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Forte: Salvation through creativity and music


Denise Dillenbeck, Yakima Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster. (Courtesy of Gary Miller)

I interpret other artists’ work for a living. Imagination and curiosity are my tools, as well as technical facility on my instrument.

It’s deeply meaningful to enter a composer’s world, explore and try to understand it, and be a truthful guide for others to visit it. It’s about bringing people together and creating bonds of commonality. It’s about inspiring, comforting and challenging myself and my community.

I love this work.

But this year, for the first time, I wanted to try creating my own music. So when I found myself in a swampy, sticky depression that was a reaction to the day’s news and trouble in the world, I didn’t call a friend to talk it through, or drown my sorrows in ice cream or television. I sat down and put some words on paper. Looking for the next right word felt like following a treasure map. It was cathartic, but also fun, to express my truth creatively, instead of just stewing in my feelings.

I sent the finished words to my daughter, who sent me back a recording of herself singing them at the piano, and I was astounded.

The next time I felt that emotional current strike, I heard a melody in my head as I wrote down the words. I took my phone and recorded myself singing it, and marveled that the music seemed to just be uncovering itself; I knew what the notes were that would open my heart and allow others inside, and I just needed to let it all loose. I cried while doing it. And it was fun.

It was so much fun that it led me to want to know more, and I began playing with GarageBand, learning how to use digital tools to record these little worlds so I could share them.

All of this has been a powerful transformative experience. There were aspects of trusting myself and following the little zing of pleasure when it appeared that allowed me to engage my creativity instead of collapsing in despair. Making something new out of my feelings saved me.

To be alive is to create. Everyone can do it. What a revelation.


Denise Dillenbeck is the Yakima Symphony Orchestra concertmaster. Learn more at

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