A Ful(l)filled Life 6

A story of the creative culinary explorations of a professional violinist

Margaret Baldridge cannot remember a time in her life when she wasn’t playing the violin. It’s been her life, livelihood, passion. Every day since age 5. It’s had company, though. She has a passion for food and cooking, and it’s been with her for as long as she can remember. Food hasn’t been just sustenance; it’s been a creative endeavor shared and experienced through music.

“Growing up, we were always surrounded by food and music. It always went hand in hand,” Margaret said. She recalled spending time in her family’s garden in Iowa, creating recipes for 4-H projects and playing the violin. “Our family always had big gatherings. I can just remember my grandfather making caramel corn, my mom baking, and the rest of us sitting for hours and pitting cherries or snapping beans. It was just what we did.”

Today, Margaret is the lead violinist for the String Orchestra of the Rockies and a professor of violin and viola at the University of Montana, and she is living her most fulfilled life: one composed by music and made flavorful by cooking and sharing food with others.

“Cooking has become a way to relax and to have a tangible creative outlet,” she explained. “When you play music, you play it and then it’s out in the air. It’s gone, except maybe for a recording. But cooking is tangible—something you can see and touch and taste.”

On the one hand, cooking provides her with a sense of freedom and creativity that is all her own while music caters to her desire to be collaborative. Both endeavors sustain her as they represent art, creativity, and community.

In one way, the art of and creative expression through cooking and being a professional musician arrive in the opportunities to travel she has through her work. Each destination is a creative chance to explore new flavors, which she later integrates into her cooking, experimenting with spice combinations and striving to improve recipes with every rendition—much like a symphony.

Music’s beauty and power come together because of the combination of sounds each instrument makes, she said. Alone, the violin is beautiful. (Of course!) But, the overall sound of a piece of music is strengthened and improved with a piano or cello. The instruments work together to create balance and harmony. And, so it is with a dish; a symphony of flavors blend to create something beautiful and harmonious.

Margaret approaches music and cooking similarly. First, with a sense of carefulness. Later, her personality emerges in her interpretation of a new composition or recipe.

“Always, you have to be faithful to the composer,” she said. “So, playing a piece for the first time is like reading a new recipe,” explaining that she follows new recipes to the letter just as she does the notes on sheet music for the first time. “That doesn’t mean you cannot put your own spin on the piece or recipe.”

That’s just reserved for later. It is with time and practice that she feels comfortable adding her personality and letting her emotions drive her performance on the stage and in the kitchen.

“There’s a joy in making music or preparing a dish that comes through when you are sharing it with somebody,” said Margaret, which is perhaps the most important reason why cooking and performing go hand in hand: You get to share them.

Food has always been part of her performances. After a performance, musicians will gather for a reception or they will eat out together to celebrate. For years, her colleagues at UM have shared Thanksgiving dinners together, with Margaret preparing a savory mushroom pie. It seems only natural that our community—with its emphasis on art and creativity—would have made Missoula Margaret’s true home.

“I feel very fulfilled here,” she said. “Everything I set out to do when I was in school, I am doing here.”