Jeanne Urbach turned a life of music into a career

Jeanne Urbach plays her cello, which she played with the Grand Junction Symphony for 31 years.


Her path into music was perhaps nontraditional.

Jeanne Urbach neither started on a musical instrument as a young child nor was inspired to perform by listening to others play.

Instead, Urbach picked up the cello at 14 years old because she was forced to.

Urbach, 85, remembers her cousin needed a cellist to form a musical group, so Urbach was told she had to help.

And she distinctly remembers why she decided to continue playing the cello even though she wasn’t a music aficionado.

“I loved Al anyway,” Urbach said with a smile.

Al Urbach was her music teacher.

Less than 10 years after Jeanne and Al met as music student and teacher, they married. Jeanne Urbach even dropped out of school as a teenager to study music with Al at a music conservatory in Birmingham, Ala.

Urbach’s decision to change her life for someone else is no surprise to Kirk Gustafson, the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra’s music director since 1987. They’ve known each other for 23 years.

“She has a huge heart,” Gustafson said.

Although Gustafson has been with the local symphony for more than two decades, Urbach beats him by another decade.

Urbach was one of the founders of the symphony in 1978. At the time, she and several other local musicians formed the Grand Junction Musical Arts Association because a small group of local people wanted a more professional orchestra, Urbach said.

The symphony’s first concert in October 1978 featured music by Hector Berlioz, among others, according to symphony records.

From 1978 until May 2009, concert-goers could attend symphony performances and expect to see Urbach in the cello section. The symphony is a huge source of pride for Urbach, who is pleased with the musical improvements in the group’s size and talent.

However, all musicians reach a point in their lives where the ability to play is no longer what it once was, and Urbach is no different.

Last year, Urbach decided the arthritis in her hands was taking its toll on her ability to rehearse and perform.

She decided to retire from the symphony. She did so in true Urbach fashion, Gustafson said. She waited until after the May concert to send Gustafson a handwritten letter.  the chance to recognize Urbach for her contribution to music in the Grand Valley by dedicating an entire show to her.

But she wanted none of it.

Instead, other members of the symphony sing her praise.

Above the symphony music library room in the office in the Alpine Bank building is a sign that reads “Jeanne Urbach Music Library.”

Depending on who you ask, Urbach was the symphony librarian from 1990 until 2005 or as early as 1979.

She filed music, ordered music and bowed music for orchestra performances.

“Bowing” music refers to the markings stringed instrument players need on their sheet music to ensure they are in sync with bow movements.

“When she worked in our office she was immensely helpful,” Gustafson said. “If I needed something done, Jeanne would do her damnedest to get things done.”

Between playing in the symphony or working in the symphony office, Urbach found her 30-plus years with the symphony a rewarding time.

Urbach relishes the chance to listen to music and occasionally play her cello, which she sheepishly said she hasn’t picked up since Christmas. From the tiny grand piano statue in her entryway to the musical notes note pad hanging on her refrigerator, Urbach has welcomed music into her life.

In January, she bought her first ticket to a symphony concert and attended “Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel” as a spectator rather than a performer. She enjoyed the performance, but “it was hard.”

“Fortunately, the ticket I bought was next to a friend, so that helped.”


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