Marianne Robison admits to being a “music geek.” She loves inspiring middle-school students and watching them become “geeked out about making music.”
Robison, longtime Talent Middle School band and choir teacher, is retiring in June. Saturday’s Pear Blossom Parade will be the last time she leads her merry band of approximately 70 seventh- and eighth-grade musicians.
The 64th annual parade will be Robison’s 28th — a grand finale of sorts as she winds down her 31st year as a music educator in the Phoenix-Talent School District.
She jokes that she’s been in so many Pear Blossom parades, “I’m like an old piece of furniture.”
Hardly. Her exuberance is infectious, her students say.
Victoria Balzer, now a University of Oregon journalism student, marched with the Talent Middle School band under Robison’s direction.
She recalls marching down the parade route to the tune of the "Indiana Jones" theme.
“(Robison) would be marching and conducting the band, and then be hugging people in the crowd. Everyone knows her.”
The “people” were typically former students Robison recognized. And they reciprocated the affection by cheering and applauding her.
“There’s a magic about her,” says Balzer. “She’s a bright light.”
After her students play their final chords and hit the last note in June, Robison will lay down her baton.
There’s still a “big question mark” about what lies ahead in retirement. But there was never any question about her career choice.
“When I joined the fifth-grade band, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she says. “At the tender age of 10, I made my career choice. I wanted to teach music.
“I wanted to do what I saw Mr. Miles (her band teacher) do. I wanted to teach kids how to make an instrument work.”
Robison grew up in a musical family in Troy, Montana — “a tiny little town tucked in the northwest corner of the state.” Her mother played the organ and piano for church worship services, and Robison took piano lessons.
Although she never thought of becoming a serious musician, she did learn to play the flute. In high school, she discovered choir, and that was “wonderful.”
After college in Bozeman, she landed her first teaching job in Centerville, Montana, near Great Falls. After two years, she moved to the Seattle area and taught middle school and high school music classes. Two years later, her family moved to the Rogue Valley.
Robison’s long career in the Phoenix-Talent School District began at Orchard Hill Elementary, where she taught general music appreciation for three years. When she saw that elementary music education programs were being dropped, she moved to the junior high, she says, for “job security.”
Talent Middle School is where she has stayed for 28 years.
Middle school students are her favorite, she says.
“I have taught first grade through high school, and I am glad that the bulk of my career has been at the middle school. It’s the perfect spot.”
She attributes her “great passion” to her students’ youthful energy.
“They give off an energy that I feed off,” she says.
With middle school students, you can “laugh, tease and joke.”
Her greatest joy, though, is hearing them “make music — doing something they didn’t think they would ever do.”
Balzer remembers watching Robison work wonders.
“It was incredible,” she says. “There were students who had never seen an instrument or knew how to read music, and within the first two months of school, they were playing in the (school) concert.”
“She was always excited” about her students’ progress, Balzer adds.
Balzer grew up in a musical family, too. But it was Robison’s mentoring that gave her a deeper appreciation of music. She learned to play the saxophone and read music.
“I was 12 years old and in the sixth grade. It was amazing. You will never find a more passionate teacher.”
Balzer admits that in high school her interests went in a different direction. And yet, she feels that learning the “whole new language of music” has made her “more cultured.”
“It was really awesome.”
Robison says she owes her passion for teaching music to Bob Miles.
She had an opportunity several years ago to thank him in person.
“I ran into him at an all-school reunion,” she recalls. “I told him, ‘You are why I do what I do.’”
“He laughed and then asked what I did. I told him, ‘I teach band and choir.’ ”
“It was such a special moment to be able to tell him that his impact on me was so huge,” Robison says. “I thought what he did was so magical, so amazing.”
A year later, Miles traveled from Whitefish, Montana, to Talent and attended the middle school’s end of the year concert. Robison was touched by his gesture.
He returned in 2001. This time, he brought along a cherished memento — a teakwood baton that Robison and her classmates had presented him decades earlier when he left their school in Troy.
“He presented that baton to me,” she says. “He literally passed the baton to me.”
Now, 16 years later, it’s her turn.
The prospect of retirement is “a little daunting, but it’s time for a new chapter.”
“I loved teaching,” Robison says. “I will have a hole in my heart, for sure.”
She says she may be a substitute teacher in the Medford School District. She plans to visit her sons in Seattle and New York, and certainly wants to keep her hands in music.
“I would love to sing in a group. I might drag out my flute. I certainly won’t be getting up at 5:30 a.m. or picking up a crochet hook.”
She says she plans to fill her time with meaningful pursuits.
“I need to have some purpose.”
— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at firstname.lastname@example.org.