Jackson Sun: Music and politics: Sen. Lamar Alexander plays with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra

Posted on November 1, 2010

Sen. Lamar Alexader played Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra Saturday night at the Carl Perkins Civic Center.

Performing with choruses from four area universities, the longtime politician and pianist played the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, blending into the 200-person chorus with four vocal soloists.

This is the senator's second time playing with the symphony. The first time was 30 years ago.

"Music is what unifies our state, and I wanted to put a spotlight on the communities like Jackson that have made a special effort to encourage music," Alexander said.

The senator played with the Knoxville Symphony for the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

He also played for the 25-year anniversary of the Governor's School for Performing Arts in 2008. He helped create the school.

Alexander said he is a classically trained pianist, having taken lessons in his youth.

"Well, my mother took me to Maryville College when I was 4 years old," the senator said.

He took what was then called "experimental piano lessons" and said he won a few statewide competitions in high school but didn't pursue music in his college years.

"I've always enjoyed music, and it's even helped provide me a living," Alexander said.

He described a time when playing the piano helped supplement his income.

"When I was a law clerk in New Orleans after law school, I wasn't making much money," he said. "So I got a job at night playing at a place called Your Father's Mustache on Bourbon Street."

There he played the trombone, wishbone and tuba for the restaurant's band. Since then, the senator has intertwined politics and music throughout his life.

About two weeks ago, he played in Paris at a political rally for Stephen Fincher.

"Music has given me a lot of joy throughout my life," Alexander said.

The former governor described a time when a second-grade class visited him in the governor's office. 

"A little second-grade girl came up to me, and the first thing she said to me was, 'I play the piano too,'" Alexander said.

"Maybe through my example I could encourage other children and other Tennesseans to enjoy music."

The senator said when Congress is back in session, he hopes to work on legislation that will keep taxes from going up.

"I think it's a bad idea to raise taxes on anybody in the middle of a recession," Alexander said. He explained that taxes will go up automatically on Jan. 1.

The senator plans to introduce tax legislation sometime during November or December, with his goal being job creation.

"I'm just going to enjoy; I'm grateful to the symphony for inviting me. It's been 30 years since I performed here, and I'm looking forward to it," Alexander said Saturday afternoon before the performance.