Author plucks at heartstrings, cello strings

For Michael Wenberg, music and writing go hand in hand.

He should know. Wenberg is the executive director of the Walla Walla Symphony as well as an author. He also plays a mean trombone.

He writes his novels for young adults, each with a musical theme and set in Washington. Stringz and Seattle Blues are his latest novels.

Stringz follows the angst-filled life of 14-year-old Jace Adams, who is one hell of a cellist but doesn't know it yet, especially because he thinks the cello is considered the dorkiest of instruments.

But life finds a way of introducing the boy to his talent and encouraging him not to hide or be ashamed of it.

In Seattle Blues, the protagonist is 13-year-old Maya Thompson, who has been shipped off to stay with her grandma for the summer while her mom finishes her college degree and her dad fights a war in Vietnam.

Unhappy and bored, Maya stumbles on a forgotten trombone that once belonged to her grandpa. Her boredom soon is replaced by a talent she discovers she inherited.

Wenberg also has authored the award-winning book Flamingnet and the picture book Elizabeth's Choice. His books have earned the endorsement of the African-American Literary Book Club, Grits Kidz Book Club, Midwest Book Reviews, the National Education Association and Children's Literature Network.

Wenberg is the grandson of Sunnyside asparagus farmers Aubrey and Ruby Pryde. And though he was raised in Spokane, he spent a lot of time on the farm with his grandparents.

Though the trombone is his preferred instrument today, it wasn't his first choice when he began playing in the fifth grade.

"I wanted to play the sax but my folks couldn't afford the rent for a sax, so I settled on the trombone because it was cheaper," Wenberg said. "I played in the high school band, jazz bands and orchestra all through high school, then gave it all up for a number of years."

Then one Christmas, when his son was a baby, he hauled the trombone out and began playing carols. He never again put it away.

Wenberg and his wife Sandy, an architectural color consultant, lived for a time in Southern California before moving to the Puget Sound, where Wenberg spent 14 years working for various high-tech firms, including Microsoft.

"In 1998, we moved back to this great side of the state and settled in Walla Walla with our three kids," Wenberg said. "I was so sick of the gray and rain and crowds. That's when I started playing the trombone seriously and took lessons from local musician Pete Crawford, a professor at Whitman College."

Wenberg eventually became a member of the Walla Walla Symphony, where he is second trombonist, as well as the executive director of the symphony.

"I really enjoy the synergy between music and writing," he said. "I'm incredibly passionate about the importance of all arts, not only for the sake of our culture but because of what music, art, drama, poetry can do for our kids."

You can find out more about Wenberg's books online at ww.michaelwenberg.com.