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Music lifts cellist Anne Robison from the mundane to the sublime

What do Tubby the Tuba and Elton John have in common?

They helped make Anne Robison the woman she is today — a talented cellist who has an appreciation for a wide range of music.

Photo by Chris Briscoe Anne Robison has a busy life. She's a mom, a wife, co-owner of a business, and plays cello in the Rogue Valley Symphony.

Robison has played cello in the Rogue Valley Symphony for 19 years. By day, she runs a business and serves on the Ashland Chamber of Commerce board of directors. She and her husband, Jason, own The Crown Jewel, with stores in Ashland and Jacksonville selling gifts and jewelry.

Music has been part of Robison’s life from the beginning.

“We grew up with a lot of music playing in our house on the record player,” she said.

“My first memories at age 3 or 4 include listening to my favorite records while lying on the carpet — Tubby the Tuba, Peter and the Wolf, Sesame Street, Captain and Tennille, Elton John, ‘Free to be You and Me.’ I listened to them over and over.”

Her father had a large collection of jazz records. Her mother was a big opera fan. And they both owned ‘50s and ‘60s rock and roll.

“I owe a lot of my classical music appreciation and education to the concerts and operas they took me to in Houston, San Francisco and Seattle,” she said. “I have seen some pretty famous opera productions, and I am grateful to them for that.”

Among the most memorable are a performance of “Treemonisha,” by American ragtime composer Scott Joplin; and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” with Maurice Sendak sets.

Robison, 50, lives in Ashland. The pandemic shut down live performances of the symphony, but it also was a challenge to the family’s making music together at home.

“Music soon fell away from me because I worked harder at our business to keep it afloat, and needed to spend a lot more time providing the support my kids would have normally gotten at school,” she said.

She misses playing in small ensembles and chamber groups, but has found it difficult to commit to a group under the circumstances.

Meanwhile, she practices at home and plays on her own, as time allows.

“It’s wonderful for staying in shape and keeping up good relations with your instrument,” she said. “It’s also very meditative and a great way to get alone time in a family.”

Cello was her first instrument, but she also took piano lessons for a few years in elementary school. “I am thankful I can still plonk around on the piano a bit,” she said. “And the piano was a great introduction to reading treble and bass clef.”

How did she end up playing the cello? The mom of a classmate had studied cello at Temple University and started an after-school Suzuki program at Robison’s elementary school in Houston.

“You could choose between violin and cello, and since most kids chose violin, I wanted to be different and chose the cello.”

Part of what makes the cello special to her is the almost universal appeal of the instrument.

“No one on the planet has ever said, ‘I really don’t like the sound the cello makes.’ I don’t think you can say that about any other instrument.

“It’s human-sized, human-shaped and sounds human,” she said. “The cello gets to express the deepest human emotions in music. What’s not to like?”

She took private lessons from age 11 to 19, for most of those years with Bob Deutsch of the Houston Symphony. Then she studied a year with noted cellists and teachers Anthony Elliott and Jeffrey Solow.

She played in the Houston Youth Symphony during her high school years and attended the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina two summers when she was 16 and 17.

“It was absolutely the best thing ever,” she remembered. “I had found my peeps, and I had no problem playing and practicing music all day long.”

She originally planned to major in physics at university, but the art history department at Swarthmore College won her over.

“It was so amazing,” she said. “It combined a study of history, psychology, economics and religions through the lens of art. I loved it. I suppose I planned on becoming a professor, but by the time I was at the University of Chicago (where she earned her master’s degree), specializing in medieval art, I guess I got tired of being in school and disillusioned with an academic career.”

During her college years, she continued playing cello — in orchestras, in quartets and in a summer opera.

Her favorite spot? In small ensembles.

“I especially like to play in small chamber groups,” she said. “Quartets are the absolute bomb! And some of the best music ever written seems to be for the string quartet, or quintet with piano.”

Music always will be part of Robison’s life.

“Music lifts us out of the world of the practical and mundane into a world of more transcendent truths,” she said. “It reminds us not only of the presence of things greater than ourselves, but also of the greatest things humankind can achieve.”

That said, she also gets a lot of satisfaction in her role as a business owner.

“I love being a kind of ambassador for the town when I meet shoppers,” she said.

She also enjoys the variety of running a small business.

“You do everything from accounting to marketing to managing employees to buying products,” she said. “I never get bored by having to do only one job.

“Lastly, I can easily tend toward being introverted and awkward, and customer service really helps lift me out of that.”

When she isn’t making music or running a business, she likes to hike, play games and spend time with the family.

Meanwhile, the Rogue Valley Symphony’s 2021-22 season is off to a sputtering start. It was forced to cancel the September live concert because the venue wasn’t available, but it hopes to go live in October or at least by November.

To Robison, it’s both frustrating and encouraging.

“I can’t wait to get back to RVS.”

You can reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.