DASSEL, MN At 12 years old (birthday is today April 27), Dassel-Cokato sixth-grader Soren Bortnem is already an accomplished fiddle player.
“He’s such a showman and fun to work with,” said Jenine Nordquist, director of “Always . . . Patsy Cline.”
Soren is one of six musicians who will perform in the Patsy Cline show at the Hutchinson Event Center Friday, May 4 and Saturday, May 5 at 7 p.m. Attendees will learn about the story of country music singer Patsy Cline, and hear approximately 24 hit songs.
Soren, the son of Peter and Kristin Bortnem of Dassel, said he’s enjoying the rehearsals so far.
“I’ve really never played music exactly like this, but I’ve been into jazz for awhile,” Soren said, noting that in addition to playing fiddle, he’s planning to dance for a few of the songs.
Nordquist selected Soren for the Patsy Cline show after hearing about him from Jack Noenning, co-founder of the Glencoe-based music group, Community Strings. Nordquist saw Soren perform during the group’s Christmas concert, and was “very impressed.”
“He’s one to keep your eye on,” she said. “I feel like we’re lucky to get him early on in his career.”
Dedication and determination
Soren began taking violin lessons at age 3 from Nathan Wilson, a teacher based in the Twin Cities.
“He comes to Cokato to teach lessons once a week,” Soren said. “He’s an awesome teacher.”
Wilson teaches using the Suzuki method, an approach developed more than 50 years ago by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki.
“The Suzuki method is increasingly challenging,” Soren said. “I’m always learning new techniques, new types of music, and different styles.”
According to the Suzuki Association of the Americas, Suzuki based his approach on the belief that “Musical ability is not an inborn talent but an ability which can be developed. Any child who is properly trained can develop musical ability, just as all children develop the ability to speak their mother tongue. The potential of every child is unlimited.”
Soren initially learned to play by ear, then started reading music about age 5. For the first few years, he said the music all sounded “pretty much the same” and was “pretty screechy, because you have a super small violin.”
He admitted he sometimes felt discouraged when he couldn’t keep up with his older cousins, but he persisted anyway. By the time Soren was 6, he was able to play classical pieces.
“I think there were definitely times when I wanted to quit,” he recalled, adding that his parents encouraged him to stick with it.
“I’m super happy they did, because I love music,” he commented.
Soren has a 4-year-old cousin who has been playing for about one year, and Soren has been encouraging him to keep going, as well.
Many of Soren’s other family members are musicians, too. His dad plays guitar and piano, and his mom and 10-year-old brother, Charlie, play violin.
“I play with Charlie quite a bit,” Soren said.
A few of the places Soren has performed through the years include churches, nursing homes, and accompanying school choirs.
Being on stage took some getting used to, but Soren said, “I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t really get that fear anymore. I still feel nervous, but not scared.”
For anyone who is learning to play an instrument, Soren’s advice is to practice consistently. Personally, he commits to one hour each day Monday through Friday, and 50 minutes over the weekend. He also plays at Community Strings on Sundays.
“You’ve got to put in the work,” he said.
Fortunately for Soren, the work is also fun.
“I just love playing the songs I get to play,” he said.