Jan Andrea Heirtzler

With the PSO since: 2009

Lives in: Durham, NH

At what age did you start playing the instrument you play in the PSO?

36! I had picked up the viola a little bit in my mid-twenties, but didn’t really make the switch until 2010.

Did you learn another instrument first? If so, which one? 

I started on the violin through a school program in Racine, WI, where I grew up. The music program there was amazing! (When I moved to rural New Hampshire, the only string players at my school were myself and a cellist, so it was quite a change.)

Why did you choose your current instrument? 

Having sampled the viola c-string years prior to switching, I knew there was something to it–that rich, deep sound really resonates with me. I’ve got an alto singing voice and had mostly played second violin, so the inner voices were already very familiar. And, as I’m 5’11” tall, it turns out the viola is more my size, too. When I pick up a violin now, it feels like a toy.

There’s something really special about the viola in both orchestral and chamber music. If a composer knows what to do with us, we can be little cellos, adding color to their lines. I enjoy that we often double the clarinet or English horn in orchestral music, but almost as often, we have our own little world, adding a color that no one else shares. It’s not showy, and people often don’t even realize it’s there, but if that middle voice were missing, you’d notice.

Do you play with other groups? If so, which ones? 

As I’m not a musician by trade, most of my other music making is with pickup chamber music organized by my friends. I’m occasionally lucky enough to play in a small orchestra for Portsmouth Pro Musica, and have traveled to New London to play Messiah with the Kearsage Chorale. Over the COVID shutdown, I had the unique privilege to play with a group of professional musician friends who were out of work, and we worked extensively on the Brahms string sextets–absolutely the best thing to come out of COVID for me. I’m always looking for more opportunities to play!

What do you like about playing with a symphony orchestra? 

As much as I love the challenge and intimacy of playing chamber music, there’s nothing like orchestral playing. Sometimes during a concert, it’ll hit me–the thousands of person-hours that go into a performance, all of us concentrating and striving and giving everything we’ve got for this one moment. A hundred people, single-mindedly producing something incredible and absolutely ephemeral, written by one person but brought to life by all of us together. I feel so, so fortunate to be able to experience that on a regular basis, and I guess as an amateur, I have the additional fortune that it never gets old.

How do you spend your time outside of the PSO? 

I’m the Coordinator for NH Space Grant Consortium, part of NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement. It’s part-time and mostly clerical on my part, but it’s still extremely cool to be able to work for NASA in even a small way. I also have my own little business, Jan Andrea Handmade, because I love to make things. I’ve been a sewist for decades, and after closing my baby sling business last year, now I sew little bags and accessories, and also make chainmaille jewelry. I’ve incorporated some music punnery into the naming of my products, because violists have to have a sense of humor.

What is your favorite piece to play on your instrument? 

I couldn’t possibly choose, but chamber pieces by Brahms, Dvorak, and Schubert are always in my top 10. They all wrote fabulous viola parts.

Beyond musician, do you serve in any additional role(s) with the PSO? If so, describe what you do and/or your contributions in that capacity. 

I’ve been the music librarian for 10 years, since 2013. That’s been a wonderful challenge, and my favorite part is being able to see everyone’s parts — particularly the scores, since it helps me understand what’s going on beyond my own part, and I feel like I have a better appreciation of the music when I know where we’re supposed to fit in. 

I’ve also served on the Orchestra Committee since it was founded; we are, ideally, the link between the orchestra membership and the Board of Directors, taking the members’ concerns to the Board and vice-versa. Initially I had a seat on the Board in that capacity, but am now a full voting member of the Board, and have adjusted my Orchestra Committee role accordingly. Being on the Board has been a fascinating look behind the scenes, and has given me a whole new appreciation for all the work that goes into making our a orchestra successful non-profit organization. I’m really grateful for all the time that every member of the PSO puts in, and I look forward to many more years of playing and contributing!