Offstage: Mary and Craig
Behind-the-scenes with the Omaha Symphony
Not up close but still personal: Mary and Craig Bircher
It's become a trite saying now, but we can confirm—the times we are living in are strange. Though 2020 has looked much different than we envisioned it, the Omaha Symphony is back performing live music after months of canceled performances! While we were waiting to bring our musicians back to the hall safely, we met some of them at their homes for a physically distanced catch-up and portrait session. We're sharing those photos with you in a series we call Offstage!
Our next featured musicians are Mary and Craig Bircher. One of several married couples in the orchestra, the Birchers are some of the longest-standing members of the Omaha Symphony! We met them at their beautiful historic home in Midtown Omaha.
Mary (Principal Harp) and Craig (Associate Principal Trumpet) came to Omaha separately in 1981 after winning their respective jobs with the Omaha Symphony. They were married several years later and have been with the symphony ever since!
With extra time around the house this summer, Craig has put lots of work into their historic home. Their historic home was built in 1892 by attorney Charles Baldwin when he moved to Omaha from Ohio. The Birchers have preserved the Eastlake Victorian-style charm in their renovation projects over the years.
Mary talked to us about Omaha, why she chose the harp, and the composers that made her fall in love with classical music.
How did you choose your instrument?
I chose the harp back when I was in 4th grade and a student in the Richmond Public Schools in Virginia. We were tested for musical aptitude and then allowed to choose an instrument to start in 5th grade, and harp was on the list. I remember that I selected harp as first choice and flute as second choice.
As a young girl, I remembered seeing someone playing the harp at an outdoor summer concert venue near my house and this image just stuck in my mind. I was very lucky as the Richmond Public Schools were just starting a harp program, and I was in the first class of harp students. The program has grown and flourished and is thriving today.
My parents were surprised when I chose harp but supported me wholeheartedly, not only buying me a harp, but also trading the family sedan for a station wagon to haul it around.
What are some your favorite Omaha restaurants?
I have two favorite Omaha restaurants: La Buvette in the Old Market and Mark’s Bistro in Dundee.
What’s your favorite thing about Omaha?
Omaha is a wonderful city, so supportive of the arts and a great place to raise a family. Craig and I live in the Field Club neighborhood of Midtown and we have lots of wonderful neighbors. Our children could safely roam the neighborhood and had a whole gang of friends. It was like Mayberry with shady streets, a beautiful park, swimming pool, neighborhood porch parties. We love the older homes — our house is in the Eastlake Style and was built in 1892.
What piece made you fall in love with classical music?
Ravel's Introduction and Allegro—an amazingly beautiful piece of chamber music featuring harp. As a teenager I remember sitting on my bed, listening to the Ravel and imagining myself playing it.
Also, playing anything by Mahler in the orchestra. As a high school junior, I attended Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina, and was first introduced to Mahler. I’d never heard anything like that before! Mahler’ s music really drew me in. Mahler wrote very unique harp parts. I love the colors his music creates and at the first sound of Mahler I was hooked and knew I wanted to play in an orchestra someday.
Mary and Craig in front of their garage, which serves as Mary's harp studio.
Meet the rest of the orchestra here.