Jeanne Skrocki: A violinist flying high
Jeanne Skrocki remembers a time when she had given up the violin and might not ever play again.
Twenty-five years later, she is the now assistant concertmaster of Pacific Symphony, a spot that seems like it was reserved especially for her, empty for five years before she filled it in 1993. This week, she will be returning home with her daughter, who is also a professional violinist, and the rest of the Symphony from their recent five city tour in China.
Before jetting to China, Skrocki learned that she would lead Pacific Symphony as concertmaster for its first international tour since going to Europe in 2006. Originally, when auditioning for the orchestra in 1992, she placed fourteenth violin.
Before that audition, Skrocki had not practiced the violin for ten years while she was exploring other interests as a college student and after graduation.
“I got the violin out, dusted it off and I started practicing. It was horrible, it was really awful. I couldn’t do anything. It was a solid six months before it even was enjoyable again,” she said. “I just worked really hard, got back into shape, took the audition and here I am now leading the orchestra on tour.”
Skrocki began playing the violin at age five with her mother, renowned violinist and teacher Bonnie Bell. Later, when she turned ten, she began studying with her stepfather, Manuel Compinsky of the famed Compinsky Trio.
When she was eight years old Skrocki remembers other famous musicians coming over to her Los Angeles home to play chamber music with her father almost every week. With this musical upbringing, Skrocki went on to play chamber and then orchestral music as a teenager with various youth orchestras and ensembles.
“Here I had my mother and my stepfather,” she said. “All of this music going on, he was teaching, she was teaching, chamber music, I was just immersed, completely immersed.”
Having already made her solo debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and practicing the violin for six hours a day, Skrocki landed a spot in Jascha Heifetz’s legendary master classes at USC when she was just 16.
Although Heifetz was known for a strict teaching style and she had to prepare a tremendous amount of repertoire for the bi-weekly meetings, Skrocki called Heifetz’s classes a magical experience. In fact, she recalled one of her favorite memories was when he asked her to accompany him on the piano on a piece she had never heard before.
“I thought, ‘OK, I may not get all the notes but he is not going to lose me,’ and he didn’t,” she said. “It was a very proud moment for me and I can say I accompanied Jascha Heifetz on the piano.”
Despite having a music career that was taking off and accomplishing her dream of working with Heifetz, she ultimately decided to quit the violin at 18. Skrocki was having what she described as an “identity crisis.”
“I thought, ‘I’m not too sure if this is really what I want to do for my whole life.’ And being so young and not having done anything else, I decided the way to find out was actually to quit the violin and go find other things to do,” she said.
Since she was not going to be in music, Skrocki said she needed to obtain a degree.
As a little girl she recalled flying to Ventura to eat breakfast with her father on the weekends. He worked on aircraft engines as a mechanical engineer. Though unsure of what to major in at first, she eventually decided to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“I liked math, I liked physics and I loved flying and airplanes,” she said. “That’s exactly how it happened.”
After four years of study, Skrocki received her degree and went on to work on wind tunnel testing as an aerodynamic engineer at the small San Diego company Teledyne-Ryan Aeronautical.
“I loved it,” she said. “I got to travel all over the country, testing models, presenting data, it was fun.”
After working with Teledyne-Ryan Aeronautical Company for three years, she moved to Mozambique. For two years she helped aid in food lifts with her husband. When their term ended in Mozambique, they eventually returned to Redlands, where Skrocki would become the artist in residence and concertmaster for the Redlands Symphony in the following years.
While attending a concert of a close friend, Roger Wilkie, the concertmaster of the Long Beach Symphony, Skrocki met Dana Freeman, a violinist in Pacific Symphony.
In what Skrocki described as another “crossroad” in her life, Freeman convinced her to audition for Pacific Symphony. She spent a year in the fourteenth chair, then won the position as the assistant concertmaster.
She went on to work in Hollywood studio orchestras and became the first on call for film composer John Williams. During her career as a studio musician she recorded hundreds of films, sharing the same stand with her childhood friend Wilkie, including in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” one of her biggest highlights.
She remembered coming in one Monday morning while recording the soundtrack for that film and instead seeing the original score to ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ on her stand. Skrocki learned that she and the rest of the orchestra would be re-recording it with the local musicians, replacing the original London Symphony.
“They were recording it so that it would be by us here in L.A. along with all the rest of the music (from ‘Crystal Skull’) being from L.A.,” she said. These days, chances are when you hear the original “Raiders” march, Skrocki’s playing it.
Skrocki would also work on the Grammy and Emmy Awards and the Jay Leno show. Aside from her Hollywood career, she successfully went on to work with the California Quartet and landed another concertmaster position with the Opera Pacific Orchestra for 12 years.
After resigning from her teaching role at the University of Redlands this past year and deciding to leave the Hollywood music studios, Skrocki said it has given her more time to focus on Pacific Symphony and to work towards her next goal of becoming a public speaker for music.
“I’ve spent a wild ride of a career in many different fields at this point,” she said. “Music really is important and I’m worried that we’re losing that and so I would like to be a part of saving that in some way. I would like to have the opportunity to go around and play for people and speak to them about the value of music and why it is important.”