Surrounded by landmarks that hold stories of activism and courage, the always humble Robert Tanner, D.M.A., always focuses on doing his best no matter what historical legacy he’s about to contribute to.
After graduating from Capital in 1994, he moved to The Ohio State University to earn his Master of Music in Composition in 1996 and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition in 1999. During a Capital Choir tour his junior year, he first visited Atlanta and saw the potential for a career in the south.
“I wanted to be in a place where there would be opportunities to continue to grow as a musician, whether it was performing or composing, whatever the occasion called for. The first job I had in Atlanta is actually an extension of the same job I have now. I started as a faculty member in the music department at Morehouse and taught classes in music theory, composition, and music history,” said Tanner. “Working with students has been a wonderful experience. I have learned as least as much from them as, hopefully, they’ve learned from me.”
As an associate professor of music and academic major director of theatre, and performance and dance at Morehouse College, Tanner has had the ability to work with and mentor hundreds of students throughout his 23 years in higher education. Morehouse College is a private, historically black men’s liberal arts college in Atlanta. Alumni include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee, Dr. David Satcher, and Killer Mike.
“Mentoring is one of the pillars of Morehouse, and I believe I fall into that role willingly. When students come to us, there’s this feeling that they’re in a special place. They know and understand the legacy of the school,” said Tanner. “We all draw on our own experiences and the students who’ve come before so that each interaction helps the student to figure out their personal destiny.”
During his time at Capital, Tanner combined two of his interests to create his own path. With faculty support, Tanner was able to major in music industry and minor in mathematics, two areas of study that are not traditionally connected.
“I was always interested in music. I took piano lessons since I was 5 years old and was in band since fifth grade. By the time I was in high school, I also figured out that I was interested in math. When I started at Capital, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to do anything with math, but once I decided on my minor, I had support from both the music and math faculty,” said Tanner.
Tanner spent the majority of his time at Capital working with the Conservatory of Music faculty and fellow musicians. It was during this time that he really started to focus on composing music and planning his future.
“My primary instrument was percussion. As a percussionist, you end up having to play several different instruments in a number of different groups. In one group, you might play bass drum, and snare drum. In another group, you might play mallet instruments like xylophone,” said Tanner. “When people ask what all does a percussionist do, my answer is, what do we not do? You never know when you’re going to get called upon to do a particular role. You always have to be ready.”
Tanner’s passion for music and people has been a common thread in both his professional and personal life.
“I’ve been involved as a music staff member with the Ebenezer Baptist Church since 2001. As a result, I was able to travel to Europe and broaden my horizons. We had a tour in Germany, France, and Switzerland, then two years later the choir that I performed with traveled to Italy,” he said.
Being an active member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church has allowed Tanner to not only witness, but to participate in several high-profile, historical events.
“When one of our members, Congressman John Lewis, passed away, we were asked to perform for the funeral. There were three former presidents in attendance: President Clinton, President Bush, and President Obama,” said Tanner. “In January 2023, President Biden was our speaker for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, of course, there’s been an increased profile of the church because of the Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock, who serves as our senior pastor.”
Through his work at Morehouse College and Ebenezer Baptist Church, Tanner has spent a significant amount of time working to better his community, a lifelong passion that grew stronger while he was at his alma mater.
“Capital has so many advantages in terms of where it is and what it does. I think that throughout Capital’s history, it has been interested in the development of the whole student academically, socially, and professionally,” said Tanner. “Even with our interconnected world and the fact that we’re connected in different ways than we were 34 years ago, I think that that real-world, person-to-person connection is something that Capital has always emphasized. There’s a sense that you can connect and grow. There are a select few institutions that do that.”
To learn more about Capital’s Conservatory of Music, visit https://www.capital.edu/academics/conservatory/.