FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — La Porte County native Steven Kamradt’s talent with the viola has turned heads and perked-up ears since he was a child.
Only a few weeks after he began taking lessons, the third-grader taught himself the vibrato, an advanced technique used to alter the pitch of string instruments. Kamradt had observed his instructor, Rene DeRover, during a demonstration, and figured, with practice, he could do it, too.
When he first showed off his vibrato during practice, though, DeRover chastised him, saying, “You can’t do that!”
“She then broke out into a smile and said, ‘Do it again,’” he recalled.
Kamradt’s nearly 50-year love affair with string instruments includes many similar memories – anecdotes he is sharing with readers.
His new book, “Once a Student, Now a Teacher,” is a compilation of the North Carolina resident’s days as a student and teacher of music. It’s available at bookstores and online from various retailers.
“It’s a hodge-podge of different stories,” said Kamradt, who teaches at the Snyder Music Academy in Fayetteville. “Some are serious, some have a message, and some of them are fun and humorous.”
Readers can expect to read about plenty of faces and places from the Maple City, where Kamradt first began his journey into orchestral music.
Growing up in Kingsford Heights, he attended school in La Porte. In third grade, he learned about string instruments when DeRover, the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra concertmaster, performed for his class, he said.
“I was so taken with the sound of string instruments,” he said. “I told myself this is something I have got to do.”
His parents rented a small viola and signed him up for group lessons with DeRover. He quickly blossomed under her tutelage and that of a private instructor, Susan Carpentier.
Thankfully, his parents, Roy and Evelyn, continued to nurture his growing passion. Kamradt recalled his folks buying him a recording of Bach’s famous “Chaconne,” which he would listen to practically every day.
“I know I drove my parents crazy,” he said. “I just couldn’t get the beautiful sound of the violin out of my head.”
In his freshman year in high school, the director of the La Porte County Symphony asked student to join the group. Kamradt became the youngest member of the orchestra, playing and learning alongside musicians with a wealth of experience, he said.
“It was a little bit intimidating, but it was just about the best learning experience I could have hoped for,” he said. “I was really grateful for the opportunity.”
During this time, he also performed with classmates in the high school orchestra and volunteered to play in the pit during school musicals.
Thanks in part to an LCSO scholarship, Kamradt studied music at Valparaiso University after graduating from La Porte High in 1976. While in college, he picked up the violin.
Though he graduated with a degree in musical performance in 1980, Kamradt decided to pursue a career outside the fine arts. Inspired by his family – including his father, a veteran of World War II – he enlisted in the Air Force.
“I felt a duty, an obligation, to serve my country,” he said.
After basic training, he was assigned to serve overseas in Europe as a medic. He spent more than five years in Germany before his transfer to England, where he spent another three years.
While in the United Kingdom, Kamradt took music lessons at the prestigious University of Oxford. It was mainly to pass the time, though, as Britain only had four TV stations, he joked.
“I never stopped playing [music], ever,” he said.
The airman would later return to the U.S., bouncing around different bases before his assignment to Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, where he retired in 2001, he said.
Two years later, Kamradt became an instructor at the recently opened Snyder Music Academy, where he has worked ever since. The job gives him the chance to work with young musical neophytes and college-aged students looking to hone their skills.
“That is one of the beautiful things about teaching here – there’s not just one level of student. There’s a huge range,” he said. “It keeps life interesting as a teacher.”
Several years ago, Kamradt got the urge to put his experiences into writing, though he had never been much of a scribe – in the military, he wrote his masterpieces in “bullet points,” he joked.
He spent three months writing his collection, and, at the advice of a friend, submitted the manuscript to Newman Springs Publishing. Though fully expecting rejection, he said, the company was impressed enough by its humor and heart to pick it up for printing and distribution.
“I hope that others can learn from these stories,” he said. “I hope they can get a chuckle or experience some joy from reading [them].”
If those readers are from La Porte or Valparaiso, and share some of the same fond memories, all the better, he said.
For more information, visit newmansprings.com/release/?book=once-a-student-now-a-teacher.