Steamboat Symphony Orchestra welcomes new executive director
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Jennifer Lee Robinson was 5 years old, she begged her parents for piano lessons. Hesitant to buy a piano for a child who’d gone through several short-lived phases of dance classes, they told her they’d get her one if she practiced on their neighbor’s every single day.
“That’s still the piano in my house today,” said Robinson, who stepped into the executive director position of Steamboat Symphony Orchestra in early August.
Robinson’s love of music continued throughout her next several decades. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Washington, and a master’s in vocal performance and choral conducting from the University of New Mexico. She’s worked in arts administration in several capacities; she’s also run cooking companies, worked as a political advocate and written 18 romance novels.
“I’d consider myself a ‘serial entrepreneur,’” Robinson said.
Robinson, her husband and their two high school-aged daughters — all of whom are musicians — moved to Steamboat nearly a year ago, when Robinson and her husband were able to work remotely.
“We wanted to be in a community that has strong support for the arts,” Robinson said.
Soon enough, the executive director position opened.
“I’m excited to use my entrepreneurial background to help the symphony grow,” Robinson said.
What: Latin Fiesta
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, and family night 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22
Where: Strings Music Pavilion, 900 Strings Road
In her first six weeks in the role, she’s seen several heartening elements of Steamboat Symphony.
There were more than 600 attendees at the Mozart C-minor Mass on Sept. 1.
“The quality of the playing … to be honest, I have no words,” Robinson said. “This performance was easily as good as anything performed in New York or Chicago. Maybe even better.”
She added that the Steamboat Symphony Maestro and players, in addition to, of course, having top-notch musicianship, they’re also having “so much fun” while they’re playing.
“I’ve never attended an orchestra concert where the players actually smile while playing,” Robinson said. “That happens here.”
She’s also excited about the happenings within Steamboat Symphony’s educational outreach model, which supports the Steamboat Springs High School string orchestra and offers String Immersion weekends, during which local students get to play with professional musicians.
“(The student musicians) have such heart, and they play with such joy,” Robinson said. “They’re as good as any high school orchestra I’ve heard across the country.”
She noted that this model is unique — the only one she’s aware of in the U.S. — and that she’s looking forward to seeing how it can be replicated in other small towns.
“In a day and age when music and arts programs are always on the chopping block, that’s a really exciting model,” Robinson said.
The next step, Robinson notes, is to develop a middle school and elementary feeder program and figure out funding it.
“We’ve all seen the studies showing how participating in music improves executive function, empathy, well-being and test scores,” Robinson said. She notes that while 2% of high school athletes earn college scholarships for their sport, around one-third of music students get an amount of financial aid for their involvement with their instrument or singing, and for some families, that can make the difference between their child going to college or not.
Robinson also looks forward to deepening Steamboat Symphony’s connection to the community; going forward, the orchestra materials will be printed bilingually, and the website will soon be bilingual.
“We want this community to know that everyone is welcome, and everyone has a home in music,” she said.
She’s also planning to develop the symphony’s programming and outreach, grow audiences and increase collaborations with other arts organizations; if anyone has an idea for collaborations, she’s more than happy to hear more about it.
“I’d love it if, in five or ten years, people across the country think of Steamboat Springs as the Vienna or the Salzburg of the Rockies,” Robinson said. “That we’re known for the high caliber of our arts as well as the Champagne Powder we all love.”
Looking forward, the symphony’s season opener is set for Sept. 21, when violinist Manuel Ramos and multi-instrumentalist Eduardo Cassapia return to Steamboat Symphony to share music by South American composers, including Alberto Ginastera, Arturo Márquez, José Pablo Moncayo and more. A Family Night version of the show takes place Sept. 22, with festivities at La Fiesta Grill, 1755 Central Park Drive, taking place beforehand, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., open to all.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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