Kathleen Brousek and her Violin
Relaxing by a crackling campfire, Kathleen Brousek tucked her violin under her chin and began to fiddle.
As the smoke and notes lifted and drifted through the trees, something unusual happened. From across the campgrounds came a man with a fiddle to join her in harmony. Then a second violinist appeared, followed by a percussionist with spoons. Brousek was unaware that a group of traveling folk musicians had parked their vans at Indian Caves.
“They heard me and came out to play,” she said. “That was awesome.”
She may be just a sophomore at Gross Catholic, but Brousek is an experienced and skilled violinist with a wide-ranging repertoire. From jazz to jigs and classical to country, she plays them all from memory or sight-reading.
“She’s a natural,” said her dad, Bob Brousek, a 1990 Gross Catholic alumni.
While she appreciates compositions by Mozart, Beethoven and Vivaldi, she’d rather be playing “Irish Washerwoman,” “Tennessee Waltz” or “Whiskey Before Breakfast.” And if she had to pick a favorite style?
“Fiddle is my favorite,” Kathleen said.
She’s a member of the Big Muddy Fiddle Club, a group of about 20 fiddlers who gather once a month to share different songs.
“Everyone is patient with each other,” she said, “because we want to pass along the tunes to each other.”
American fiddle playing is as old as the earliest pioneers and settlers, kept alive by one generation teaching another. It’s a big reason why Big Muddy players are happy to see Kathleen.
“I’m usually the youngest,” she said.
A fiddler’s camp in the Old Avoca Schoolhouse in Avoca, Nebraska, nurtured her youthful excitement in the energizing music. Since then, she’s taken her fiddle playing to a whole new level by attending the Old Time Fiddle Camp in Bethel, Missouri. She was one of 18 students, paired with five master violinists, working eight hours a day to learn more than 100 fiddle tunes – all by ear.
“That was a real, cool experience that I would not have expected,” she said.
Her interest in the violin began around age 5 at her great-grandfather’s home when she saw one played for the first time on TV. Then, she heard a violinist perform live at the Joslyn Museum during a trip with her Girl Scout troop. Her parents enrolled her in Arts for All, an Omaha nonprofit that promotes arts education. For $15-a-lesson, she began to learn the basics with the aid of a college student.
Feeding her childhood interest were big movie musicals that her mom, Tracey Brousek, a theology teacher at Gross Catholic, would pop into the TV at home. Tracey, always a drama teacher at heart, loves Rodgers and Hammerstein productions, along with “Mary Poppins” and other movie musicals.
Since third grade, Kathleen has been training under her mentor Mindy Hunke, who she credits for unleashing her passion for the instrument. One of the many skills she taught her was to perform. As a little girl, Hunke’s students would entertain residents at senior living centers during Christmas.
Sharing her music with others is something she does often at the high school. Just last January, she competed in the annual Catholic Schools Week talent contest, representing Middleton House by performing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” with percussionists banging on buckets.
Each week, she plays her violin at school Mass. “Here I am Lord” and “We Are One Body” emanate easily from her bow.
“We do different songs each week, so I know about 50,” she said.
There was a brief period, when Kathleen was a St. Columbkille student, that she considered not attending Gross. Her dad is a teacher at Westside High School, where they have string music. Gross Catholic does not. She needed to decide, do I go to school with dad or mom?
The smaller school with the Catholic environment won. Besides, Gross Catholic is only 5 minutes from her house, making it more convenient to get involved in school functions.
“Gross makes it easy to get involved,” she said. “They really welcome my violin, my fiddle.”
Becca Jackson-York, director of vocal music and theater arts, adapts to what talents each student brings to school, Kathleen said. She created room for her to accompany the choir and perform at events, like the Christmas Cabaret.
Band teacher, Bob Lienemann, is helping Kathleen expand her musical talents. Since the violin is not a good marching band instrument, she is learning the saxophone. He helped her try out a variety of instruments. After three months of summertime lessons at Dietz Music, she was ready to play in the band.
“It was actually not that bad,” she said. Except for the fingering, much of what she already knew about playing the violin transferred to the saxophone. “I learned to read sheet music when I learned to read.”
Besides providing Kathleen with private saxophone lessons, Lienemann has created a small jazz band that has Kathleen and others at school by 7 a.m. Sometimes, she gets to incorporate her violin into the jazz sound.
“Mr. Lienemann has been a very positive influence,” Tracey said.
When she’s not playing her fiddle, she’s taking a full day of classes, working at St. Bernadette’s after-school daycare, performing in the pep band, or working behind the scenes on the school musical. Will she get to play her violin in one of Gross Catholic’s upcoming spring musicals?
“I’m holding out for ‘Fiddler on the Roof.”
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About Gross Catholic
One of Nebraska’s premier private schools, Gross Catholic High School is a faith and family-based community committed to developing Christian leaders through academic excellence in the Marianist tradition. Recognized locally for its outstanding education, welcoming atmosphere, competitive sports programs, engaging activities, robust faith, and boundless service work, Gross Catholic has energized the Omaha area for over 50 years. We are Faithful, Compassionate, and Driven! We are Gross Catholic!
To discover the Gross Catholic difference, contact us at 402.734.2000 or visit our Admissions page at grosscatholic.org.