The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) has designated March as Music in Our Schools Month. To celebrate, the jsquared music performance center will be sharing the stories of people who played instruments in grade school and the impact it made on their lives.
Today, we feature Robert L. Edwards. Robert is a Professor of Music and Director of Bands at Johnson C. Smith University and a business consultant.
Robert L. Edwards
What instrument do you play?
At what age did you begin to play your first instrument?
Why did you start playing?
My grandfather was a musician, so I decided to follow in his footsteps.
What was your experience with music during your elementary, middle and high school years?
In elementary school, my cousins and I used to play a game called “parade” because we were fascinated with marching bands. We used trash can tops as cymbals and sticks for maces. Our imaginations were huge.
In middle school, I joined the band because I wanted to be able to march in the marching band when I joined high school. My first instrument was the horn. I switched to trumpet the next year. By 9th grade, I was actually able to join the marching band.
In high school, I played baritone. I made first chair district band that year and was able to audition for All State band. The next year, I played trumpet and made district band again. The following year, I made first chair district band and auditioned for All State on the trumpet. High school is also where I was first given the chance to arrange music for a band.
Who was your favorite music teacher? What made them your favorite?
Mr. Kenneth Woodley. He motivated me and helped me to be the person that I am. It's because of him that I understand music the way I do now. He helped me to apply to college, also influencing my choice of school. Because he was a father figure to me, he went the extra mile to go as far as to assist me with filling out the college application and, to this day, I think he is the one that paid my senior dues that year, too. I had saved up all of my change. Went to my guidance counselor to pay my dues and she told me they were taken care of. I know they both looked out for me.
What is your favorite band memory from grade school?
Everything. But, if I had to pick one, when I was in 11th grade one of the tuba players (our resident prankster) made a trombone player eat a chocolate covered cricket. She thought it was a regular piece of candy. When she found out that it was a cricket, she froze. Then she started rocking back and forth. After a few seconds of rocking, she got up, picked up a stand and hit him upside the head with it. I will never forget that.
Did you play an instrument in college? Did music impact your college choice?
Yes, I played the trumpet at Norfolk State University. As I said earlier, my high school band director influenced my college choice.
What is your current occupation?
Professor of Music and Director of Bands at Johnson C. Smith University and business consultant.
How has music helped you in your current occupation?
Music is my current occupation. It was in college that my band director, Dr. Sanford, told me that I was a jack of all trades and master of none. I was trying to do everything freshman year. I was a part of every organization on campus. His words helped me to focus myself. Because of my newfound focus on music, I was given the opportunity to arrange for the marching band. My arrangements caught the attention of other college band directors and I was able to obtain my first college job as Music Instructor and Assistant Director of Bands at Shaw University at the age of 25 because of it.
How has music played a part in your adult life?
I’ve had the chance to help others better themselves through music, whether it's in their current occupations or through the opportunity to go to college through scholarships. I also use music as a vehicle to guide students to develop their communication and soft skills that will assist them when they seek employment and other opportunities after graduation.
What advice do you have for young musicians?
If you want to go into music as a profession, you have to make sure you stay on your craft. Find a way to make yourself stand out from the other musicians. The only way to do that is to be yourself. Be humble. Study to perfect your practice so that you know what you are doing.