Heart Strings

In spite of being warned to find something more practical to pursue, violist Diedre Buckley followed her passion for music to great opportunities and a fulfilling career.

I am a violist—a member of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I live in Madison with Cathy Cullen, my partner of 18 years, and our “furkids;” and I spend my time teaching, practicing and performing great music. I am so grateful for the life that I have today, the life that I dreamed of when I was 17 years old.

When I was a very little girl, I loved to sing and dance. A relative who was a music teacher suggested to my parents that they should get me lessons, but my parents paid no attention. When I had the opportunity to learn violin in 4th grade, my parents discouraged me, thinking that I wouldn’t practice and would drop it after a few weeks (as my sister had). I begged and pleaded and finally convinced them to let me try, and I practiced so much that by the middle of the year I was moved to the 5th grade orchestra. I continued to make rapid progress, becoming a soloist—both at my school in 8th and 9th grade, and with our local municipal band—and concertmaster of the all-district orchestra; by age 15, I was a member of two college-level orchestras.

As it became time to think about college and what I wanted to do with my life, I thought deeply and decided that I would be happy if I was playing music, even if I wasn’t making a lot of money. I decided that if I was not making music, I would not be happy, even if I was making a lot of money. The adults in my life were quick to point out how naïve I was, that I just didn’t understand how the world works, and they pressured me to choose a more practical career path.

I am so grateful today that I managed to follow my heart and pursue a career in music. I earned a master’s degree at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and my doctorate at U.W.-Madison. Along the way I was trained by world-class musicians and teachers and have had many unforgettable experiences. I have made many sacrifices, too: being a musician means working evenings and weekends, when everyone else is relaxing. I have lost count of how many birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, etc. that I have missed. Still, the few times in my life that I have tried to find another kind of work besides music only taught me that I was right when I was 17: I am not a happy person if I am not playing music.

My life in music has taken me across the U.S. to Alaska, Asia, and Europe. I have played chamber music for Steven Spielberg at his house. I have played string quartets for George Harrison, Gary Wright and Elton John, and I have been in the band for Liberace, Tony Bennett, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor, to name just a few. When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I played chamber music for events in Napa and Sonoma Valleys. I was even on Studs Terkel’s radio show in Chicago.

In Madison, I have the honor of performing at the beautiful Overture Center and sharing the stage with some of the greatest artists in the world. I also have the opportunity to pass on my training to young musicians coming up: in addition to teaching my private students, I coach chamber music for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and teach for UW-Madison Summer Music Clinic. I am so grateful for the invaluable education I have been given, and I am happy to be able to mentor the next generation. In fact, I am now working with musicians whom I coached when they were students.

In the end, my family was very proud of me and my accomplishments, and I am grateful to them for ultimately giving me the support I needed to achieve my goals. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner. While I never encourage my students to pursue a career in music, my advice to anyone is this: know yourself, know who you are and who and/or what you want to be. Then devote yourself completely to realizing your dreams, regardless what anyone else says. Have the courage to be who you are, and live your dreams!