About

Paul Tobias

Paul Tobias

Violin

Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 1975

 

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 26 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 4 and 3. 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 Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. I have just started Hell or Richmond by Ralph Peters. 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.