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Folks You Should Know: The Muellers

Amanda J. Vicars • Mar 7, 2013 at 12:49 PM

Music transcends all communication barriers to unite the artist with the audience; it is a "universal language." For Johnson City Symphony Orchestra principal musicians, Larry and Cynthia Mueller, music was a language spoken in their own lives throughout childhood and it served as the source of their meeting at Ohio University in 1975.

Larry Mueller was raised in Toledo, Ohio, where as a child he first played the recorder, then the clarinet in fourth grade. Persuaded by his brother, a bassoon player, Larry took up the oboe in high school. His wife, Cynthia, a native to Basking Ridge, N.J., began playing piano at the age of 6 under the guidance of her mother, an amateur jazz pianist, and by the age of 10 began learning stringed instruments. Both undergraduates at OU years later, Larry studied the oboe and Cynthia music education. They not only shared a love of music but, "that's kind of where we fell in love with Appalachia," Larry admits.

The two went on to achieve higher degrees of learning at separate colleges before marrying seven years after first meeting. Larry achieved his Master of Oboe Performance from the University of Iowa, repairing instruments on weekends for the West Music Company, and Cynthia earned her master's in strings pedagogy from the University of Michigan.

The Muellers then traveled west, living in San Antonio for 28 years. There, Cynthia worked as a school orchestra director while her husband functioned as a freelance repairman of woodwind instruments, specializing in the oboe and clarinet. During their spare time, the couple also played in symphonies around the greater San Antonio area.

When Cynthia Mueller retired as a director, they decided to escape the Texas heat and hustle of big city living.

"We wanted to get back to a more beautiful part of the country with a better climate and closer to family," Larry said.

Having been drawn to the beauty of Appalachia since college, the musicians scoured the Internet for possibilities in the region. They recalled being pleased with the look of the Tri-Cities, having traveled through in the past on their way to visit an oboe maker in Atlanta and their families up north. They soon discovered the area had two orchestras so they contacted local musicians about any openings. There were openings, so they moved.

Cynthia was the first to fill a position with the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra, performing as their principal bassist for the past two and a half years. Larry first played 2nd oboe with the Symphony of the Mountains (with which he continues to play), and took on the role of principal oboist in the JCSO last year.

Cynthia, who also teaches string ensemble and string methods at the University of Virginia at Wise one day a week, is a member of Kingsport Church of Christ, while Larry plays in the Indian Springs Baptist Orchestra.

The husband and wife enjoy trying local cuisine and sightsee when they can. Their favorite daily activity is walking their dogs.

"The whole neighborhood knows us," Cynthia said with a smile.

For the musicians Mueller, Northeast Tennessee is their idea of a vacation and the optimum place to retire.

"If we were to go somewhere, it'd be the mountains and the woods - and here we are," Larry explained.

Their house in Kingsport serves dual functions: as Larry's workshop for oboe, clarinet and flute repair, and as Cynthia's studio for giving private string lessons to her 25 students.

"Larry repairs instruments from all over the country," Cynthia said. And although she plays all the stringed instruments (violin, viola, cello and bass), bass is Cynthia's main instrument, Larry said.

For the Muellers, music is life and through it they communicate with others.

"It's called the 'universal language'," Larry said.

His wife of 30 years went on to complete his thought with a quote from Victor Hugo: "Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent."

This article is part of an ongoing series appearing in the Johnson City Press' Sunday Stories edition about musicians in the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra.

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