Musician Profile: Julia Tanner, Cello, joined in 1978, from Wooster, Ohio

Julia Tanner, Cellist

Julia Tanner, Cellist

You’re retiring at the end of this season after performing with the Nashville Symphony for 37 years. As you reflect back on your experiences, what stands out?
Making music with the Nashville Symphony has left me with many unique memories: I have often told friends that I have the best seat in the house. Guest artists who delivered unforgettable performances during my early years in the Symphony include Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie and Victor Borge — who instructed the orchestra not to crack even the tiniest smile as he fell off of the piano bench. The joy of performances by Yo-Yo Ma and also Lynn Harrell playing the Walton Cello Concerto. I still remember being in tears trying not to sneeze during Colin Carr’s beautiful playing of the quietest variation of the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations.

So many wonderful performers: I recall James Galway stopping mid-concerto to tell the audience to be quiet. And a very special memory of our inspiring concert with Pavarotti, who handed me his dozen roses at the close of the concert during his many curtain calls.

I am thankful to have had the chance to play much of the greatest orchestral repertoire with my very talented colleagues. Our concerts are a wonderful example of how the whole can be so much more than the sum of the parts: the magic that happens when we perform and bring to life a great piece of music, and feel the audience come with us on that journey.

And many times we have been doing so under trying circumstances: playing outdoors in particular…under tents in the rain, while being bitten by large insects and in unfriendly temperatures, or during various loud noises. It all requires super-human powers of concentration. I recall with amusement playing from the many balconies in the Opryland Hotel, with Kenneth Schermerhorn conducting us while precariously balanced on the roof of a gazebo (and wearing white gloves so we might better see his hand movements — especially when the fireworks were set off). Also trying to keep a straight face when wine glasses crash to the floor or bottles come rolling down the aisles at the Schermerhorn.

What music have you especially enjoyed performing over the years?
There are many pieces that I have continued to love playing, even after having played them many, many times since I was a teenager: the symphonies of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Prokofiev and Shostakovich; and especially the Requiems of Mozart, Brahms and Fauré.

You’ve worked as a studio musician as well. Are there any recordings that you’re particularly proud of?
I have had the opportunity to do a great deal of recording work during my years in Nashville, not only with the symphony, but also commercial music of virtually every genre. (Perhaps not rap or heavy metal….) I am especially fond of the Nashville Symphony’s recording of Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras with Kenneth Schermerhorn conducting, and our Made in America CD (featuring the music of Joan Tower), which was conducted by Leonard Slatkin and was the first of our recordings to win a GRAMMY® Award.

How did you get started playing music?
I am grateful to have grown up in a family where the arts and literature, and music in particular, were so valued. My mother started me on piano at age 3, and at age 10 I was allowed to choose a second instrument. Cello has been my true voice ever since. Classical music was often heard in my home: whether on a tape or a record, or some other member of the family practicing an instrument. Our family of six regularly attended classical concerts together. I was 10 years old before we had a television, and my mother solved that problem quite neatly by only allowing us to watch TV as much as we had practiced.

Do you enjoy reading?
I am an avid reader and look forward to having more time for that, and also for writing (poetry, memoir and also some of those arrangements for solo cello). Probably my favorite book of the last year was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Other authors I particularly enjoy include Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, Ruth Ozeki and Ann Patchett. I also enjoy historical fiction and a good mystery!

What are your plans once the concert season winds down?
After retiring from the symphony, I certainly intend to keep playing. In terms of work, I will continue to play recording sessions. I also enjoy playing solo and in a chamber group at my church, Woodmont Christian Church, and have been creating solo cello versions of hymns for worship. My heart truly is in volunteer work: I am hoping to stay connected with music’s unique quality of bringing joy and healing to our lives. I volunteer for Alive Hospice, where I play bedside for patients, and enjoy finding other opportunities to bring music to those who are not able to come to a concert. I have also partnered with a talented storyteller, Beth Easter, with whom I have enjoyed crafting programs of story and music to take out into the community.

And the most special new joy in my life: my first grandchild was born in January, and I will need to have those extra free hours in my life to be with him. I look forward to coming to his first Pied Piper concert with him…and maybe a Community Concert in the park before that!

What would you most like people to know about the Nashville Symphony?
The solidarity and strength of character of the musicians of the Nashville Symphony comes to mind as I think about my career with the orchestra, and back to various work stoppages, pay cuts and the flood. I would like our audience to know that what we do is often difficult, stressful, expensive and time-consuming (long beyond the hours that you think of us as being “at work”), but we do it because we love the music.

We want to bring you the best possible performance when you come to a concert. Please bring your whole family to our concerts, and your friends too! I have made it my mission over the years to bring people to our concerts who have never heard a symphony before, and they always love it!

Julie Tanner and the NSO cellists

Julie Tanner and the NSO cellists

2 Thoughts on “Musician Profile: Julia Tanner, Cello, joined in 1978, from Wooster, Ohio

  1. You are an outstanding individual. Your story makes me wish I had known you better in high school. I especially admire your dedication to the use of music as a therapy for hospice. You have a big heart as well as many extraordinary talents

  2. Caroline Terranova on February 28, 2017 at 4:54 pm said:

    Hi, Julia, Will you be teaching privately? 615-383-3936

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