Where It All Began
Dr. Julia W. Rohr passed away in March, 2019, at the age of 101. Dr. Rohr directed the Sarasota Choral Society from 1954 to 1994. She directed choirs and taught music for seven decades, six of those decades in Sarasota, Florida. Most women her age had long retired, but not this energetic, feisty lady! She worked full-time giving private piano, voice, and violin lessons five days a week at Julie Rohr Academy.
Her musical career began at age six when she started elementary school in Fall River, Massachusetts. She immediately set herself apart from her peers with her musical talent. That talent sent her to Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia where she graduated with a degree in vocal and instrumental music. She married her college sweetheart, Arthur Rohr, who was a band director and later would conduct the Sarasota Concert Band for many years. They moved to Kannapolis, North Carolina where she began teaching high school chorus and orchestra. They moved to Sarasota in 1953 with their daughter and Arthur’s parents. Dr. Rohr immediately began teaching in the Sarasota County public schools where she taught elementary through high school in chorus, orchestra, and general music for over 40 years. She has taught in every public school in Sarasota north of Nokomis; elementary, junior high, and high school, at one time or another. Prior to directing the choir at Bee Ridge Presbyterian (where she retired after more than 40 years), Dr. Rohr was the choir director for Sarasota’s First Presbyterian Church. She also played viola in the Florida West Coast Symphony, opened her own music school – Julie Rohr Music Studios, opened Julie Rohr Academy (a private school for students two years through eighth grade), directed The Sarasota Choral Society from 1956 to 1994 (where she was still the Director Emerita), and founded and directed the Sarasota Girl’s Choir for 6 years and the Sarasota Boy’s Choir for 22 years, which traveled extensively throughout the Continental U.S., Alaska and Canada.
1918 - 2019
Dr. Rohr’s contributions to the community have been recognized through various honors. She won the Governor’s Award for the Arts in 1976, Woman of the Year Award from VFW Post 3233 Ladies Auxiliary, and Patriot of the Year for the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration. In the spring of 1991, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Liberal Arts degree from her Alma Mater, Shenandoah University. At the 60th Anniversary Gala Performance of the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah given by the Sarasota Choral Society on November 28, 2004, at the Church of the Palms Presbyterian Church, Dr. Rohr received proclamations from the City of Sarasota, Sarasota County, and the Sarasota County School Board honoring her for her years of dedication to the citizens of Sarasota. November 28, 2004, was declared “Dr. Julia W. Rohr Day”. She traveled internationally, met presidents and governors, was honored by the academic community and gave much of herself to the Sarasota community through her service work. There is hardly a person in Sarasota interested in music of any sort that hasn’t been touched by Dr. Rohr’s musical and philanthropic endeavours.
In the midst of all this, Dr. Rohr raised a successful family that is continuing in her tradition of music education and community service. Her daughter, Julie Rohr McHugh, is also an accomplished performer, director, and educator. Following a successful career in professional show business, daughter Julie is now owner and head of Julie Rohr Academy in Sarasota. The Academy specializes in early childhood, elementary, and middle school education with a strong emphasis on visual and performing arts.
Dr. Rohr was quick to point out that recognition was not her motivating factor. Music and helping children were her life, and her pride and joy was teaching music. A loving, caring individual who drew forth the musical potential in everyone, and transformed their abilities into song. That is the remarkable legacy of the inimitable Dr. Julia W. Rohr.