Tolbert credits her start into a lifelong love of classical music and a career as a music professor and professional percussionist in part from her start with the Rome Symphony Orchestra.
“I was a high school band member at West Rome High School under band director Clyde Roberson when he asked if I wanted to play with the orchestra,” Tolbert said. “I just liked to play so I thought this would be fun.”
Tolbert and another band member and percussionist, Phil Jenkins (who went on to be the conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Chorus) began going to orchestra rehearsals. At that time, around 1966, the orchestra was small and still conducted by the founder of the orchestra, Helen Dean Rhodes.
“Miss Helen” was a great mentor to me,” Tolbert remembered. “But I’m afraid we were more of a nuisance to her than anything. We didn’t have a lot to do in those days so during rehearsals of music that didn’t include any percussion parts we would explore the city auditorium. We went down in the basement and found old police records and read them hoping to recognize someone’s name. We climbed out on the roof of the auditorium (over a very deep stair well that was probably very dangerous) to look out over Broad Street.
“At Christmas it was worth the dangerous climb to see all the lights on Broad Street,” she added. “We got to know the firemen in the fire station that was there. Miss Helen was always looking for us when there was something for us to finally play! It was a great adventure! And it was the beginning of my long musical career even though I didn’t know it at the time.”
Tolbert majored in music at Berry College and was a middle school and high school band director for 18 years. She received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Georgia in 1997 and has been a music professor and the Music Education Coordinator at Georgia College since 1997.
She now plays with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, the Macon Symphony Orchestra, and is the principal percussionist with the Albany Symphony Orchestra.
“I’ve played with Benny Goodman, Ray Charles, Bernadette Peters, Anna Moffo, Doc Severinsen, Van Clyburn and many, many others,” she said. “It has been and continues to be a great life in part thanks to Miss Helen and the Rome Symphony Orchestra. I look forward to completing that musical ‘circle of life’ by once again playing with this orchestra.”
Tolbert is the daughter of Rome natives Patti Tolbert and the late M.M. Tolbert of O’Leary Lane.
The Rome Symphony Concert in which Tolbert will play, will be an evening of traditional patriotic music ending in fireworks on July 4 at Ridge Ferry Park. The concert will also feature the 8th Regiment Band of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry. Gates open at 6 p.m. and admission is free. Music begins at 7 p.m., fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m.