Tribute to GRSMA cellist Steve Van Ravenswaay (1959-2020)
GRSMA is sad to say goodbye to cellist Steve Van Ravenswaay, who unexpectedly passed away in July. Here are some remembrances of Steve from his colleagues. Rest in peace, our friend.
Among my fondest memories of Steve would be during a weekend of GRS pops concerts about twenty years ago. At that time, former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura had recently finished a term as Governor of Minnesota (I am not making this up!) and many Minnesotans had adopted the slogan "my Governor can beat up your Governor". Anyway, the featured artist for our pops concerts that weekend always announced to the audience that he was honored to be performing with the former Governor of Minnesota, pointing to Steve who sat in a highly visible position as outside second stand cello (and perhaps looked a little bit like Jesse Ventura). Steve took it in great stride and let the pops artist have a laugh during the concerts that weekend. But in the end it was Steve who had the last laugh, as the high level of professionalism that he held for himself and his colleagues went well beyond this moment. Thank you, Steve. You will be missed and never forgotten.
- Paul Austin, horn
The first time I got to know Steve a little was when he gave me a ride home from rehearsal one evening. I found out something we had in common--that we had gone to the same school for college (though not at the same time). As he talked about all the musical projects he was involved in besides the Symphony, I was seriously impressed. Then we listened to one of the recordings he had made. It was either something composed by Steve, or an arrangement he made--I can't remember which, but I remember that I enjoyed it. It was obvious that he was very creative and versatile, a person of many talents. It was also generous and caring of him to give me a ride that night. I'm so glad I took him up on his carpooling offer, since I got to see so many sides to him that I wouldn't have otherwise. My sympathy is with everyone who was closest to him, and I hope you can all be surrounded by love and comforted by happy memories.
- Louisa Blood, violin
Steve was part of my first education ensemble. He had extraordinary talent explaining things to kids of all ages. The lines I use for my ed ensemble, I learned how to formulate them from Steve. Some days he was in a good mood to be a great educator, some days he didn’t want to participate in entertaining students who didn’t behave. We used to hang out after rehearsals with Dave Prudon who was GRS Assistant Concertmaster and also a member of our group. I loved watching them picking on each other. At first, it was a little bit uncomfortable to watch their interaction, but I realized it all came from their old friendship with good hearts. (Also with a touch of being midwesterners?) Years ago, I had a recital and asked Steve to play Piazzolla’s tango together. He agreed and asked me what else I was playing. When I told him I was planning to play a Lullaby by Ysaÿe to celebrate my baby niece, he offered to write a piano trio of his own lullaby. I was excited and honored that he created a beautiful piece for my niece. I still remember the concert very vividly. After the concert, Steve said I was playing a little too sharp and it was challenging for him to play unisons in tune. I listened to the recording of our performance and I was playing sharp. I was embarrassed, but also his honest comment made me keep listening to my playing, not just intonation, but all other aspects of my playing. Whenever I work on my intonation, I am ever so grateful for his honesty. We miss you, Steve.
- Haijin Choi, violin
A few years ago, we had our annual bowling party after what probably was our final Nutcracker performance of the year. Steve and his wife Corrie, accompanied by their 2 grandchildren, were also there. At that time, Steve had a very robust gray beard. Being that it was so close to Christmas, my then 6-year old daughter Marie thought the obvious...Steve was Santa Claus! She was too scared to talk to him, but kept eying him periodically through the night. I often relayed this story to Steve in his final two years while we sat next to each other in the pit. We ALWAYS had fun during the Pas. He will be greatly missed!
- Beth Colpean, harp
For over 20 years Steve and I unpacked and packed up our instruments before and after rehearsals and concerts at the same table backstage. During those few minutes and often at breaks, we would have conversations about music, conductors, weather, politics, dogs, family and so many other things. I will miss these moments with my good friend, and his wonderful playing will be missed in the orchestra. My deepest condolences go to his loving wife Corrie and all of his family and friends.
- Barbara Corbato, viola
Steve Van Ravenswaay (Van) was a pillar of the GR Symphony cello section. He had the longest tenure in the section and had a wealth of knowledge about the conductors we've played with and the repertoire we've played. He seemed to always be able to remember the last time we had played a piece, even if it was 40 years ago, and he could remember if it was done well or not! Steve was honest and real. He would suggest ways to improve things, but accepted what wasn't fixable. He was that way about people, too, never expecting them to be perfect, just as he knew that he wasn't perfect. He was an incredibly valuable member of audition committees, and we've had a lot of cello auditions in recent years. He was so happy with the way the section was sounding and shared this with me many times. I will miss Steve for his musicality, humor and passion. I will miss the gentle tap of his bow on my shoulder when he had a question. I will miss the unique way he pronounced my name. Mostly, I will miss going backstage to put my case next to Steve's, to say hi and talk about our days. Our symphony will not be the same without Van. He will be deeply missed.
-Alicia Eppinga, cello
Really saddened to hear about the sudden passing of Steve. I played alongside Steve in the Grand Rapids Symphony for two years, my first job out of school. Steve didn't suffer fools gladly, and tolerated no BS. He could have seemingly a gruff exterior on the surface, but in truth he simply didn't want any nonsense getting in the way of what the music required. He had a great wit, a great sense of humor, and was at his core a kind, warm person, with a passion for music that was still there after years of service. He was a pleasure to sit next to, as I did many times during my two years in Grand Rapids. Very professional, extremely accommodating, and focused on helping to make our product the very best it could be. Rest in peace Steve. Know you have many people who miss how you touched their lives.
- Nicholas Finch, Principal Cello/Louisville Orchestra
Steve was an original who wasn’t afraid of taking chances. He and the many different cellos he played during his time with the GRS were often provocative. Among the cellos were an old Italian, an old German, a carbon fiber, and most recently a Holocaust cello. He was an edgy personality with a tender side. Although he was extremely opinionated, he also recognized the richness of the many schools, styles, and approaches to orchestral playing. He was a mainstay for many years in the cello section and will be missed.
- Christina Fong, violin
I have great musical memories with Steve from the 1990’s. We performed beautiful chamber music of Mendelssohn, Faure and Elgar for recitals in Grand Rapids. He was always wonderful to play and work with. Steve is someone I have known since I first began playing with the orchestra 40 years ago. He has always been supportive of me as a violinist and was such an important member of our symphony. I believe Steve will never be forgotten.
- Caroline Freihofer, violin
For 40 years I admired Steve's beautiful cello playing and his high musical standards. When I was new in the orchestra, Steve was already somewhat of a veteran, even though he was a little younger. In order to fill out the season in those days, we did some chamber music concerts. I could always depend on Steve to give me honest feedback and tell me exactly what was not working in a particular piece, or how to make it better. This feedback was helpful. Over the years, our most pleasant conversations had to do with family members, and what they were up to. It was evident to me that his family was very important to him and was his greatest joy in life.
- Christine Golden, violin
Steve was such a staple at his chair backstage. I will miss seeing him there. He also had quite the presence on stage and was always one to correct a problem. Hearing those recordings he made with Roger McNaughton was very moving. I knew he worked with him, but did not know how beautiful they were! I worked with him a few times at gigs. His musicianship was inspiring.
- Kathleen Gomez, oboe/English horn
I am so grateful for my colleague and friend Steve Van Ravenswaay. For over four decades, I have had the privilege of working with Steve in the Grand Rapids Symphony and in numerous smaller ensembles for other gigs, such as Festival of the Arts and recitals. He was a stunningly talented musician. In addition, I was often impressed with his knowledge of non-music things. Back in the '80s and early '90s, when I lived on the same street as Steve, I witnessed his preparation, building and planting of a large beautiful garden in his backyard. Also, I loved the fact that he still liked people even if they disagreed with him. I will very much miss Steve.
- Judith Kemph, flute/piccolo
Steve was my stand partner for my first season in the orchestra, and, despite my being intimidated by his strong opinions, totally confident playing, and typically gruff attitude, my experiences alongside him were crucial in developing my own confidence playing in a section and in keeping a musical integrity to what we do as individuals in the orchestra. I'll miss his sarcastic humor and his ability to hear ensemble issues across the entire orchestra, and I think I'll spend the rest of my life trying to match the ease with which he held the bow in his hand!
- Andrew Plaisier, cello
Steve Van Ravenswaay will be greatly missed in the Grand Rapids Symphony. I had the good fortune to work with Steve personally in the Beyond Classical educational ensemble, and really enjoyed the great rapport he engaged in with students of all ages. His many talents extended beyond the cello. Steve also produced my first solo CD back in 2010 and did a phenomenal job on everything from audio quality to cover jacket design. I'll be forever grateful for Steve's professionalism, artistry and sense of humor.
- Eric Tanner, violin
Steve had a hand in giving me my first job. I sat next to him countless times during my time with the Grand Rapids Symphony. He had a dry humor and strong opinions, but Steve was one of the people who made me feel most welcome as a newcomer to the orchestra, to Michigan, and to the professional symphony world. I really enjoyed sitting next to him, and I cherish my memories as his stand partner. I am so saddened by his departure from this earth and send my deepest condolences to his family, including the GRS family. He will be so missed.
- Hannah Thomas Hollands, Acting Section Cello/Utah Symphony
When the GRS education quartets were first put into place forty years ago, Steve was in a quartet with my roommate, Cindy Rosin Berginc, and to quote Steve, his "first adult friend," Ron Whaley. They practiced in my home and had an excellent quartet, and a good time. Steve was always a superb player, and he added beautifully to our GRS cello section's fabulous sound. I have a personal thanks posthumously to Steve's dad, who helped by referring me for a public school teaching position in music early in my career. Steve's dad was a wonderful music educator for decades. Now they are united again. I'm certain, making joyous music together.
- Collette VandenBerg, violin