Category Archives: Musician Profiles

Five Musicians = 158 Years

 

Mary Helen Law, Cassie Lee, Ann Richards, Susan K. Smith in front of recording angel at Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Mary Helen Law, Cassie Lee, Ann Richards, Susan K. Smith in front of recording angel at Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Five Nashville Symphony colleagues retire at the end of this 2017-18 season; their combined tenure as members of the orchestra’s brass, woodwind and string sections exceed 150 years. Two were born in Middle Tennessee: lifelong Nashvillian Ann Richards, and Susan K. Smith, who was born in Murfreesboro but moved to Florida at the age of two. Cassie Lee, born in Big Stone Gap, VA, grew up in Knoxville; Radu Georgescu was born in Bucharest, Romania; and Mary Helen Law was born in Oklahoma City but grew up in Stamford, CT.

 

 

Radu Georgescu

Radu Georgescu

Each was between seven to ten years old when they began playing an instrument, but it wasn’t necessarily the instrument they play in the Nashville Symphony. Radu began playing the violin at age seven; Ann began piano lessons at age seven, but was 11 when she began playing the flute; Mary Helen played the violin in elementary school but switched to viola in high school; Cassie and Susan were both 10 when they began playing their respective instruments, clarinet and trombone. Susan remembers deciding at age 14 “that I wanted to play trombone in a professional Orchestra”, and later “also decided that I wanted to teach trombone on the college level.” Mary Helen and Ann grew up in musical families; Mary Helen “grew up in a family of musicians, married a musician [ former NSO Principal Trombone Lawrence Borden], and my daughter is a violist.” Ann’s father was a longtime member of Local 257 who “came to Nashville as a musician, playing big band, Dixieland and old standards”, played clarinet, saxophone and violin; her mother played piano, and her brother played pipe organ and clarinet.

Master Performers

Ann Richards in 1977 (photo by David Rogers)

Ann Richards in 1977 (photo by David Rogers)

Ann attended California State University – San Jose (BA-Music), studied for two years in Europe, and after receiving a Master of Music in Performance from Northwestern University, she followed her dream of becoming an orchestra musician when she “won the position of Second Flute (later retitled 2nd/Assistant Principal Flute) in 1977, right out of grad school.”

Cassie Lee

Cassie Lee

Cassie attended University of Tennessee (BS-Music Education), and, like Ann, received her Master of Music in Performance from Northwestern University. “I wanted to teach at a University and play in a local orchestra, if there was one.” She said she was invited to audition for the Nashville Symphony and then, for unknown reasons, was disinvited. After some confusion Cassie was again invited to audition for the orchestra and won the position of Second and E-flat Clarinet in 1979, which was later retitled 2nd and E-flat/Assistant Principal Clarinet.

Mary Helen Law

Mary Helen Law

Section violist Mary Helen, had multiple interests: while focusing on viola, she also dabbled with piano and French horn in high school, and took voice lessons and minored in theater and dance while attending the Crane School of Music at SUNY-Potsdam (BME). She received her Master of Music in Viola Performance from New England Conservatory, followed by a year of Professional Studies at The Juilliard School. “I was obviously interested in a variety of performing arts! I freelanced in New York City for six years where I played with five different orchestras along with various opera and choral gigs (and many other giglets) in and around the NYC area.” She did recording work in Boston that helped pay for her Master degree, and played summer orchestra festivals in upstate New York. “I also spent three summers in Mexico City playing in Filarmonica de las Americas. I met my husband in Mexico and joined him where we were members of the Filarmonica de UNAM in Mexico City before we were fortunate enough to both get jobs in the same orchestra (Nashville Symphony), which is always a challenge.”

Susan K. Smith with red trombone, a gift from musicians & staff presented by NSO colleague & bass trombonist, Steve Brown

Susan K. Smith with red trombone, a gift from musicians & staff presented by NSO colleague & bass trombonist, Steve Brown

Susan attended University of Kansas (BME), and received her Master of Music from the University of North Texas. She worked in more than a dozen orchestras – including the South Bend Symphony, where she performed with NSO violist Michelle Lackey-Collins’ father, and the Chicago Symphony, as well as off-stage brass with the Metropolitan Opera; and as a member of the Millar Brass Ensemble and Chicago Trombone Ensemble – all before winning the position of Second Trombone in 1994. “My position was eventually changed to Assistant Principal and I also played Principal Trombone for a total of more than four years.”

Ben Lloyd pays tribute to his 2nd violin colleague, Radu Georgescu

Ben Lloyd pays tribute to his 2nd violin colleague, Radu Georgescu

Radu received a Master degree in violin interpretation and teaching from Ciprian
Porumbescu Academy of Music in Bucharest, Romania, and performed with the Camerata Chamber Music Orchestra (Costanta, Romania), George Enescu Philharmonia (Bucharest, Romania) and the Royal Symphony in Seville, Spain, before winning a position with the Nashville Symphony in 1996. “I had always wanted to perform in an orchestra and to solo; it was family issues that brought me to Nashville, and when I got the position, it was with the intention to move back to Seville, Spain in two years.”

The Early NSO and Why They Stayed

Michael Charry was Music Director when Ann and Cassie joined the NSO; it was still a part-time orchestra that performed at War Memorial Auditorium until moving to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in 1980-81. Both found it necessary to have other work, so Ann freelanced, taught, and played chamber music and other gigs. “I liked the orchestra, the area and saw its growing potential. I also enjoyed being near my family.” “There was a specified salary of $3,800,” according to Cassie. “I began teaching at Blair in 1981 and it took eight years for me to save the money to buy a house. By then, I knew Nashville was where I wanted to be.”

Kenneth Schermerhorn was Music Director when Mary Helen, Susan and Radu joined the orchestra. Mary Helen “considered [moving to a bigger orchestra] a couple times when the symphony was not as well supported, but as time went on we decided this place was a good fit for a number of reasons not necessarily entirely related to the orchestra.” She joined the orchestra when management was “looking to expand the orchestra both in terms of size and length of season. The orchestra was changing from being a very part-time gig with mostly evening rehearsals…to becoming an orchestra of mostly daytime rehearsals and more weeks in the season. They had hired Kenneth Schermerhorn as music director with the idea he could help grow the Nashville Symphony into a major orchestra. There were lots of growing pains over the years, along with a strike and a lockout, but a lot of those earlier goals have been achieved. It has been quite a ride.” Susan remembers, “in 1994 most rehearsals were at several churches and the concerts were at TPAC. Usually there were two concerts a week. I also performed around 30 brass quartet concerts a year in the elementary schools are far away as Red Boiling Springs, Crossville and Shelbyville. I really learned my way around the area.” Radu joined the orchestra with a long contract in 1996. “It was like a part-time job. There were 170 services per season that were poorly paid.” The orchestra later upgraded all part-time contracts to full-time.

A Time of Change

Mary Helen Law & daughter Laurel Borden in 1988

Mary Helen Law & daughter Laurel Borden in 1988

Ann, Cassie and Mary Helen joined the orchestra prior to the 8-week strike in 1985 and 8-month lockout (and Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy in 1988). Ann remembers “the city was growing so fast it seemed logical there should be a full-time orchestra; however, convincing fundraisers was not easy.” Cassie said, “I bought my house in September 1987. The NSO went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 1988. Scary!” And Mary Helen, who was four months pregnant when the orchestra shut down said, “The lockout was certainly a very difficult high stress time. Our daughter was 16-months old when we heard on the six o’clock news that the symphony was shutting down. For those of us that came to the orchestra with the promising goals of working toward major orchestra status it was a really devastating development. Losing health insurance was also frightening. My son was due [nine days after health insurance ended] so we had to have his birth induced early so the medical bills would be paid. Long-term members have had to fight to get this job to the place we now enjoy.”

Past Present and Future

During her 40-year tenure, Ann has served as an orchestra representative on the NSA board and Nashville Symphony League, and

Ann Richards with husband, assistant principal bassist Glen Wanner along with bassist, Kate Munagian

Ann Richards with husband, assistant principal bassist Glen Wanner along with bassist, Kate Munagian

as chair of the orchestra committee; she has won awards, received an arts grant, served as adjunct faculty for five colleges and universities, co-authored two popular books with her husband, assistant principal bassist, Glen Wanner, and served on the board of Walk Bike Nashville. Over the years Ann has performed numerous solos on flute and tin whistle; she was selected to travel to Mendoza, Argentina to represent the NSO in an orchestra exchange program; she performed twice with the NSO at Carnegie Hall; and her favorite memory was when “Luciano Pavarotti blew me a kiss in rehearsal after we performed a tricky flute/voice duet in one of his arias.” As she leaves the orchestra, Ann plans to “freelance, teach, organize chamber music concerts, spend time with my Native American Indian flutes, write and record music with my jazz guitarist son Marcus Wanner, and do volunteer work.”

Bass & 3rd Clarinetist Dan Lochrie salutes Cassie Lee

Bass & 3rd Clarinetist Dan Lochrie salutes Cassie Lee

During her 38 years in the NSO, Cassie has also been a highly respected and successful member of Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music faculty as it’s clarinet instructor and as a member of the Blair Woodwind Quintet. While she stepped back from these duties a few years ago, Cassie plans to continue teaching at Blair for one more year. Her favorite memory was the NSO’s first trip to Carnegie Hall in 2000. Next year Cassie also plans to “help a friend and neighbor renovate a beautiful old stone house he just purchased in my neighborhood.”

For 35 years Mary Helen has enjoyed working with great conductors and good friends such as Peter Oundjian and Enrique Diemecke; artists such as Jessye Norman, Gil Shaham, Andre Watts, Van Cliburn, YoYo Ma, Elmar Oliveira,

[L-R back row] - Licia Jaskunas (NSO principal harp), Michelle Lackey Collins (NSO viola), Mindy Whitely (NSO viola), Beverly Drukker (NSO 1st violin), Dan Reinker (NSO principal viola), Judith Ablon (NSO viola), Stephen Drake (NSO cello), Chris Farrell (NSO viola), ([-R middle row] – Sarah Cote (viola), Katherine Plummer (viola), Mary Helen Law (NSO viola), Laura Ross (NSO 2nd violin), [L-R front row] – Clare Yang (NSO viola), Hari Bernstein (NSO viola) [photo by Larry Borden]

[L-R back row] – Licia Jaskunas (NSO principal harp), Michelle Lackey Collins (NSO viola), Mindy Whitely (NSO viola), Beverly Drukker (NSO 1st violin), Dan Reinker (NSO principal viola), Judith Ablon (NSO viola), Stephen Drake (NSO cello), Chris Farrell (NSO viola), ([-R middle row] – Sarah Cote (viola), Katherine Plummer (viola), Mary Helen Law (NSO viola), Laura Ross (NSO 2nd violin), [L-R front row] – Clare Yang (NSO viola), Hari Bernstein (NSO viola) [photo by Larry Borden]

Fredericka von Stade and a host of others; and her favorite concerts include those with big symphonic works of Richard Strauss, Wagner, Bruckner and Mahler. She has been a Suzuki violin and viola teacher during her entire 35-year tenure with the orchestra. “I have had a nice level of success and have had many students who have developed into fine people and musicians whether they have gone into music or other careers.” She has helped raise Cornish Rex cats, and she and husband Larry Borden have turned their second house (where I lived for six years as their tenant) into an Airbnb rental to make additional income. Mary Helen plans to get her teacher trainer certification through the Suzuki Assoc. of the Americas and to continue teaching; she’ll go to the beach more often; and she has become more involved in political activism, having traveled to Washington DC for the Women’s March on January 21, 2017. She promises “I will try not to get arrested.”

Susan K. Smith

Susan K. Smith

After 23 years with the NSO, Susan says Mahler symphonies are still her favorites. Her most memorable concerts were our two concerts at Carnegie Hall, the opening of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and the Amy Grant Tours in the late 1990s. “During my entire tenure with the NSO I have also been the Instructor of Trombone at APSU. I have always had a passion to teach and have had the privilege to work with many college trombone students. It has been a great joy to help these students realize their place in the professional world.” She is proud that many have gone on to be band directors, another is in a Navy Band, and another is Principal Trombone in ‘The President’s Own’ Marine Band. “Next year I will continue to teach students at APSU, give master classes and I also look forward to having time to travel to visit my family and friends. I definitely see more Clearwater Beach time in my future.”

“What happened with the NSO in the 20 years of my activity is way above my imagination,” according to Radu. “From a part-time

Radu Georgescu jams with his neighbor in New Mexico

Radu Georgescu jams with his neighbor in New Mexico

orchestra, it changed into a professional high-quality orchestra with a state of the art concert hall.” He played with orchestras in Cookeville and Murfreesboro, and as Principal Second Violin in the orchestra in Bowling Green. “I will never forget Kenneth’s flying batons…always wanting to express more.” Radu has already found wonderful new friends and neighbors just outside Taos, NM. He said, “By the time I was born, my family had moved to the city (Bucharest), but all my older siblings and cousins had been able to spend time in the country. Now it’s my turn.” It sounds like a wonderful and much simpler life as he described to me how he and his neighbors pitch in to help each other with projects both large and small. “I will keep on fishing and travel (my second big hobby), and number one on my list is driving to Alaska.”

Final Thoughts

All will miss their friends and colleagues in the orchestra, but also look forward to what comes next.

Radu feels blessed, having had a wonderful career participating in two new orchestras, opening two new state-of-the-art concert halls, and playing with exceptional musicians from diverse schools of playing. “I am so fortunate to be part of what I call the NSO miracle. I am confident that new generations and great conductors will carry on the legacy. Can’t see how any city in the nation can be more blessed.”

Cassie’s thoughts were for the orchestra as she expressed concern about the high standards and increased work levels musicians are expected to meet, and that the orchestra has once again turned into a “revolving door orchestra” with 50% turn over the past two years in the woodwind section due to retirements and departures for better paying jobs. “It has become harder and harder for me to hear ‘World Class Orchestra’ and ’11 Grammy Awards’ when the pay just doesn’t match up. My hope for this orchestra is, that one day, in the near future, the musicians will be paid what they are worth.”

 

– Laura Ross, NSO Union Steward (also all photos unless otherwise indicated)

Musician Profile: Paul Tobias, Violin, joined in 1975, from Memphis, Tennessee

Paul Tobias, Violin

Paul Tobias, Violin

You’ve been a member of the orchestra for 40 years. As you look back over your time in the Nashville Symphony, what stands out the most? Any specific memories, thoughts or feelings?
In a word, change. We’ve changed buildings twice, music directors several times, and all but three musicians, including myself. The level of performance today is staggering. Things we couldn’t attempt when I started are now routine.

Do you have a favorite piece or pieces of repertoire that you’ve especially enjoyed performing with the Nashville Symphony?
After the smoke of 40 years has cleared, two favorite compositions are left standing: 1. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the greatest piece ever written by an American (at least so far), and 2) Ravel’s La Valse, in which the composer rebelliously breaks every rule of counterpoint and orchestration and still manages to create an interesting and fun 12 minutes. You might say it’s a mini-metaphor of my own life. The little boy who would do something just because he was told “no” must make sense and harmony out of life. It’s a struggle, but also surprising sometimes how well things work out.

You also served as orchestra personnel manager for the Nashville Symphony in the late 1990s. How did that experience influence your work as a performing artist?
I was the last person to be a playing personnel manager. Its influence would not show in my performance now, but was profound nonetheless. Being in charge of people changes you. Once you have truly walked in the shoes of both sides, you can never go back; you can never again see things quite the same way. One thing I learned that I did not know was how much the rank-and-file members of the office staff love the musicians and what we do. They take low-paying, difficult positions which are under-appreciated, just because they love music and musicians and want to help. When you get to know them, you wish you could have an attitude and outlook such as theirs.

Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony? If so, with whom and where? How did you get involved, and what do you enjoy about these additional performance opportunities?
I began playing outside jobs for the same reason everybody else did — our job at NSO didn’t pay enough to live on, so we all went looking for extra work. You name it, I’ve done it. Recording, television, touring, weddings, pit work, arranging, contracting and much more. I played in live shows at the Opryland theme park for nearly 20 years. The specialty for which I am best known is a strolling violinist, playing requests all over the spectrum — everything from Mozart to Free Bird to old TV commercials from the ‘60s. My outside work has taken me to most of the United States and Canada, as well as Japan, Korea and mainland China. I even had my own rock ’n’ roll show for many years with 20 strings and a drummer. Touring probably was the most instructive of my outside jobs. When you spend a long time living in one place, it’s easy to think that place as all there is. Only seeing the world in person can bring home how much bigger it is than you ever imagined. It gives you perspective.

Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
My mother and father, who never dreamed that both their sons would be musicians. It was a foreign world to them, but they truly believed in us. In return, they demanded hard work and excellence and monitored me constantly to make sure I was delivering. They said I could accomplish anything if I wanted it badly enough. Though we lost Dad in 2011, I still hear him saying, “There’s no such thing as can’t.”

Nashville has changed since you joined the orchestra. What do you like most about our city now, and what do you miss the most?
The best thing about living in a city for 40 years is that almost every place in it holds a memory from your past. For instance, I can look at the downtown skyline and remember playing for the openings of many of those buildings. I miss the Opryland theme park most. It was the heart of Nashville’s tourism industry. There I made all my best friends in Nashville, one of whom became my wife of 27 years.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not rehearsing or performing – do you have hobbies, volunteer or participate in any civic or social organizations?
Life doesn’t leave much room for hobbies right now. When I retire in a few years, I have a number of projects planned, starting with seeing more of my two granddaughters, now ages 5 and 4. I have written my memoirs up to 1988 and will continue with this as time permits.

What’s the last book you read, and/or what are you reading now?
The last book was Killing Reagan by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. I have just started a biography of baseball player and “philosopher” Yogi Berra. You can see I’m interested in history. My favorite author is James A. Michener, and I own and have read all his great historical novels.

What would you most like people in the audience to know about the Nashville Symphony?
That the job of a musician resembles a professional athlete, NOT an office worker. They would understand us much better by keeping this in mind.

Is there any question you wish I’d asked, but didn’t?
Perhaps this one. Question: From where do you draw your inspiration as a performer? Answer: It’s been different at each stage of my career. As a young musician, it was the music itself. As a middle-aged musician, it was the money. Now I’m an old musician. What else would you call a 40-year player? My inspiration is my audience. The more fun they have, the more I have.

Musician Profile: Anna Lisa Hoepfinger, Violin, joined in 2002, from Bourbonnais, Illinois

Anna Lisa Hoepfinger, violin

Anna Lisa Hoepfinger, violin

What inspired you to become a musician – and what drew you to the violin?
My mom was interested in giving me something to do, so she started me in the Suzuki violin method when I was 6 years old. My older brother was doing many activities, and she wanted me to have my own niche. She was always interested in both our education and development, and music was a gift that she wanted to provide for both her children. My brother played piano. At that time, I really wanted to play ballet music. To me and my 6-year-old way of thinking, that meant I would play the violin.

As for the violin, I just liked it more than any other instrument. I like that I’m a lot closer to the instrument when I’m playing it because it’s smaller, and that it is at a higher register. If I wasn’t a violinist, I’d probably play the oboe or trumpet because I prefer higher-register instruments.

Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
Another big reason why I ended up playing the violin was that I had a great teacher named Carol Dallinger. A childhood teacher can really make or break your development as a musician, and Carol was definitely a big influence on mine. I started studying the Suzuki method with her around the third grade; I now teach Suzuki myself, and Carol has even worked with some of my own students.

I was also fortunate enough to learn from Almita and Roland Vamos while I was studying at Oberlin. They’re both very well known and they have such a clear, defined way of teaching – they’ve pulled together various methods and refined them in their own way, and every student of theirs is very well-trained and disciplined, which is very important at the undergraduate level.

What are the unique challenges of playing the violin?
The violin can be very difficult to learn as a child because it’s unnatural and uncomfortable. When you grow up as a violin student, your hand develops in a different way with a distinct curvature, which takes awhile to get accustomed to. Even now, my hand pronates in a way that makes playing something like the guitar almost impossible.

As a professional, there are still challenges. You always have to be sensitive to intonation, and the instrument is much more physically demanding than people probably realize. We have to be in good shape, and it’s important to find the right balance between practicing on our own and giving ourselves the time needed to recover.

If you could meet one composer, living or dead, who would it be?
Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach are probably my three favorites. But if I could meet one, it would definitely be Brahms. He was such and eccentric, lovable, cute, and humble man. Brahms came from a lower-class family and had a very modest upbringing, but he overcame a lot thanks to his sheer love and need for music. He also had to follow in the footsteps of Beethoven, which had to be intimidating, and was apparently a little bit slovenly — he didn’t like to wear socks or ties. Plus, he had a beard, and I really like beards!

Which composer writes the best music for violin?
Shostakovich’s work is gratifying to play on violin. It is more forgiving in performance than Mozart, for example, which is like playing on glass (every note must be perfect). The Shostakovich Violin Sonata is one of my favorite pieces, and it isn’t performed nearly as much as it should be.

Can you explain the difference between first and second violins?
First violins tend to play the melodies, though that’s not always the case. Second violins don’t usually play the higher register and will have a lower voice in the case of a fugue. I do like playing first violin because it is a bit more challenging. First and second violin positions are simply determined by what is available at the time of auditions. It doesn’t mean one position is more or less talented than the other.

Describe what you’re thinking and feeling right before a concert begins.
That’s something that has changed over the years for me. I used to be focused a lot on the audience right before a concert, but now I’m more immersed in my parts and the music that we’re about to play. I think about the audience more now at the end of a performance, and I always hope that they get as much out of a concert as we all do.

I love sitting in the first violin section and really enjoy my colleagues. We all deeply care about our performance, and depending on the night, I can be pretty social with them onstage before we start performing.

How did you wind up auditioning for the Nashville Symphony?
My aunt (harp) and uncle (bass trombone) – who are the only members of my family who are also musicians – had both played with the Nashville Symphony, so I was certainly familiar with the orchestra and had visited before. I had been living in Brazil for about two-and-a-half years, but I was back in the States studying at a program in Chicago, and I actually won my audition here in Nashville while that program was still going on.

What’s the most memorable thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
Once in Brazil – this was the absolute worst – I was late getting back onstage for the second half of the concert after intermission. Everyone was already seated and quiet, so when I walked onstage, everyone in the audience thought I was the conductor and started applauding! There had to be at least 1,000 people there, and they were all laughing once I took my seat in the tutti violin section.

You have been involved with the Suzuki violin program for some time now, first as a student and now as a teacher. Why do you believe so strongly in the Suzuki method?
Carol Dallinger actually studied with Dr. Suzuki, so that obviously had a role in me pursuing it. But I chose the Suzuki method because it is so organic and well planned-out. The method is based on the way children learn to speak their native language, which makes assimilation easier so they can learn the instrument in the most natural way possible.

It’s a philosophy that really resonates with me. Suzuki students start at an early age, and the method stresses the power and importance of listening, practicing frequently, group and individual teaching, and heavy parental involvement, among other components. There are so many Suzuki teachers out there that I think it has led to a slightly inaccurate portrayal of the method – on the surface it may appear easy, but it’s definitely not all fun and games. Suzuki believed that every child has unlimited potential, and he was a demanding teacher who instilled incredible discipline in his students.

I am currently the secretary of the Middle Tennessee Suzuki Association, and I help organize the workshops and master classes that the organization provides for Suzuki students in the area. It’s also very exciting that I can now bring Carol in to teach some of my own Suzuki students as well.

What part of town do you live in?
I have lived in East Nashville since 2003, and I love it. It’s a great community full of diverse people who are proud to live there. There are so many good places to eat in East Nashville, and I like that it’s easy to get downtown.

I’ve been a core member of the Eastwood Ensemble since the group began in December of 2010. We were voted Best New Chamber Music Series of 2014 in the Nashville Scene. It has a very East Nashville vibe – our performances are diverse and include different performance partners each time, such as singer-songwriters, poetry reading, culinary artists, or groups like The Ukedelics. We are very laid-back. Our program is designed to draw all kinds of people, even those who may not be into classical music per se. We also do a series of concerts hosted by community members in their historic homes while sometimes serving light fare and wine.

What do you do when you’re not practicing, teaching or performing?
I don’t have all that much free time because of my busy teaching and performing schedule. But I’ve dabbled in crochet and beekeeping, and I’ve taken a few clogging and hip-hop lessons. Right now, I’m taking a class at the YMCA called Dance Blast, and I also love Netflix. When we were off this past summer, I crocheted a blanket while watching the entire first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which is such a funny show.

I’m often out dragging my old white dog around while jogging in the Rosebank area of East Nashville, and I’m hoping to start doing some 5K runs in the future. After hearing Erik Gratton play the Nielsen Flute Concerto here recently, I downloaded Nielsen’s Second Violin Sonata, which is something I’d like to play through for fun with a pianist. I can listen to the entire sonata two times through while running a 5K.

Do you enjoy listening to music for fun?
I like pretty much everything. I do enjoy a lot of the pop music that I hear on the radio, but I honestly can’t listen to anything like that consistently for too long. Lately though, I’ve been having a blast from the past, so to speak, and listening to the music I enjoyed in high school, including The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Psychedelic Furs.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I have to be a musician, and I don’t know what I’d do without music. I suppose I would be OK with being another kind of artist, but I’d need to be involved in the arts one way or another.

Why should someone who has never attended a classical concert come to a performance by the Nashville Symphony?
I think everyone should come see a concert here, and more than one! People really need to experience Laura Turner Concert Hall and hear for themselves how an entire orchestra can bring this music to life. There’s so much history in the classical repertoire, and its longevity is truly remarkable. The concerts also give people the chance to learn about all the instruments we play, which strengthens the connection an audience member has to the performance.

Musician Profile: Gerald Greer, Associate Concertmaster, joined in 1991, from Hampton, Virginia

Gerald Greer with Miranda Lambert

Gerald Greer with Miranda Lambert


What inspired you to become a musician – and what drew you to the violin?

As far back as I can remember, I was always fascinated with instruments. When I was 2, I got a tambourine and a record player for Christmas, and I would play that tambourine along with my records all the time! Originally, I wanted to play the trumpet, but my mother did not want a trumpet in the house, so I got a clarinet instead. She said that if I could teach myself how to play it and read music on my own, that I could then start taking clarinet lessons. So I did.

Then in fifth grade, one of my friends played cello in my school’s string section, and I really wanted to do the same. They didn’t have a cello my size since I was a bit smaller, so I was assigned to the violin instead. Once I started playing the violin, I wasn’t interested in anything else. I was so obsessed that my mother would have to force me to stop practicing to eat dinner.

I turned my clarinet into a lamp, which I still have to this day!

Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?

I’d have to say my college violin teacher, Elaine Richey. She really crafted my development and changed a lot of things about how I played, things that have stuck with me and have carried me to where I am now. She was a great musician herself and very much a mother figure to all of her students. My previous teachers were good too, but Elaine really polished and molded me into a better musician.

If you were given the chance to program an orchestra concert, which works would you select?

There would be only one, and it would take up the entire program: Mahler’s Second, the Resurrection Symphony. If it is played well, the Second has this moment, when the orchestra is at full volume and the choir is singing and the organ is blasting, that is the closest thing to a truly spiritual experience in music that I know of. When we did the Second here, it was almost an out-of-body experience for me.

How did you end up at the Nashville Symphony?

I came here from Charleston. I had only been there for about eight months, and the orchestra just wasn’t a good fit for me. So I decided that the first audition I won — wherever it was — would be my next job. The Nashville Symphony turned out to be that audition.

I joined the orchestra thinking I would only be in Nashville for a few years. But I saw so much potential here, particularly in the caliber of musicians. So between that and the strong recording industry here, I decided to stay in Nashville and be a part of building this orchestra to prominence.

What’s been the highlight of your time performing with the Nashville Symphony?

As I mentioned earlier, Mahler’s Second was one of my favorite memories here. But another great moment was that first Carnegie Hall performance in 2000. It was such an exciting thing to be a part of, and there was this great energy in our orchestra. The second performance there, in 2012, was special too, of course. But you only get one first time at Carnegie Hall, and it gave all of us a taste of what an acoustically magnificent concert hall sounds like.

If you had the chance to meet any composer, living or dead, who would it be?

Mozart. He had such an interesting life, and I would love to meet the genius behind all of that spectacular music.

What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?

We were doing one of the Halloween Pied Piper concerts, and of course we were in costume for the occasion. One of my fellow violinists had dressed up as the solar system, which was really a great costume. Her head was the sun, and all the planets were hanging around her head in orbit.

Well, I was in the middle of a big solo, when suddenly the biggest of the planets on her costume fell off and started rolling right past my shoe. Here we are performing, and this bright-orange ball is rolling across the stage. Everyone onstage who saw it was laughing quietly, and it took every ounce of willpower I had to stay focused and not break out in laughter myself!

How have the city and the orchestra changed for you since you first arrived in 1991?

It’s amazing to me just how much Nashville has exploded with all of the building and development. I do like that the downtown area has really come to life, but I must admit I’m not a fan of the increased traffic!

For the Symphony, moving into the Schermerhorn has been the biggest and best change because it transformed the way we play. When the orchestra was at TPAC, we had to work so hard produce a balanced sound for the audience. Once we moved over here, it took all of us a year or two to readjust. The hall is an instrument itself, so we all needed to learn how to play to the acoustics. Now it feels more natural, and we don’t have to play as aggressively.

Watching our orchestra’s reputation and stature grow has also been very gratifying, and that goes back to why I ultimately decided to stay here. The Nashville Symphony has evolved from a medium-sized-city orchestra to one that gets to play in the big leagues now and is internationally recognized.

Do you teach, perform, or record outside of your work with the orchestra?

I used to teach, but I had to stop: Our work here has gotten so intensive that I needed to eliminate something if I wanted to have a life outside of my work. I have done, and continue to do, a lot of recording sessions in Christian and country music, and I’ve been fortunate to record with artists like Amy Grant and Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, and Sheryl Crow.

What are some of your favorite places in Nashville?

I love going out on the town with my friends, and I especially enjoy dining out. Union Common and Urban Grub are two of my current favorite restaurants, and I also like going to Etch and Trattoria Il Mulino after concerts.

What part of town do you live in?

About three years ago, I moved to a 12.5-acre farm out in Williamson County. I needed plenty of property to build a kennel for all of my dogs, and I also wanted to have the privacy that kind of land affords. The farm is great for all of my animals, and I also spend a lot of time working on my flower gardens there. I’ve always been into gardening, but it’s a much larger-scale thing now because I design all of my own flower gardens.

How many animals do you have on your farm?

So many! 12 dogs, three horses, six miniature donkeys, four llamas, two rescue pigs, and two alpacas. I used to be very involved in dog breeding and dog shows. I had a bullmastiff named Liam who was an award-winning, national dog show superstar. He was at the top of the circuit for almost three years before I retired him and started becoming more active with rescue dogs. Of the 14 dogs I have now, three are show dogs and the rest are all rescues.

There are a ton of coyotes out near my farm, so I got the llamas to help protect our other animals from them.

Do you own anything that you consider a “prized possession”?

I still have the baby blanket that my mother brought me home from the hospital in. It has these pink, blue, and yellow baby lambs on it, and I always keep it in a drawer. One time I thought I had lost it, and I absolutely freaked out. But it’s the one thing I have left to hang on to from that time in my life.

Musician Profile: Hunter Sholar, French Horn, joined in 2007, from Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina

hsholarHow did you get interested in music, and what drew you to the horn?
Both my parents were gospel musicians, so I grew up with lots of piano and singing. My mother sang and played piano with The Speers and Higher Ground, and my father sang and played piano with The Centurions. My mother also taught piano, and one of her students was Tony Brown, who went on to become Elvis Presley’s piano player in the mid-’70s, and is now a Music Row record producer.

I started piano at age 5, trumpet at age 10 and horn at age 11. When I first moved to horn, I wasn’t fond of it because it was heavy and hard to play, but I was encouraged to stick with it, and I’m glad I did. When I was in the 9th and 10th grades, I had teachers who pointed me in the right direction and gave me some influential recordings of the Chicago Symphony. I wound up studying music at Northwestern University because of that.

What it’s like to perform onstage with an orchestra?
When I connect and I’m in the moment, I feel present with everything that’s happening onstage. There’s nothing quite like being in that zone. It’s like time stands still. I and my fellow colleagues become one with the music. We collectively feed off the audience, and also off of one another onstage. It puts everything in perspective.

One can draw comparisons to being in the zone when you’re playing sports, but nothing comes close to music, because there’s so much social and emotional content, and so much existential depth connected with music. It’s incredibly humbling to think about the enormous impact music can have on society and how it makes us feel about what’s happening in the real world. All that being said, it’s still really hard to sum up in words!

If you had the chance to meet any composer, living or dead, who would it be?
Gustav Mahler.

If you were given the chance to program an orchestra concert, which works would you select for the performance?
The first half would be Barber’s Essay No. 1 for Orchestra and Robert Schumann’s Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra. After intermission, the second half would be Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht for strings and Ravel’s Boléro. Some of my favorite moments performing with the Nashville Symphony have been when we’ve played Boléro. There’s so much anticipation that you can sense from the audience, and people become ecstatic, like they’re in a trance!

Other pieces I’d love for the Nashville Symphony to perform include Schoenberg’s Pelléas and Mélisande, Webern’s Passacaglia for Orchestra and Mahler’s unfinished Symphony No. 10. Non-classical artists I’d love to perform with the orchestra include Trey Anastasio (#treyanastasio), Umphrey’s McGee (#umphreysmcgee), Keller Williams (#kellermusician), and The Infamous Stringdusters (#stringdusters).

What’s been the highlight of your time with the Nashville Symphony?
There are so many: Every Mahler Symphony we’ve ever performed — Giancarlo Guerrero does them very well. Strauss’ Don Quixote with Yo-Yo Ma. Leonard Slatkin conducting Symphonie Fantastique during my first season with the NSO. Every time we’ve done Beethoven’s Ninth. Ravel’s complete Daphnis et Chloé. Our trip to Carnegie Hall in 2012. Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony. Concertos with Bela Fleck and Victor Wooten are also at the top.

My favorite pops concerts and special events with orchestra include Willie Nelson, Boyz II Men, Cherryholmes and our “Music of” tribute concerts to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson. Getting to play with Ben Folds was a real thrill, both when we performed with him at TPAC and when he premiered his Piano Concerto on our Classical Series. I also really enjoyed our “Classical Americana” special with Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Alison Brown, Jerry Douglas and others. We have such a wealth of musicians in town, and getting to play with them is incredible. You don’t get that in other cities.

What would you most like people to know about the Nashville Symphony?
Being the orchestra in Music City is a huge responsibility. Each year we raise the bar higher and higher, not only with our musicianship, but also with our programming, which appeals to the diverse musical tastes that exemplify Music City. If anyone’s had a negative thought about what it’s like to go to the symphony, they might want to reinvestigate it. Everybody can find something to enjoy here.

I also want people to know that, as musicians, we have so many varying musical influences. That adds a human element people might not be aware of. In addition to classical music, we listen to rock, jazz, bluegrass, funk and other genres — just like many of the people in our audience.

Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony?
I have a summer job with Santa Fe Opera, which is a 10-week festival and leaves me with very little time in between seasons, so I really enjoy my time off when I’m in Nashville. That being said, there are a few local groups that I enjoy playing with regularly, which include the Gateway Chamber Orchestra and my regular seasonal gigs at Belmont United Methodist Church.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not rehearsing or performing?
I enjoy practicing at home, and I like exercising, going to the gym and anything outdoors — running, hiking, mountain biking. I play a lot of disc golf with Music City Disc Golf Club. I follow MLB pretty closely, and I’m a big St. Louis Cardinals fan. I also love cooking, brewing beer, gardening, laying in the hammock and spending time with my partner, Kristen.

What do you like about living in Nashville?
Before I came to Nashville, I moved around a lot — Hawaii, Portland, St. Louis, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Chicago, to mention some. I was ready to have a home, and Nashville has become more and more of a home ever since I’ve been here. I have a lot of friends here. Nashville has a great music culture, and I love going out to see live music, especially bands that improvise and have a really deep connection with the music. I learn from that, and it inspires me. I love the fact that we have a growing craft beer scene, and we have some of the best disc golf courses in the country.

What have you been reading lately?
Andre Agassi’s biography Open was really interesting. I was a big fan of his growing up, and it was interesting to learn about what really went on behind the scenes in his career. He’s one of those human beings who seem bigger than life, and you learn that life’s often more difficult for those people than you’d expect — they have to overcome their share of adversity.
Right now, I’m reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Finding Flow, and Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and John J. Palmer’s How to Brew are always open at my house.

Do you enjoy listening to music?
More times than not, I have music on, although there are times when silence is more desirable. I listen to a lot of non-classical music in my spare time, including The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Phish, Umphrey’s McGee, The Grateful Dead, The New Mastersounds, Bob Marley, The String Cheese Incident, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, John Scofield, The Infamous Stringdusters, Talking Heads, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Weather Report and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, just to name some. I have SiriusXM radio, which I listen to in the car, and my favorite station is Jam On.

Our new Principal Timpanist, Joshua Hickman

Joshua Hickman, Timpanist

Joshua Hickman, Timpanist

The Musicians of the Nashville Symphony would like to introduce you our new Principal Timpanist, Joshua Hickman. Joshua was raised in Prospect, Ohio which lies an hour north of Columbus. While he began playing percussion in 5th grade, he was planning on majoring in psychology. He decided to major in Music Composition at Capital University in Columbus. Upon meeting the Principal Timpanists of the Columbus Symphony, Joshua decided to dedicate himself to percussion, especially the Timpani. He went on to the University of Maryland for his Master’s and is in process of his doctoral degree.

Joshua has a wealth of orchestra experience having performed with Columbus, San Francisco, National, Winnipeg, Baltimore, and Richmond symphonies. He tells us the move from College Park, Maryland to Nashville was relatively easy, and he is enjoying his new home. In his spare time, he enjoys listening to alternative rock, reading, composing, and golf.

Please join us in welcoming Joshua to our orchestra and our city.

Our new Assistant Principal Cellist – Kevin Bate

Kevin Bate, Cello

Kevin Bate, Cello

The Musicians of the Nashville Symphony would like to introduce you our new Assistant Principal Cellist, Kevin Bate. Kevin comes from Brookfield, Wisconsin near Milwaukee where he began playing cello at age 9. Kevin attended the University of Wisconsin, and then went to Germany to attend the Freiburg Conservatory. He studied under the famous cellist Janos Starker at Indiana University and also attended DePauw University in Indiana.

He has held the position of Artist-in-Residence for the Evansville Philharmonic and has played as a sub with the cello sections of the Indianapolis and Detroit symphonies. Kevin comes to Nashville with his wife, violinist Jung Min Shin, and their 10-month old daughter, Liana. When not playing the cello or being a new dad, Kevin enjoys making wine and beer, plus he has recently taken up the hobby of geocaching. He tells us he is impressed with the wealth of live music of all genres that occurs in Nashville.

Please join us in welcoming Kevin to our orchestra and our city.

Musician Profile: Judith Ablon, Viola, joined in 1995, from Brooklyn, New York

Judith Ablon, Viola

Judith Ablon, Viola

What led you to play the viola?
I started playing the viola shortly before I entered graduate school. I made the decision to switch from the violin, and I haven’t looked back. There was something about the rich, chocolatey sound of the viola that made me feel like I’d finally found my voice. The violas, from our spot in the middle of the orchestra, have a way of filling in the cracks, of holding the top and bottom together. It’s a wonderful position to be in. You may not always hear us, but you’d sure miss us if we weren’t there.

What’s your earliest musical memory?
My parents had a recorder ensemble, and I can remember them rehearsing at our house when I was a young child. We also went camping a lot, and my dad would bring a guitar and sing songs by Malvina Reynolds, Woody Guthrie and other folksingers.

What’s your most memorable experience as a performer?
Copland’s Third Symphony with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood in the late 1980s. He wanted us to play the piece in a sexier way, so he made up lyrics for the theme: “I love the way my baby talks, I love the way my baby walks….” Now I can’t hear the piece without hearing him singing that.

What makes the Nashville Symphony unique?
Our focus on performing new American music. I loved the “American Encores” initiative we did in the first two concert seasons after the Schermerhorn opened in 2006: every Classical Series concert featured an American work that had already been premiered, but hadn’t received any or many performances since then. In general, I enjoy the breadth of our programming and would love to see us perform even more contemporary American music.

What do you like about being in the Nashville Symphony?
The orchestra’s seating configuration was rearranged this season, and now the violas sit at the outside of the stage. I like being closer to the audience. When we take our bows, we have a chance to make eye contact with people, and when they smile at us, I like to smile back.

Not a day goes by that I don’t feel fortunate to do what I do. It’s so close to our hearts, sometimes we forget that it’s work.

Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony?
I perform every summer at the Grand Teton Music Festival and the Peninsula Music Festival. When I first joined the Grand Teton Music Festival, I was a young member of the Omaha Symphony. Three orchestras, four cities and many years later, I still find myself drawn to return summer after summer to this very special place of beauty, friendship and glorious music making. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but in a sense, it always feels like a homecoming.

Each summer, I leave Nashville a week before the season winds down, and I come home about a week before the new season starts. Some of my colleagues think I’m crazy to do it, because I don’t get much time off, but I grow so much during those summer months. I stay in shape, learn more repertoire, and I’ve formed many personal connections with people from all over the United States.

What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you (or near you) onstage?
One summer when I was performing at the Grand Teton Music Festival, I was sitting in front of the percussion section during rehearsals and performances of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Not only was the sound of the hammer like nothing I’d ever experienced before, but the great wit of the percussion section was on display when I glanced behind me to find a watermelon sitting atop the giant box (in rehearsal, of course), as if ready to be smashed to pieces!

Do you teach?
I teach private lessons. I see teaching as an opportunity to think about the mechanics of playing. When you’re teaching something, you’re thinking about how you do it, and that’s really helpful to my own playing.

What part of town do you live in?
I live in East Nashville. I like it because I can walk to anything I want — restaurants, the grocery, the post office. I live close enough that I can ride my bike to work, which I do sometimes. I also live close to Shelby Park, and I enjoy riding my bike in Shelby Bottoms.

Do you enjoy listening to music when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
When I’m at home, I welcome the opportunity for silence. When I’m driving, that’s when I listen to music. On Saturday nights after concerts, I love listening to the NPR program American Roots on my way home. Other times, I’ll plug in my iPod and put it on shuffle. I always have something on in the car — frequently it’s a book, but I’ve also got some of my son Josh’s music, along with things I enjoy listening to, like Stephen Sondheim, Diana Krall and k.d. lang, to name just a few.

If I hadn’t become a musician, I would’ve been a…
…doctor. I went to a math and science high school in New York, and I went back and forth about whether to go into medicine or whether to pursue music.

Musician Profile: Clare Yang, Viola, joined in 1995, from Bloomington, Indiana

Clare Yang, Viola

Clare Yang, Viola

How did you first get into music?
I am a musician largely because of my parents and their love of classical music. My father was an amateur violinist and later took up the er-hu (a Chinese violin with two strings), and my mom was actually a piano performance major. She taught us the piano at home, which started for me around the age of 3, and throughout my childhood my mother, sister and I played piano trios — Mozart, Beethoven and later Brahms. That is where my deep love of chamber music started, and that’s helped me tremendously throughout my career. After all, what is an orchestra but a giant chamber ensemble when it is functioning at its best?

How did you choose the viola?
My sister, who is a year older, started violin in fifth grade, and I wanted to be just like her and play the same instrument by the time I got to middle school. Of course, she didn’t like that very much, so she took up the cello once I started violin. I actually didn’t switch to the viola until high school, when a new youth chamber orchestra needed viola players. I decided to give it a try, and once I did, that was it. There was no turning back! There are many jokes between musicians about why a viola is better than a violin, but for me, it was the instrument’s warm, deep and rich sound that I fell in love with. I much prefer the darker mezzo sound it creates; to me, it is the string instrument that sounds most like the human voice.

I also like the viola because it is more of a supporting instrument. I much prefer being in the background rather than the lead, and viola players provide the foundation and middle support in the orchestra. If a piece of music is a building, the viola section is the scaffolding.

Who would you consider your biggest musical inspiration?
My teacher at Indiana University and the former principal violist for The Cleveland Orchestra, Abraham Skernick, immediately comes to mind — not only a fantastic musician, but an amazing person. Many of my instructors on the faculty at Indiana were former Cleveland Orchestra players. They all had such a pure love and joy for music-making that really rubbed off on me.

What is it like to perform at the Schermerhorn? Describe how it feels on a concert night.
Concert nights are always fun for me to look around and enjoy the diversity of our audience. I am especially happy to see students and sometimes very young children who attend with their families. There is a warmth onstage that is really comforting for me. You feel surrounded by support when you look out and see the audience, and that’s truly an inspiration.

I recently got to experience a classical concert night as an audience member, which was a first for me. When we were doing Mahler’s Ninth, I came down with the flu and missed all of the rehearsals. I couldn’t perform, so I attended one of the concerts. It was a completely different experience for me — it literally blew me away and moved me to tears! It really reinforced that all of the hard work and preparation that goes on behind the scenes really shines through in the final performances. There is an intimacy that is inherent in the Schermerhorn that I hadn’t fully realized until I was an audience member that night. After that experience, I always try to look out and find someone to try to connect with and play to; it is so rewarding to see the smiles of enjoyment in the audience.

What is your fondest memory of playing with the Nashville Symphony?
We played Sibelius’ Second Symphony at Cheekwood with Kenneth Schermerhorn in the early 2000s, and it was incredible. Sibelius’ music is so vast, and maximizing the effect of that sound was part of Kenneth’s genius — he was actually awarded the Sibelius Medal in 1979 by the Finnish government for his outstanding performance of works by the composer. The No. 2 was the perfect piece to play outside, sending those notes and melodies out into a vast landscape with no bounce-back, exactly how that music is supposed to be played.

Do you perform or teach outside of your work with the orchestra?
Right now I’m teaching adjunct at Lipscomb University. Before I had my daughter, I taught more frequently at various schools throughout Nashville, but obviously there’s not as much time to do so when you’re a parent. I’ve played in a number of chamber groups outside the Nashville Symphony throughout the years, including most recently the Gateway Chamber Orchestra, and also do occasional session work and weddings.

What do you do when you’re not playing and teaching?
I have a 13-year-old daughter who is a trumpet player and a great one at that — she was recently the first chair trumpet player in the MTSBOA Mid-State Gold Band! Being a parent is actually a tough balancing act with the symphony schedule. Most people might not realize the backwards lifestyle we have, as we are always working when most people are off — i.e., weekends/evenings, which means some weeks, especially when we rehearse all week with the choir in the evenings, I hardly get to see my daughter at all.

I love anything outdoors — kayaking, hiking, biking. I love all of Nashville’s greenways and recently discovered the trails at Beaman Park. When I can, I try to catch up on some Netflix shows, including West Wing, House of Cards and Mad Men, to name a few. Also, I’ve been trying to slowly sample some of the many restaurants that are part of Nashville’s exploding culinary scene.

Do you listen to music on your own time?
I definitely need my fair share of quiet time at home after doing such a noisy job, but I love listening to jazz — Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and the like.

What would you like the public to know about the Nashville Symphony that they might not know?
It takes a tremendous sacrifice in a way to do our jobs, whether it is the time it takes to prepare the music, the physical demands of each individual instrument, or the weekends/evenings away from our families to play the concerts. I will also say that the Symphony’s financial crisis of a few years ago certainly made me rethink my entire outlook and my job. I’ve realized that getting to play in a world-class orchestra is not something to be taken for granted. Rather, it’s a real privilege and honor to be able to play with such an amazing group of musicians in an incredible concert hall and get to share our love of music with Nashville.

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