FARGO - When the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra gives its season finale performances soon, it will do so without its longest-serving musician.
For the first time in 59 years, Carole Nelson will be in the audience watching instead of on stage playing her viola.
Nelson, who's performed with the symphony almost continuously since she was a high school freshman, is now 76 years old.
Her final symphony concert was in March, a decision made due to the strain on her arms from long rehearsals and shows.
"When I get into two hours, they're done. You know, literally too painful to play," Nelson said.
The move means another chapter for her and an opportunity for someone else.
"Some young viola player who's dying to play in the symphony now can because there's an open spot," she said, laughing.
The retired orchestra teacher will still be a part of Dakota Rose String Quartet, performing at weddings and receptions and at church, and she'll keep giving private lessons.
Linda Boyd, the symphony's executive director, said Nelson's impact goes far beyond what she's done on stage.
"Carole is absolutely one of the unsung musical heroes of our community," Boyd said. "So many of her students went on to accomplish great things."
Spot earned in high school
Nelson was introduced to the orchestra as a first grader at Clara Barton Elementary School in Fargo and by fourth grade, she knew she wanted to be an orchestra teacher.
Her own teacher at the time was married to the symphony conductor and helped Nelson fine tune her skills.
"You see, I had an 'in,'" Nelson said with a wide smile.
She earned a spot on the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony as a ninth grader at Fargo Central High School in the mid-1950s, she said, and by the time she went to college, the standard repertoire was "a friend."
For her, music is exciting, rewarding and a form of therapy.
"You play a concert, and when you're done, you have this feeling of being filled up," Nelson said, an experience she draws on later if she comes across a rough spot in life.
Jane Linde Capistran and Mary Weisser, both of Dakota Rose String Quartet, are also longtime symphony mates of Nelson.
Weisser said the first word that comes to mind about Nelson is passion.
"She loves music, she knows her music, inside out," Weisser said.
Still a teacher
With that passion, Weisser said her friend will continue to train "the symphony of tomorrow."
Nelson taught orchestra locally in public and private schools for nearly 40 years, and taught both Capistran's and Weisser's daughters how to play the violin.
She's thrilled to keep up with former students, some of whom are playing professionally or have become orchestra teachers themselves.
Capistran said wherever they go, everyone knows Carole.
"She has touched so many lives in this community through her music. It's really pretty special," Capistran said.
The Fargo-Moorhead Symphony will soon hold its final performance of the season. The Grand Finale with pianist Claire Huangci happens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 15, at North Dakota State University's Festival Concert Hall.
Nelson said it might be tough being on the sidelines of the concert, but she'll enjoy just as much listening to her friends perform. "And when it's over you just think, 'I was a part of that,' you know?"