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People often use the process of constructing a building as a metaphor for life; just like buildings, people require solid foundations for future growth and resilience. The Ottawa community and school district has been providing those building blocks which pave the way to bright futures for decades with strong community ties and a diverse selection of educational opportunities for its youth.

Music is Life

Tony Grunstad was born and raised in Ottawa, and has had a passion for music his whole life. He began playing the trumpet when he was in the fourth grade, “and I was not good at it,” he joked. He ultimately switched instruments and began playing the flute, which he loved and has been playing ever since. Tony comes from a large extended family, but “none of them are musical,” he said, so being able to have access to the large number of musical influences within “this great community we have” was a major benefit. “Not a lot of areas have what a great musical community that we do, and I’m super proud of that,” Tony said.

After graduating from high school, Tony went to Illinois Valley Community College, then headed to Champaign to finish his degree in architecture, with a minor in music, from the University of Illinois. He enjoyed his time in Champaign, but his hometown was still very much a part of him. “I went down there with six or seven people from Ottawa, and every single one of us came back except for one person,” Tony said proudly. “You definitely get the small-town community … if you wave at someone on the street, they’re going to wave right back at you. It’s a good area to grow up, and a good area to live,” he said.


Tony has been able to find a great balance in his life between his work for the Illinois Department of Transportation as a design engineer and his passion for music as a flutist. He has been able to continue nurturing his musical talent by staying close to the studio where he began receiving private lessons in his youth. “I’m either helping out with lessons, or we have an ensemble, the Illinois Valley Flute Ensemble, [and] I play in the Illinois Valley Symphony Orchestra, and I play in the Illinois Valley Wind Ensemble,” he said.


Tony shared some amusing anecdotes from his insider perspective into the world of music and instruments. “I’m a firm believer in instruments, and the people that play instruments, have their own set personalities,” he said. He jokingly admitted that flute players are “notorious for being a little stuck up” and said that, “there’s a joke in the flute world that if you spent more than $20,000 on your flute, you’re a flautist, and if you spent under, you’re a flutist,” he laughed. “And I will let you know, I’m a flautist,” he said with a wry smile. This year, Tony was able to fulfill his dream of owning a gold flute when he commissioned a completely custom, 14 karat Lillian Burkhart Elite. He acknowledged that, occasionally, it’s necessary to treat yourself to an indulgence, but also joked that, “every time I pick it up it makes me a little sick,” because “I feel like I’m holding, you know, a really nice downpayment on a house,” he laughed. But when he plays it, he said, it’s well worth it because of how beautifully it plays and sounds.


One of the things Tony loves most about music is its ability to reach across barriers in society. “Over in Africa, over in China, here [in the United States] – we all read the exact same music. The language is universal, and I think that’s beautiful,” he said. The underlying depth and structure of music, and all of the lessons it teaches, are also what inspires Tony’s passion. “The more in depth you dig, the more you find. It’s not just a note – it’s part of a melody, that is part of a harmony … and you can just go down and down and find all of these chord structures. It teaches you math … and patience with rest, it teaches you to play with other people. You’re not the only person; you’re in a community, a whole,” he said.


We love that we had this opportunity to meet Tony, and were honored with his beautiful streetside playing during our photo shoot. We’re no experts, but that definitely sounded like a flautist to us!

Not a lot of areas have the great musical community that we do, and I’m super proud of that.
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