An Appreciation For Music and People

For more than 40 years, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra has been bringing the joy and wonder of symphonic music to the residents of Annapolis. Two years ago, Tonya Robles joined the ranks of the orchestra as its executive director. Since then, she has been working alongside the musicians, volunteers and staff to educate people to foster the appreciation of music through performances and programs.

"Today we are the largest professional art organization in Annapolis," says Robles. "That says a lot in such a culturally rich area." With 70 contracted and unionized musicians, the orchestra is primarily composed of professionals from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metro areas, but some travel from as far as North Carolina to perform. "We are able to get this type of interest from musicians because we have received a lot of regional and national attention for our innovative programs."

Under the musical direction of Leslie Dunner, the orchestra has participated in programs such as the Music Alive Composer Residency Program which brought such composers as Stephen Paulus to Annapolis. Here for three weeks, Paulus worked on an original piece that was unveiled at the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra's 40th Anniversary Concert.

Although she has been with the orchestra for only a short time, music has always played an important role in Robles' life. "I began singing in the church choir when I was three years old." Her mother, a pianist, and her father, a singer, often hosted piano parties that filled her childhood home with music. Later, Robles majored in voice and music education at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and received a master's degree in public administration from the University of Maryland.

In addition to her natural love of music, Robles feels her childhood also helped prepare her for her job with the orchestra. "As the daughter of a preacher, I learned how to work with people and volunteers," she says. "It was the best training I could ever hope to have." Married for seven years, Robles met her husband, Michael, while helping to build a church in the Annapolis area. "My father kept telling me I needed to come. I couldn't understand why he was being so persistent, but I finally gave in," she says. "When I arrived, the site was full of midshipmen." Robles and her future husband spent the next two days putting tarpaper on a roof. She gave him her phone number on the back of a sheet of music. The couple now has a 1-year-old son, Samuel.

After being stationed in Spain and Italy and deployed to such places as Crete and Turkey, the Robles were finally able to return to Annapolis. "We pushed to be stationed here. The city has fond memories for us. It has a distinctive flavor that we love." Robles' husband now teaches a professional development course at the Academy and, as a naval flight officer, teaches midshipmen who will be attending flight school.

According to Robles, what she loves about her job with the orchestra is that there is never a typical day. She can attend a public relations meeting followed by a board meeting and end with a rehearsal. "In this job, a lot crops up unplanned. We end up putting out a lot of fires."

Based at Maryland Hall, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra gives more than 20 classical, pop and family performances each year. The orchestra also performs two shows annually with the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club---Handel's "Messiah" and the "Spring Oratorio." In addition, the orchestra has partnerships with two schools (Germantown Elementary and Bates Middle School), offers the Music Man program in Anne Arundel County schools, and sponsors an instrument drive for needy area students.

"The real backbone of the orchestra is the volunteers," Robles says. "The Friends of the Orchestra helps with educational programs, raises money and offers hospitality to guest artists." There is also a group called Forte, an outreach program whose goal is to encourage young professionals to get involved in the orchestra. If you would like to volunteer your time to the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, call the office at 410-269-1132. Staff members will identify your interests and match them with the orchestra's needs. You also may find out more about the orchestra by visiting


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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