By Lucy Schmidt


Mr. Ernie Gruner is a jack of all instruments and the official O.G. (original gangster) of MPTC. I was a bit intimidated by Ernie when I first met him. Which seems funny now as I have learned that he has the gentlest personality that a gentleman could have. I think because I heard such dynamism in his violin playing, I maybe assumed he would be a tortured artiste. But life is not a movie.

Ernie is just an incredibly nice, talented guy who plays violin with precision and passion.

I am very much a fan of the instrument and singing improvised songs with his searing strings is one of the things I like best about my job. We take turns at leading the melody. His ear is terrific and sometimes I feel like he knows exactly where I am heading and accompanies me as if we had rehearsed. This is a thrilling feeling. I have also noticed that he loves to laugh.. Ernie shares his knowledge of the company and the playback form with much generosity and is a fellow Merri Creek walker and birdlife appreciator extraordinaire.


Photo by David Wayman,


1 – Was there a defining moment that spurred your interest in performing?

No, I learnt violin from age 7, and it was assumed, and I assumed, I’d perform in orchestras etc. (which I did for a long time).


2 – How does improv help you in your day to day life?

By being aware that often there is no right or wrong.


3 – How are you using your creative juices during the COVID19 restrictions?

I’ve been part of a global klezmer fiddle project recording and discussing recently discovered nigunnim (East European Jewish wordless singing). Also, I’m writing an essay on ideas for teaching non-classical violin.


4 – What was your most terrifying moment on stage?

Being by myself at the top of a scissors lift, near the ceiling of the National Gallery of Victoria great hall, playing violin, with other band members on other lifts…entertaining for a large corporate function.


Photo by Gelareh Pour.


5 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?

Playing for a 400-voice choir, Archie Roach, Shane Howard and more, at Hamer Hall, for The Boite’s Gurrong concert about reconciliation.


6 – What is the surprising upside of the pandemic for you?

Teaching violin and fiddle online. Enjoying not driving and rushing all over Melbourne for gigs. Learning more about the birds of the Merri Creek near home. Zoom lunches with family and friends, nearby and interstate and overseas (why didn’t we do that before?)


7 – If you could thank someone who helped you in your early career – who would it be and why?

I have four who were important. My Polish grandmother was a Vienna Conservatorium trained classical violinist who mentored me from her post WW2 home in NZ. In my late high school years, I was fortunate to learn from a University violin lecturer.

He was gentle, understanding, humorous, and taught me to realise the emotion in the music, as well as being focussed on technique.

After 3 years, he passed me on to another important teacher, an ex-Polish lawyer, who believed teaching violin was more important than practising law, and worked on my technique more, so I could express emotion more. Another influence was a singer-guitarist friend met thru uni. Choir who introduced me to folk and jazz, leading me down the slippery slope to world music and improvising for theatre.


8 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID19 restrictions?

Interacting with other musicians, dancers and actors. Playing for weddings, parties and concerts, and sometimes interacting with audiences.




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