Trombonist Robert Rotar is conductor of the Bundaberg Youth Orchestra and Wind and Brass Teacher at St Luke’s Anglican School in Bundaberg. Robert has a long track record of producing students who have gone on to become professional performers and music educators. He spoke with Dale Truscott from The Eighth Position.
Dale: How did you come to live and teach music in Bundaberg, a small city 400km north of Brisbane on the Queensland coast?
Robert: I went to school in Coffs Harbour before going to the University of Queensland (UQ) to study a Bachelor of Music. I played piano before starting trombone at the age of 13. The impetus to play the trombone came when the Coffs Harbour Brass Band re-formed – my father was involved in this so naturally I started also. There were no brass teachers in Coffs Harbour at the time, so it was a trial and error learning experience, although I did have some contact maybe once or twice a year with Kevin Brown (QSO) and Ken Smith (Sydney Con at the time). I chose to come to UQ rather than Sydney because it was closer. Being from NSW, I was not aware of the Queensland instrumental program in the school system, which was quite foreign to me. After doing some stints in Toowoomba and Brisbane I was eventually sent to Bundaberg with Education Queensland (EQ). I then worked for 10 years for EQ as an instrumental instructor before moving to St Luke’s Anglican school in Bundaberg.
During my early teaching years post-UQ, I experimented, talked to other players and read a lot about technique. I must add that being largely self-taught gave me many technique issues that I needed to sort through in my playing. With lots of playing, teaching, reading and observing I slowly sorted through most of these. By no means do I have them all sorted but I have many views on how to go about fixing problems and maintaining technique to avoid issues. It is actually quite beneficial as a teacher to have had to work through solutions to your own playing weaknesses – the more problems you have to fix in your own playing, the more you focus on the problems that students can have, and you can help them avoid some problems and give some of your own answers to solve these problems.
I have found technical difficulties that develop are often a result of trying too hard in one area of your playing without a balanced approach, with trying to play high too early being the most common one. It is like too much of one good thing creates a lot of problems with other playing aspects. So variety in practice and knowing what and how to balance these at different stages, and within stages, helps to grow a player. They need to understand their playing, know what they can do wrong and also how to use a warm up to consolidate and maintain their technique.