I Am Woman, Hear Me Write

Robyn Bell: Music-making is my gift through life

Robyn Bell, the director of instrumental studies at the State College of Florida, will head the newly formed orchestra, a classical music ensemble comprising student musicians from the college and musicians from the Bradenton area.
Robyn Bell, the director of instrumental studies at the State College of Florida, will head the newly formed orchestra, a classical music ensemble comprising student musicians from the college and musicians from the Bradenton area. PROVIDED PHOTO

When people ask “What do you do for a living,” I struggle for the correct answer. My most encompassing response is, “I’m a musician,” but I’m also an educator, a counselor, an administrator, a marketer, a fundraiser, an entertainer, a recruiter, a librarian, a janitor — all things that come with the territory of being a musician.

My career started when I joined my junior high school band in the seventh grade. My band director tapped me as a trumpet player and, it turns out, I was pretty good at it. In fact, I was better than anybody else in the entire band! I continued my music study through high school and received a scholarship to college. In my senior year, I was required to take a “conducting” class and, as it turns out, I was pretty good at it. In fact, I was better than anybody else in the entire class! Upon graduation, I enrolled at the University of Tennessee to get a master’s degree in conducting, and eventually earned a doctorate in music education from Boston University.

My first job was as a high school band director in Georgia. I taught marching band, concert band, jazz band, percussion ensemble, and administered a 125-piece band program. I learned more about people, communication, public school education issues, and fund-raising than I could ever possibly share here. To this day, I love going to the local high school band rooms and feeling like I am right back in the mix of all that organized chaos. Teachers in our area like Jim Bruce at Manatee High School and Ron Lambert at Lakewood Ranch High School deserve all of our respect and admiration. Being a high school band director is a tough job!

After my ninth year of teaching, a private liberal arts college hired me to teach music classes and conduct their orchestra. That was 2008. The housing market collapsed that fall, and the American economy took a nosedive. As a first-year instructor, my position was not safe. The college lost $38 million in its endowment, and 11teaching positions would not be renewed the next school year. Mine was one of them.

My experience of teaching band and orchestra was a huge payoff when I applied for the director of instrumental studies position at what was then Manatee Community College. The day they offered me the position was the day the name was changed to “State College of Florida.” I didn’t really care what the name of the school was — I had a new job! I moved to Bradenton on Aug. 10, 2009 and got right to work.

In my third year at SCF, I was appointed conductor of the Pops Orchestra. I am beginning my eighth year at the college and my sixth year with the Pops, but my most exciting venture is about to start this year. The State College of Florida’s Bradenton Symphony Orchestra will hit the ground running, with four amazing concerts for our community and finally an orchestra for Bradenton to call its own. It is an invigorating time in the Bradenton cultural arts scene, and I am so excited to be a part of it in this way. With the SCF music program performances, the Bradenton Symphony Orchestra concerts and the Pops Orchestra concerts, we’ll have over 28 evenings of music performances at SCF’s Neel Performing Arts Center (which was upgraded with all new seats this summer!).

But, as I step back to take a look at my 17-year career thus far, the music-making has been a means to an end of building relationships with other people, bringing joy to people’s lives through performances, and educating our young people’s hearts and souls. I often say, “If English, science and math are the education of the human mind, then music, theater and art are the education of the human spirit.”

The human spirit needs nurturing like never before. I am proud to be a part of that process in Bradenton, and encourage us all to support that process in every way we can.

Email Robyn Bell: bellr@scf.edu. Twitter @maestrabell

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