantown Friends School and was previously on the string faculties of Temple Music Prep and Settlement Music School.
She has toured nationally and internationally as a member of the Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, has played in the pit orchestra for Broadway at Kimmel Center and Arden Theater productions and was featured as an on-stage musician for the 2012 American premiere of “Love Story, the Musical” at the Walnut Street Theater. She has also recorded numerous commercial string tracks at Milk Boy, Minor Street and Morningstar Studios.
You can see and hear Warnick perform as a member of the 15- year-old Elysian (“Heavenly”) Camerata at the First Presbyterian Church of Ambler on Friday, Nov. 22, 7:30 p.m. Their concert, entitled “The British are Coming!” will feature, as the name suggests, music for piano and strings by all British composers such as Henry Purcell, Edward Elgar and Vaughan Williams. Following the concert the musicians will share food and conversation with the audience at a reception.
“Elysian Camerata began as the occasional collaboration of a few close friends who all felt a common bond in their love for chamber music,” cello player Talia Schiff told us. The other members of the group are Barbara Jaffe and Dana Allaband, violins; Louise Jaffe, viola, and Rahel Inniger, piano.
Interestingly, Warnick said last week that she “never wanted to be a musician as a child. I really had no concept of what a profession as a performer looked like … In my childhood, music making was associated with community, family, participation and enjoyment, not performance or perfection. That’s probably why I love chamber and orchestral playing … I’m one voice of many collaborating to create something beautiful.
“For me, learning music theory and harmony and history was like suddenly seeing what’s inside the body, the skeleton and systems that make this beautiful and miraculous thing function. Thank you, public school music! I had already been taking piano lessons for some time, but in fourth grade I picked viola at the string teacher’s suggestion.”
In high school and college, Warnick waited tables in restaurants. When she moved to Philadelphia, she worked at Tower Records Classical Annex on South Street and in sales briefly as the bow hair point person for a company that imported and distributed natural hair and bristles.
“That was the most ‘corporate’ job I ever had, and I hated it!”
How hard is it to make a living as a classical musician?
“If by ‘making a living,’ you mean to earn money doing challenging and fulfilling creative work that contributes beauty to the world, it’s very doable. If by ‘making a living,’ you mean generate personal wealth, it is extremely difficult! … But musicians have always been creative in piecing together enough various jobs to make a career that is sustainable. We are the originators of the ‘gig economy!’
“As an aside, until affordable health insurance is uncoupled from full-time employment, it will be very hard for anyone in today’s gig economy to feel financially secure. The Affordable Care Act was a boon for musicians, artists, actors and other creative people.”
What are the pros and cons (if any) of living in Chestnut Hill?
“I love the walkability. From my house we walk to hiking trails in the woods, shopping, restaurants, school, library, church and post office … I love the beauty and variety of the architecture and gardens. Chestnut Hill is also full of interesting, friendly people, and some of our dearest friends are also our closest neighbors. No place is perfect, but the cons are few and inconsequential compared to the pros. I do miss the diversity and late night life of West Philly.”
What is the best advice Warnick ever received?
“Say yes. You never know what opportunities an open door will bring.”
Warnick lives in Chestnut Hill with husband Derek, son Drew, 15, a sophomore at Central High School, daughter Olivia, 12, in eighth grade at Masterman, greyhound Bardot and “crazy cats” Pepe and Zoey.
Visit ElysianCamerata.org for more information about Friday night’s concert.