Glenn Vanstrum mixes medicine, music, surfing with love of family, friends

A Minnesotan by birth, Glenn Vanstrum majored in music at Grinnell College before attending UCSD med school and training in anesthesiology. He has surfed for 37 years, yet still wipes out frequently.

A pianist since age 5, Vanstrum studied with Cecil Lytle and Nathan Schwartz. He practices daily and performs works from the classical, romantic, and modern repertoire on a regular basis, playing duos with violinist Roy Bak and trios with Bak and cellist Janet White.

Vanstrum’s fiction has been published in LITnIMAGE, the Bellevue Literary Review, and THEMA. His book of nature writing, “The Saltwater Wilderness” (Oxford), won a San Diego Book Award. Essays of his have appeared in Sierra, California Wild, and the Los Angeles Times.

Vanstrum has e-published five novels and two story collections. Kirkus Reviews wrote of his novel, “Northern Liberties,” “smartly written” and “a fascinating read.”

Find more surfing, writing, and music info at

Who or what inspires you?

Music is my writing muse these days; along with my wife, Diane; surfing; and crazy stuff from the hospital.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

Such a fantasy… Beethoven at the head of the table, of course, the young Beethoven who could hear; and Mozart with his wife, Constanze; Brahms would have to be there to meet Ludwig and, of course, his friends, Robert and Clara Schumann, the former, hopefully, before he went insane. Franz Liszt could perform for us after dinner, and Albert Einstein —a fine amateur violinist in his own right — might round things out. Dream on, eh?

What are your five favorite movies of all time?

Diane and I are studying a slew of flicks now, since I’m writing a screenplay with the tagline, ”A young psychiatrist, ignoring her lecherous director, puts three musician-patients together to find that the deeper the madness, the sweeter the music. Brooklyn Notes.” My current five: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Shine,” “Music of the Heart,” “Mozart’s Sister,” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

What is it that you most dislike?

Cancer. The body turning against itself. Pollution is analogous at a global level.

What is your most-prized possession?

That would be my family and our continuing good health.

What do you do for fun?

Surf. Or surf. Or, maybe, surf.

What is your most-marked characteristic?

I’ve always been the tall guy.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

“In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they ain’t.” Thanks, Yogi!

What would be your dream vacation?

Just had one. I stayed here with my wife and two sons, practiced trios with Roy Bak and Janet White, gave a solo concert at Encinitas Library, and had a great Thanksgiving dinner party. Did I mention there was also a bitchin’ NW swell? The Vanstrum gang (Erik, Nick, and moi) surfed together at WindanSea. That was a dream, and reality, too.