As a seven-year- old at a family reunion, upon seeing that two cousins and an aunt were playing violin, Tim McElrath remembers that he decided he wanted to start learning too. (His parents remember that they suggested it). However it happened, violin lessons started directly, and continued after Tim went back to Indonesia with his family, where his parents worked as missionaries. Over the next 10 years, Tim continued studying violin, much of the time with a wonderful Indonesian teacher, in the Indonesian language. While the opportunities for orchestra there were limited, he was able to perform with numerous chamber music groups, including giving a recital his senior year with several others (which wouldn’t have been realistically possible in the States).
Having decided that engineering was a better career choice than music (and honestly with it being more aligned with his talents and interests), Tim attended MIT and studied aerospace engineering. However, he was able to play with the MIT orchestra his freshman year, and enjoyed that very much. After graduating and taking a job running pizzas, Tim finally got hired at JPL in late 1984, where he has worked ever since, navigating missions such as Ulysses, Galileo, and the Mars Exploration Rovers.
For most of the last 30 years, Tim continued playing violin, including worship music with the band at church and classical music in small groups (including with his piano-playing mother). During this time, he developed the ability to play by ear (perhaps inherited from his musical father), which helped in picking up the Irish fiddle music that Tim now enjoys, along with show tunes and any other interesting melody. On one occasion (playing show tunes at a Halloween costume competition at work), a colleague and PCO cellist suggested that he join the orchestra, which Tim eventually did in May of 2015. Since Tim and his lovely wife Dorothy have five daughters, you should be able to guess which musical those show tunes came from, that he was playing up on a wall (since roofs are scary) in the picture.