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Violinist's passion holds longest note.

Byline: PROFILE by The Register-Guard

Name: Amy Jo Butler, 69, Springfield

Claim to fame: Butler helped found the Eugene Symphony, now in its 40th season, and is one of only two members who've been with the group that entire time. A violinist, Butler has performed in every symphony concert over those 40 years. She continues to give private lessons, and also helps manage the symphony's youth education program, which gives thousands of children from across the state each year a taste of live classical music.

Growing up: Butler grew up in Everett, Wash., and first picked up a violin at age 5. She got serious in high school, after playing with all-state and all-Northwest orchestras, and spending a summer at the prestigious Interlochen National Music Camp in Michigan.

Why the violin? "Because my father played it, and because it felt very expressive to me." Butler also briefly played the French horn, because she wanted to march in the school band, but gave it up when all the band uniforms proved too large for her small frame.

How the Eugene Symphony got started: Butler played in the University of Oregon's Eugene University Symphony - back when that group still allowed townspeople to play - shortly after she and new husband Richard, a UO law school student, first arrived in Eugene in 1956. After a few years away, they returned in 1962 and ultimately hosted a meeting of community musicians interested in starting a symphony. A board of directors was named, and the symphony performed its first concerts in local high school auditoriums.

Never missed a concert: When Butler needed elective surgery one year, she persuaded her doctor, who typically did surgeries on Thursday, to move the surgery date to Friday - so that she could perform that Thursday night, and be sufficiently recuperated to also perform the following month.

Why still perform? "Oh, I love it. When everything else goes wrong in my life, I can hardly wait to get back to rehearsal. I love being in the middle of that sound, of being challenged to learn a difficult piece, of being part of a group expressing what some composer wanted to say. It's just a passion, that's all."

Her first student: While briefly living in an apartment complex in Virginia in 1960, a violin-playing janitor offered to polish all of the Butlers' hardwood floors in exchange for lessons.

Why it's important to expose young people to live music: "I tell kids the music is there for them to express their sadness or anger or happiness or whatever. There are many things you don't want to talk about that you can express in music, and kids need those outlets - a lot."

Favorite composer: Butler has many, but says she's especially moved by Mahler's "hauntingly beautiful" compositions.

Family life: The Butlers have four grown children, including youngest son Matt of Eugene, a professional drummer/conductor who in 2001 founded The Everyone Orchestra, a revolving cast of noted musicians brought together for festival jams and special benefits. The Butlers also have six grandchildren, including 11-year-old Wyatt Nelson of Eugene who, like his grandmother, plays the violin.

- Jeff Wright


Amy Jo Butler is the only musician to be a part of the Eugene Symphony (which she helped to found) throughout its 40 years.
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 4, 2006
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