Episode 172 – Brooke Mortensen

Brooke plays French horn and is an accountant manager


Brooke is a relationship manager and accountant at Wipfli LLP in Helena Montana. After high school she joined the Helena Symphony Orchestra as a French horn player and is still a part of the symphony today!

Brooke earned a Bachelor of Applied Science from Montana State University-Bozeman.

In this episode, Brooke shares how it feels to perform in front of massive audiences, how she has been able to establish relationships by being open about her passion for performing in the symphony, and how adding her symphony experience to her resume actually landed her a job in accounting!



Episode Highlights

• When Brooke started playing the French horn
• How a team in the accounting office works like a horn section in the symphony
• How her symphony experience landed her a job
• How her experience and passion for music has benefitted her accounting career
• How much she feels it is up to the individual to promote a culture of sharing passions in the workplace
• Her perspective as a manager in the workplace

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Other pictures of Brooke

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On stage at Helena Symphony’s Symphony Under the Stars 2018

Brooke’s links


  • Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close

    Welcome to Episode 172 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work making them stand out like a green apple in a boring red apple world.

    To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their ‘and’ as in my guest Brooke Mortensen is an accountant ‘and’ plays in the symphony which are two things that most people wouldn’t put together as we’re about to talk about the music actually helps her be better at accounting which is something that no business school or CPE or anybody will tell you.

    But first, I’ve got a quick favor to ask. If you like the show and are listening on iTunes or your favorite Android app, don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week.

    This week is no different with my guest, Brooke Mortensen. She’s a manager with the Wipfli office in Helena, Montana. I’m so excited, Brooke, to have you on the Green Apple Podcast.

    Brooke: Hi, John. Thanks for inviting me.

    John: This is going to be so much fun. This is going to be awesome. But before we get into it, I have my 17 rapid fire questions. The get to know Brooke on a next level basis right out of the gate. I figured you’d be ready for it.

    Brooke: All right. Let’s go.

    John: All right. I’ll start you out with an easy one. Heels or flats?

    Brooke: Flats now.

    John: Flats, okay, now. Okay. All right. I was like wait a minute, I heard that. How about do you have a favorite color?

    Brooke: Yeah, white.

    John: White, interesting. How about a least favorite color?

    Brooke: Probably, red. Most definitely, red.

    John: Okay, all right. How about would you say more oceans or mountains?

    Brooke: Mountains.

    John: Nice. How about Sudoku or crossword puzzle?

    Brooke: Crossword.

    John: Interesting. All right. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Brooke: I only know the music. I don’t watch the movies. I guess I’d stay Star Wars.

    John: Yeah, absolutely. Was it John Williams?

    Brooke: Yeah.

    John: Yeah, he was amazing. How about when it comes to computers? More of a PC or a Mac?

    Brooke: At work, PC. But at home, thanks to my husband, we’re Mac.

    John: Oh, interesting. All right. So you got to know both. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?

    Brooke: Vanilla.

    John: Okay, all right. It’s also white. There we go. How about do you prefer more hot or cold?

    Brooke: Neither. I like just neutral.

    John: Like 70? Just like right there.

    Brooke: Yeah. Like spring and fall.

    John: Exactly. Perfect. All right. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?

    Brooke: I like Robert Redford.

    John: Oh, yeah. Good answer. Yeah, absolutely. How about a least favorite vegetable?

    Brooke: I’m not a picky eater. I like all the vegetables.

    John: All right. Well, they’re all listening so no feelings are hurt. Good for you. Six more. When it comes to financials, more balance sheet or income statement?

    Brooke: Balance sheet, definitely.

    John: Okay, all right. How about cats or dogs?

    Brooke: Neither now.

    John: Okay, all right. That’s fantastic. You’re honest. You’re very honest. How about a favorite number?

    Brooke: I don’t know. Zero, I guess.

    John: Zero, because it’s in the middle. That’s awesome. That’s great. That’s very good. How about a favorite Disney character?

    Brooke: I think it’s Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

    John: Okay, yeah. That’s going back. That’s a good one. Two more. Pens or pencils?

    Brooke: Pencils.

    John: Interesting. You don’t get that one often. The favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own?

    Brooke: I think it’s a toss-up between my French horn which we’ll get to and probably my engagement ring from my husband.

    John: There we go. That’s pretty awesome. I’m glad that his engagement ring was on par with your French horn because that would’ve been terrible. Very cool, very cool. Since you alluded to the French horn, I guess when did you start playing?

    Brooke: I started playing the French horn in 5th grade, in band, so just in public school.

    John: There you go. Did you go to straight to French horn or did you just have to start with the recorder or something? That’s what I had to do.

    Brooke: Well, I think we did 4th grade was recorder here in Montana and then 5th grade, you got to pick your instrument. When I was younger, my parents would take us to the marching bands at the high schools at the football games. I pick the French horn out early with my mom. I liked it in the marching band. I was sold.

    John: That’s interesting. I actually started on saxophone and then moved to trumpet and then moved to trombone. I settled there. It’s just the mouthpiece was a little bit friendlier.

    Brooke: Yeah, and you don’t have to deal with a reed, right?

    John: Right, yeah, totally. Those are so annoying and they vibrate like crazy. It was just weird. But of course, no one wants to hear a trombone song. It’s like trumpet and saxophone. Everyone’s like, “Play a song.” You’re like yeah, because I play the melody all the time. But then when you’re a trombone, it’s like I know a song. It’s a bunch of whole notes.

    Brooke: Whole notes are off-beats.

    John: Right, there you go. Yeah, I guess that explains a lot right there. Just off-beat. Yeah, that’s really fantastic. Then did you go to college and play in college?

    Brooke: I played through high school. I got to travel around a lot. I marched in the Rose Parade.

    John: Oh, wow.

    Brooke: Yeah, growing up in Montana and being in the music program, I guess I was exposed to a lot that way. Right out of high school, I auditioned for the Bozeman Symphony which is where I was living at that time and got a position in the horn section right out of high school. Now, it’s been 18 years since high school, 18 or 19 I guess, I’m still in the symphony.

    John: That’s fantastic. You obviously went to school for accounting. Did you do music when you’re in college or were you just doing it in the symphony there in Bozeman?

    Brooke: I did not play I guess in the university system. I just did the symphony.

    John: Yeah, you were like you know what? I don’t need to do that. I’m going straight for the pros.

    Brooke: I think I tried it and I taught students too when I was in college, and I think it was just too much going on so I stuck with the symphony and school.

    John: That’s awesome. Yeah, I mean especially to be 18 or 19 right out of high school playing in a symphony like wow.

    Brooke: Yeah, I remember when I was growing up, my parents would take us and we would go watch the Symphony and I thought everything they played was so exposed. They were on that stage. In the symphony, the winds and the brass, they each have their own parts and they were so exposed. I thought how they can do that? Then all of a sudden, I flipped the switch and I was doing it.

    John: That’s really cool though. That’s fantastic. I mean just to watch it and see it and be like one day, I want to do that, and then do it. That’s really cool. So somewhere, somehow, there’s a little girl listening that says I want to be in accounting and play in a band and do a podcast so we could all be happy.

    Brooke: I hope so. As long as she picks brass.

    John: Right. Oh, yeah. Totally. Those flutes and piccolos, get out of here. Enough already.

    Brooke: I know. My sister’s a flute player so she probably won’t like to hear that but she knows how I feel.

    John: She knows. And the oboes, you’re just doing it because you want to be weird.

    Brooke: Well, I don’t know. Yeah.

    John: Double reed even like oh, my gosh. You really like that. That’s hilarious. Everyone’s like, “All these band references, I don’t get it” and it’s like no, you should.

    Do you have any more rewarding or cooler experiences because when we talked a little bit ago, you mentioned that the Symphony’s outdoors which has to be awesome.

    Brooke: Here in Helena, Montana, we have an annual Symphony Under the Stars, we call it. It’s one of the largest summer events in Montana. Our crowd is enormous. It brings people from all over the place. It’s just amazing. It brings a ton of resources into our community each year and to be on stage and to look out in the crowd and see just a sea of people is amazing.

    John: Right. I mean it’s almost doing accounting work where you just look up and then —

    Brooke: Yeah, I know. But taking pictures up there with the selfies and doing that. I just don’t do that in my job.

    John: Right. I guess that’s the difference. But that’s so cool though. That’s really cool. That has to be one of the more cool experiences that you’ve had.

    Brooke: It is. It’s quite amazing. I look forward to it every year. Every year, you think it can’t get any bigger or any better and it just does.

    John: Yeah, really cool. Especially with the lack of light pollution up there. I mean just all the stars are just there.

    Brooke: Yeah, and they do a huge firework show afterwards and it’s quite the celebration.

    John: Very cool. That’s very cool. Is this something that you talk about at work?

    Brooke: I talk about it constantly. Yeah, of course, right? I’m always throwing up examples. I feel like anytime, somebody’s using like a sports analogy to reference how they’re feeling. I just don’t quite get it. But if I’m leading it, we’re talking about music. We’re talking about music analogies and I have to explain the situation I think so that everybody around me gets it.

    John: Right. That’s hysterical. Because I mean the sports analogies, they’re all over. Knock it out of the park and hit home run.

    Brooke: The last one that somebody said was they used a bench reference like get off the bench or enough players on the bench. I was like, what are you talking about?

    John: You mean like fourth string? I move from third chair to first chair. Okay, now I get it.

    Brooke: I think like if you’re going to make a mistake, make a big one. I think that’s a good one. I also like how in our horn section, there’s four different parts and we’re all good at something different. I think that that equates to work. We work in a team and we’re all good at something different and together, it’s a package and nobody’s better than the other. We all have our own traits, our own qualities. We all bring what we bring to the table and it’s a team. That’s kind of like our horn section.

    John: Yeah. That’s an excellent parallel right there. Everyone’s got a part and everyone’s really good at their part and then it’s almost like some of the parts is greater than the whole concept. That’s really fascinating. I never even thought about it that way. It’s cool that you’re able to notice that in the moment as well.

    Brooke: Yeah. I think it helps as we work together with each other. We’re all trying to get to the same goal. We’re all trying to do good work for our clients. We’re all trying to get it done so that we can go enjoy our life and kind of the flip with music is we’re choosing to be there. We’re getting paid but it is what it is in the artistic world. We’re a team and you have high horns, you have low horns and we put it together and we support our principle.

    John: Right, yeah. In a way, you’re making music for your clients. That’s really what’s happening here. At the end of the day, I mean I don’t know if clients necessarily might understand that or not but I mean that’s what we’re doing here. Yeah, that’s really cool. That’s awesome. Do you feel like you were able to talk about this right away when you started or did it take a little bit of time?

    Brooke: Part of I guess me even working with the firm I work with where they did know I was in the Symphony when they interviewed me. I feel like knowing that part about me, I think they trusted me a little bit in the hiring of me.

    John: Oh, okay. Why do you say that?

    Brooke: I actually used the maestro in Bozeman as my reference. I remember the interviewer said that he called him and he said that what I do in my position in the Symphony, if I do that at work, you want to hire me.

    John: Oh, there you go. That’s fantastic. What happened to the other people that have maestro as their references? Accounting professor, nope. Intern, audit partner, nope. Maestro, yup. That’s so great and the fact that you had it on your résumé and use him as a reference, I mean you’re standing out from everyone else who has all accounting or all business and never once did you think hey, this has nothing to do with accounting. Maybe I shouldn’t share this.

    Brooke: Yeah, no, never. I guess I’ve always been so proud of being a part of the Symphony and playing the French horn and so I walk it.

    John: Yeah. I mean I love it. It’s just something that I hear a lot of people — I mean for me, I guess honestly, I was too dumb to know that you’re not supposed to tell people. It’s like well, you asked. I mean I did comedy. What do you want to know? It’s like, “Wait, what?” That’s really fantastic. Do you feel like this has benefited your career?

    Brooke: I think in more ways than one. I think being a part of a community too and being involved in the connections, it makes even moving around Montana and moving within the firm, those connections that you make locally, it’s about the people. I think not only at work but in the community and being a part of — you know, I’m proud to be a part of Wipfli and I’m proud to be a part of the Symphony. Those two just aren’t separable for me.

    John: Yeah. They shouldn’t be because they’re all you. That’s I think that I find is that a lot of people, they identify themselves with their profession and yet, that’s only a fraction of who you are. I mean way less than half. I mean way less than a quarter.

    There’s family and faith and other interests and music and then there’s accounting. It’s a sixth of you maybe. Yet, that becomes 99% of what most people identify themselves as, and so kudos to you on that for realizing that there’s other parts to me and one shouldn’t hide from the other because they both make each other really good. It’s also cool that you’ve been able to be at places where you’re comfortable doing that.

    Brooke: I know. The atmosphere and the people I work with are amazing. The family-friendly, people appreciate what everybody’s doing outside of work and they encourage it. It keeps us coming back.

    John: Absolutely. Have you ever come across other people that are either huge fans of the Symphony or play an instrument as well?

    Brooke: Well, I know I guess the community members and the regional members that I play with. The nice thing about being a horn player is you get asked to play all over because there aren’t as many of us. I know I guess the whole state, the horn players in the state. But as far as at work, the clients that come up to me or that contact me after they’ve attended the Symphony, it’s all the time.

    John: That’s awesome.

    Brooke: I know. We’re local. We’re here. I get that. I have clients that talk about it. I have clients that come see me. I see them there. Oh, yeah. It’s awesome.

    John: That’s really cool. Because then you’re able to tell people you know, everyone’s got a really good accountant but mine’s in the Symphony so what’s up with that? I mean that makes it a cool thing that they want to talk about you. I mean that’s good for business. Straight up.

    Brooke: I love to thank them for coming. We wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the audience. We want to play and we want people to listen and so I want to thank the audience. It’s hard to be an audience member. I think it’s awesome that they are enjoying coming and that they support us, support me.

    John: That’s fantastic. I guess how much do you feel like it’s on an organization to create that culture where it’s encouraged like places you’ve been versus how much is it on the individual to maybe create it on their own or jump in and be a part of a place that has it already built?

    Brooke: I think a lot of it’s on the individual personally just because I feel like you should do in life what you want to and you need to make sure — we’re our own advocates and we need to find a way to reduce stress or find a way to enjoy ourselves or get passionate.

    But I feel like having that family-friendly environment or — I say family-friendly but it’s more just friendly or lifestyle choices and making sure that you’re set up for success there so that your employees want to keep coming back and want to come and do good work. I think it’s a combo. It’s a definite combination.

    John: Right, and what do you say to some people that feel like these things are distractions? There isn’t a charge code for the Symphony or even talking about the Symphony so why is it happening in the workplace?

    Brooke: I feel like that’s less and less, John, anymore, especially with the organization I’m in. I feel like connections and people or how we get our business. I think everybody in the office does something outside of work and those connections that they bring with them makes our client base.

    John: No, that’s totally true. Yeah, absolutely. It’s great that you just said that everyone in your office has something outside of work. So one, that means that you know that about everyone so that’s cool but two is it shows that the stereotypical accountant is actually all of you. I mean that’s the norm, the norm or people that have passions and interests outside of work. The norm isn’t the nerd that does work and goes home and just does more work. That’s not the stereotype.

    It’s so frustrating to me when young people come out and they try to be something that they think they’re supposed to be especially as you move up. I’m a manager now or I’m a partner now. I have to act like what I think — no, you’re the manager. Be you. That’s the secret right there.

    That’s fantastic. I guess are there any things in particular that you do or maybe Wipfli does that makes this a really great place to share in a culture for that?

    Brooke: I think honestly, it’s the people. I think it all comes down to the people. I think the organizations wouldn’t be who they were without the people. The people that I work with, local and across the US, I think it’s all about the people.

    John: Yeah. It just makes it okay where it’s like well, this is what we do here which is great. I mean when you’re coming out of school or even when you’re coming from a different firm or whatever and you’re acting how you think you’re supposed to and wow, hey, these are like normal people that enjoy each other. How foreign is that? It should be like that anyway. Why not?

    Absolutely. That’s fantastic. Really fantastic. Especially as a manager, I mean how do you look at it when you have staff that have things outside of work from your perspective?

    Brooke: I think it’s communication and it’s teamwork. I work in accounting services and we don’t just have tax deadline, we have deadlines every day for some clients or monthly or weekly. I think it’s about communication and helping each other out. We’re a team. We help each other out locally. We help each other out regionally.

    I think we need to be set up for success to help each other out. It’s about communication. I think if those two things are in place, then you’re happy if your co-worker gets to take a week off and go on vacation and you cover for them because somebody will do that for you.

    John: Oh, that’s awesome. What a great point. We’re all in it together. Mentally, which is huge. Because we all know about each other and we all care about each other. It’s great, and you’re celebrating each other’s successes outside of work and inside work.

    Brooke: Yup, exactly.

    John: That’s fantastic where the other way, it’s hard to care about the other people when you don’t really know them. That’s really profound, really profound.

    Do you have any advice to people that are listening that maybe they play an instrument and they’re like, “I don’t know if I should bring it up at work” or, “No one’s going to care. No one else plays an instrument especially the French horn.”

    Brooke: Yeah. I’m not sure I should ever give advice. I feel like I need to soak all the advice in that I can, kind of like my kids, we need to worry about ourselves. But I feel like if I could do anything, I think I’m passionate. I’m a passionate person and I think being passionate about what you care about or what you commit to is important and I guess that’s you know, I hope everybody can find what they’re passionate about and what they commit to because I feel like in the scheme of things, that’s what we’re here for. That’s what our goals are.

    John: Right, exactly. Because I mean eventually, you’re going to retire and I mean you can’t do accounting forever. You got to have something else or else that’s scary.

    Cool. Well, this has been so much fun. But I feel like it’s only fair that if I rapid fire questioned you out of the gate that I could offer you to have the opportunity to turn the tables on me if you had some rapid fire questions, get to know John on a scary level. Here we go.

    Brooke: How many can I ask?

    John: How many do you have?

    Brooke: We’ll just go with ten.

    John: Okay. Let’s do it. Why not?

    Brooke: Okay. How many kids do you have?

    John: I have zero kids but my brother has three so vicariously three.

    Brooke: If you were to choose a carbonated beverage, would it be pop or soda water?

    John: That’s a trick question because I’m an adult so I’m going to say soda but I think you mean pop. No, I’m teasing you. Pop. Soda water’s weird to me. It’s got no flavor. It burns. It just burns. It’s drinking fire.

    Brooke: Yes. Do you like to travel on a plane or would you prefer to go somewhere by a car?

    John: I think plane. I did a lot of driving earlier on in my comedy career. So yeah, I’m glad to be on planes now plus you get to go to more exotic places on planes.

    Brooke: Yeah, that’s awesome. Do you ever get nervous up in the air?

    John: No. I’m usually sleeping to be honest. Noise puts me out so fast.

    Brooke: What was your favorite subject in school?

    John: Favorite subject besides recess would’ve been probably math. I was pretty good at math.

    Brooke: Yeah, that’s awesome. Where would you prefer to eat dinner? Would you like to go out or would you prefer to eat at home?

    John: That’s a good question. That’s a really good question. I think eating at home is pretty fun actually. I mean a nice dinner at home, it’s really comfortable, it’s casual. You don’t even have to wear shoes.

    Brooke: Yeah, and relaxed.

    John: Right, exactly.

    Brooke: Watch TV if you’re —

    John: That’s a good one. I never thought about that.

    Brooke: Do you prefer summer or winter?

    John: Oh, I’ll probably say winter because I’m not a big fan of heat.

    Brooke: I guess this isn’t really a rapid fire question but more of a question. When you’re on stage and doing your comedy, do you get nervous?

    John: No, not at all. I’ve been on stage over 2,000 times so yeah. There are certain situations where I’m like oh, wow. This is going to be interesting because I’ve never done this before or in this environment, but you just trust yourself and you’ve got all the reps under you so it’s just go time. It’s more of anxious like let’s do this.

    Brooke: Yeah, get it going. I guess maybe we don’t need ten. One of my last ones that I was wondering about you is do you wish you would’ve stayed with the saxophone or are you glad you switched to the trombone?

    John: No way, man. Trombone all the way. When I was at Notre Dame, you get to slide the cover over the trombone. It’s Irish. Yeah, absolutely no. That’s way cooler than marching around with a necklace with a saxophone hanging on it. It’s just like trombone all the way.

    Brooke: Awesome. Do you still play at all?

    John: No. The alumni band for Notre Dame every four years has the opportunity to come back. The muscles on my face are just shot. I can play about half of the Victory March. I mean I don’t know how I did this and marched. I mean this is crazy. My chops are gone. Not really. But I still have my horn though.

    Brooke: That’s awesome. All right. I think that’s about everything I had.

    John: Okay, all right. Yeah. Well, that was awesome.

    Thank you so much, Brooke, for taking time to be a part of the Green Apple Podcast.

    Brooke: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

    John: If you’d like to see some pictures of Brooke’s concerts and music exploits and maybe connect with her on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, click that big green button there and do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture if you could.

    Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends, so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.

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