Bob Marler

Hometown: Flat River, Missouri
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 2010

What inspired you to become a musician?
When I was born, my father quit the lead mines and opened up a music store, and my mother was a piano teacher. So I was literally raised in a music store. When I got to be around 6 or 7, I started taking piano lessons, and I was always demonstrating the pianos in the store to help try to sell them.

Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician, and what have you learned from them?
I was the black sheep in my family, in the sense that I loved classical music, but country and gospel was what they played primarily in the store. We sold records, and it was there that I discovered early recordings of Arturo Rubinstein playing Brahms. I absolutely loved those. I had the opportunity to see him perform live at least three times, and that had a gigantic influence on me. The very first grand piano I ever bought, Rubinstein had played at one time. It may seem comical, but at an early age I was also impressed by the facility and musicianship of Liberace.

Even though you joined the Nashville Symphony full-time in 2010, you’ve had a long history with the ensemble.
My very first time performing with the orchestra was around 1983 or ’84, shortly after Kenneth Schermerhorn arrived. I did some concertos in honor of the movie Amadeus and some parks concerts. Then I started working with Nashville Ballet the first year they became a professional company, performing solo piano ballets. When the Ballet started performing with the orchestra, I discovered that was a unique opportunity to play concertos, because we did as many as seven or eight piano concertos that were ballets. Then, about 15 years ago, I started subbing regularly for [former principal keyboardist] Charlene Harb.

Do you have a favorite piece of music you’ve performed with the Nashville Symphony?
I would have to say it’s the concertos I’ve done, particularly with Nashville Ballet — a couple of Mozart concertos, Tchaikovsky’s Grand Piano Concerto. Another favorite is Roberto Sierra’s Sinfonía No. 4.

Do you have a favorite Nashville Symphony recording?
I’m probably most proud of Joan Tower’s Made in America, which was our first GRAMMY®-winning recording. I also love our Astor Piazzolla recording, because the piano has a few solo moments, and I also have a lot of interplay with the bandoneón, which is the accordion-like instrument featured on one of the pieces.

You’re participating in the Nashville Symphony’s OnStage series on May 13. What will you be performing?
I’m part of a trio with Nashville Symphony cellist Xiao-Fan Zhang and violinist Elisabeth Small, who is a colleague of mine at Belmont University. We’ve been invited to do a multi-city tour of China in June, so some of the music we’ll be performing on that tour, we’ll be trying out for OnStage, including piano trios by Shostakovich and Dvořák. Our first concert is June 17 in Beijing, and the next night we play in Shanghai; we’ll eventually end up in Western China, so we’ll circle the entire country in about two weeks.

What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
I was performing where I normally sit at the back corner of the stage, and someone in a box above me knocked over a glass of wine and it landed right near me. The glass shattered and got wine on all the percussionists. We looked up to see where it had come from, but nobody claimed it.

You’ve been a longtime professor at Belmont University. How has your experience as a teacher influenced your work as a musician, and vice versa?
It’s a perfect combination. As a teacher, I’m always having to find the best way to solve problems my students might have, and that makes me more attentive to my own problems. As an orchestra musician, I have to learn a lot of music very quickly, so I have to be very efficient with practice and identify what needs to be learned first. That discipline has been useful to apply to my students in helping them learn more effectively.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not rehearsing or performing?
I have rediscovered biking in last six months. Several years ago, I was into biking to such a degree that I cycled across the United States three times over the course of a decade. The last trip I took was 3,500 miles. I would average nearly 100 miles a day, with a day off in parks every seven or eight days. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I can tell you a story about something that happened on every one of the 40 days of the trip — including spending the night in jail on a Navajo reservation, because that was the safest place to sleep.

Are you a reader?
When I do read, I’ve been interested in psychology books. The Inner Game of Tennis was redone as The Inner Game of Music, and that shares interesting things related to music performance and teaching.