WORDS: Kara Chalmers
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
In summer, the Pops Orchestra in Bradenton runs “Camping with the Pops,” an intensive program that gives kids a chance to learn from, rehearse with, and perform alongside professional musicians for three hours every night for a week. While the camp brochure says it’s open to students ages 12-18, this past summer, the youngest cellist was only 10. Wrigley Rinsema, a fifth grader at Bradenton Christian School, is that good.
“For his age, he has great posture, great hand position and a beautiful tone,” said Dr. Robyn Bell, the Pops’ conductor and the director of the summer camp. Bell also conducts the State College of Florida Bradenton Symphony Orchestra, the SCF Symphonic Band, and she is the SCF music department chair. Although trumpet is her main instrument, Bell said she took cello lessons in college. “Wrigley’s better than I ever was,” Bell said of his cello playing. “You can see it and you can hear it.” There’s more to Wrigley, though, than musicality. “There was never a time he didn’t have a smile on his face,” Bell said. “He has this sort of aura about him.”
In camp, Bell said, Wrigley was determined, took instruction graciously and was never too shy to ask questions. “He’s very inquisitive,” Bell said. “He’s also thoughtful in his answers. He thinks very deeply for a 10-year-old.” To Bell, Wrigley not only has a future as a cellist. She thinks he could go a step further. “Wrigley has that intangible,” she said. “He’s got this warm, welcoming, inviting persona. He would make a really good conductor because he works so well with other people.”
Upon meeting Wrigley, it is impossible not to notice how much he smiles, and how comfortable, confident, and happy he is when he plays the cello. There’s no bravado, no boastfulness. His manner suggests he has no idea how exceptional he is.
In his mind, it seems, he’s just a regular kid, one who loves playing Mario and Zelda, and who is crazy about thrill rides – especially Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens. He’s into the Wings of Fire and Percy Jackson books, and likes math best in school. He’s built tons of Lego vehicles and his favorite band is Imagine Dragons. He loves boating, tubing, and swimming, as well as watching the Chicago Cubs with his family (his parents are such big fans that they named their son after the Cub’s field).
What’s special about Wrigley is his dedication to the cello. He takes orchestra in school and assists his instructor by helping the beginner cellists. This year, Wrigley will not only be a member of his grade-level orchestra, but he will also perform with the middle and high school orchestras. Also, Wrigley is part of the Sarasota Youth Orchestra, which rehearses once a week for two hours, and he takes private lessons weekly. In all, he spends some nine hours a week on the cello outside the home, his mother, Nikki, said, plus 30 to 45 minutes of daily, at-home practice. Also, Wrigley performs in several concerts a year for all the groups mentioned above. When asked what he likes best about playing the cello, Wrigley said, “When you play as an entire orchestra, there’s a lot of stuff that happens. And it sounds really good.”
All in the Family
Wrigley’s musical abilities are not that surprising once you learn that his talent, plus his work ethic and determination, come from both sides of his family. Nikki is a professional violinist, who plays for the Pops Orchestra in Bradenton, as well as for the Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus & Orchestra. She’s taught private violin lessons for more than 20 years. In college, she also played the drums. Wrigley’s father, Nathan, grew up playing the trumpet and piano, and he and Nikki met in their college band. Nathan has one sister who plays the violin and another who has a Ph.D. in music and has written a book on teaching music in the digital age.
Also, Wrigley has two older siblings who are musicians. Joy, 16, plays piano, and she is involved in theater and singing at Bradenton Christian School. Annie, 12, plays the viola and violin, plus she runs cross country and track at the school.
Nikki was Wrigley’s first cello teacher and she taught him for four years, beginning the day after he turned five. “I’ve never seen a student understand an instrument like Wrigley did from the beginning,” Nikki said. She said she chose the cello for her son partly because it’s her favorite instrument to listen to, and partly because she thought Wrigley would be physically well-suited to it: he has large hands, which is an advantage. “I chose it for him, and he took to it right away,” Nikki said. “He loves it.” When Wrigley turned nine, Nikki found Sue Stein, a cellist with whom Nikki performs, to begin private lessons with Wrigley. “He was beyond what I could teach him on the cello,” Nikki said.
A Musical Future
Janet Shell, the Strings Orchestra Director at Bradenton Christian School, first met Wrigley three years ago, when he demonstrated the cello for her incoming fifth graders. Wrigley was only seven. It turned out his performance influenced five students to take up the cello, according to Shell. “I thought he was incredibly advanced for his age,” Shell said.
This year, Wrigley will be serving as Shell’s assistant in the Beginning Strings Class. He will be helping to teach the other cellists, in the modest and sensitive way that makes him a “favorite” among the students, Shell said. According to Shell, who has a degree in music education and plays the violin professionally, Wrigley “undoubtably” could have a career as a cellist. “As a cellist, his technique is impeccable, his sight-reading and performance are above-average for his age,” Shell said. “I think that Wrigley probably will be a well-known professional musician one day.”