Timothy Roberts - 24 Years With the U.S. Navy Band - 19
About Timothy Roberts
American Saxophonist Timothy Roberts, currently serves as Professor of Saxophone and Instrumental Division Chair at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA. He retired as Principal Saxophonist and a National Tour Soloist with the United States Navy Band in Washington, DC, where he also served as Coordinator of the Navy Band’s International Saxophone Symposium which became the largest-attended public saxophone event in the world today.
As one of the ensemble’s premier concert soloists, Tim performed for five U.S. Presidents, many foreign dignitaries, and patrons throughout 48 states and around the world from 1987-2011. He makes frequent appearances with the Dallas Symphony, performing on European festival tours and on numerous recordings for the Dorian, Delos, and Hyperion compact disc labels.
Tim received both his Doctorate of Musical Arts and his Masters of Music degrees from the Catholic University of America and received his Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern University, where he studied with Fred Hemke. Tim has had numerous pieces composed especially for him, and a strong proponent of music education, Roberts has published more than thirty articles for Saxophone Journal.
An avid student of music and life, Tim currently makes his home in Winchester, Virginia with his wife and two children.
- My father was a professional orchestral musician.
- Playing professionally with my father.
- Starting with fundamentals with Mike Adamcik.
- The importance of being able to sight read.
- Joining the US Navy band.
- Finding out the hard way that I wasn’t as good as I thought was a good thing.
- The influence and mentorship of Dale Underwood.
- Playing for presidents.
- Playing concertos on tour around the 50 states.
- Extending the Saxophone Symposium.
- A typical day in the navy band.
- Being an efficient practiser.
- Visiting Australia.
- The importance of working with composers.
- Making sure that new music is played more than once.
- New recording projects.
- Tim’s Website | Tim on Facebook
- Fred Hemke
- Debra Richtmeyer
- Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA
- World Saxophone Congress
- US Navy Band International Saxophone Symposium
- Dallas Symphony
- Dale Underwood
- Matthew Orlovich – Flying Colours (Concerto)
- David DeBoor Canfield
- Claude Delangle
Transcript of Podcast Interview with Timothy Roberts
Please enjoy the transcript of this podcast episode. With thousands of words in each episode it might contain a few typos and may also have been edited for clarity.
Barry Cockcroft: So Tim, thanks for joining me today in Zagreb and I would love to know how you got started with the saxophone.
Timothy Roberts: Oh Gosh. started with the saxophone. I started with the instrument probably in a very similar way to how other Americans have, through the public school music programme in sixth grade. I was 12 years old and I was looking for a band instrument to play in public school band just like most American kids are at that age, and I picked the saxophone because I thought that it looked neat with all the buttons on it and knew nothing about it. My father was a professional musician.
Timothy Roberts: In hindsight, looking back on it, I imagine he cringed when I told him the saxophone because he’s an orchestral musician but he always supported me and all and my brother and my sister and everything we wanted to do, and I remember having the discussion with him that, “Okay, you’re going to play the saxophone. It’s great and just make sure that you’re dedicated and disciplined to it.” That’s kind of how I started.
Barry Cockcroft: Your dad was in an orchestra for 50 years, wasn’t he?
Timothy Roberts: Yeah. My dad was a principal bassoon in the Dallas Symphony for 51 years.
Barry Cockcroft: Wow.
Timothy Roberts: Just retired October of… We’re recording this in July of 2018, he retired in October of 2016. It was a very strong lesson for me in loyalty and dedication to what… I mean for 51 years in one job, it was a pretty strong statement about loyalty really.
Barry Cockcroft: Absolutely and you’ve had the opportunity to solo with Dallas, right?
Timothy Roberts: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Barry Cockcroft: With your dad playing.
Timothy Roberts: With my dad, playing. Probably the most enjoyable is, of course, Pictures, with The Old Castle and the bassoon handing off to the saxophone in that solo and Symphonic Dances of course, the bassoon leading into the saxophone and I’ve played a couple of concertos with him also over the years and so, that’s always special when your dad is part of it also, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: It would be special for him too, I imagine.
Timothy Roberts: Yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Well, now going back to your teachers. I mean in the band programme that started at, did you have a specialist saxophone teacher?
Timothy Roberts: Yeah. Always, I was very fortunate to… Americans that are listening to this will understand this, the importance of public school music when you’re first learning and I was very fortunate to grow up in Richardson, Texas, which is an area that has some of the best bands in the State of Texas. Now also, but certainly when I was growing up. Pretty much everybody, if you were in a band you also took private lessons, so there was an understanding that if you were in a band it’s something that you would do.
Timothy Roberts: I started out right at the beginning really with lessons, learning how to produce a note with the teacher next to me. I do have to give credit to that very first teacher, Mike Adamcik, who is still in Texas. I think he’s still a band director down in the Houston area now. I studied with him for six or seven years and with Debra Richtmeyer later in high school, both very important to me in developing my musicianship at a young age.
Barry Cockcroft: Going on into, what really made you to choose to do further study after high school?
Timothy Roberts: It was probably my junior year in high school, 11th grade, when I realised that… My father always said to me, “Don’t major in music unless you can’t live without it,” and that is still the same advice that I give to my students when, as a teacher at Shenandoah Conservatory now in Virginia. If high school kids come to me for a lesson and they’re looking at Shenandoah and other schools in consideration of coming to school there. They sometimes will say, “I haven’t really decided if I’m going to major in music or not but I wanted to come visit in case I do,” and my first advice to them is don’t do it unless you can’t live without it because you have to have a passion for it.
Timothy Roberts: You have to have that ice in your veins type of mentality to make it because it’s not just a hobby. You have to be fully enveloped in it and that happened for me in about the 11th grade when I realised if I missed a day of practising, I wasn’t the same the next day that I… It’s just something I had to do and that’s what made it for me. At that point, practising three or four hours a day as a 16 year old, then I knew that it was something that I needed to do.
Timothy Roberts: Of course, back then in the early ’80s everybody went to either Michigan, or Northwestern, or Indiana and I decided that of the three, Northwestern was the best for me. I auditioned at all three schools and ended up going to Northwestern and to this day, Fred Hemke. Of course, he’s the reason why I am where I am, and sound the way that I do, and have the approach to the instrument that I do is because of those four years during my formative development with, Fred Hemke.
Barry Cockcroft: How would you describe the differences of the teaching styles that you came across on the way through school and then into university?
Timothy Roberts: Well, see that first teacher, Mike Adamcik was… That was more of we did a lot of fundamental work and I don’t know how I would address the school that he came from. I think he studied in Brussels. but he wasn’t… When I studied with Debra Richtmeyer, of course she studied from Fred Hemke, so it was a natural evolution lessons with Debra Richtmeyer, lessons with Fred Hemke and then going on to develop my own style. It was all a natural progression that the… I always thought that what I wanted… The reason I wanted to study with Hemke is because of his interpretation of the repertoire.
Timothy Roberts: That is, I think for me, and we all have our strengths and our weaknesses and I’d like to think that one of my strengths now is interpretation, especially of contemporary literature, and cadenzas, and being able to take a piece and understand where it’s coming from and that is what I think, Fred Hemke was able to communicate to me the most and that’s why I wanted to study with him.
Barry Cockcroft: Now your career, I think, has taken quite a different path to many other saxophone players because ultimately you went to the Navy.
Timothy Roberts: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Barry Cockcroft: Could you talk about how that came about?
Timothy Roberts: Yeah, so my path was a little bit different and my path was, also had a lot to do with my father and the advice that he gave to me. I graduated from Northwestern as an Undergrad in 1987. I don’t come from a military family at all. No one in my family has ever been in the military and if you had told me that at the beginning of my senior year that I was going to be in the military, I wouldn’t have believed you at all because I didn’t see myself doing something like that. I was going to Bordeaux to study with Jean-Marie [Londeix] as soon as I graduated.
Timothy Roberts: I remember coming home at Christmas break, my senior year. My father said, “You know, you should consider those military bands in DC, the great career opportunities,” and I thought, “Okay, well,” and it’s an interesting story because at Northwestern, I thought pretty highly of myself. My mind was in the wrong place and I thought I was at Northwestern, I was first year in the Wind Ensemble there and I could play all the etudes and all the concertos. I just thought that things were going great and that if I decided I was going to do this military band career. That I’ll just go and audition and get that job and start doing that.
Timothy Roberts: My father gave me that advice at Christmas and went back to school and the air force band in Washington put out an announcement that they had a vacancy and the audition was February. Me thinking that I was just the greatest thing that there ever was, I took that audition and thought like, “I’m just going to go get that job.” It was the best thing that happened to me really because there were 21 people that auditioned and at that time, the air force ranked everybody who auditioned in numerical order of how they finished. It’s a military way of doing things and I think I was number 17 or something out of 21. It was the best thing that ever happened to me because I realised that I had a whole lot more work to do than I thought that I did.
Timothy Roberts: I went back and worked on sight reading and being able to play different types of music. I realised that to be a musician there’s a lot more things than French literature that you need to be able to play. Went back and worked on a lot of those things and then a couple of months later saw there was an opening for the navy band in Washington. I knew a little bit more about the navy band because of Dale Underwood. Of course, he was the legacy there at the navy band for so many years. I went back to the band library at Northwestern and I would lock… I got a key to the band library and every night after dinner, I would go in there and just sight read everything that I could find and especially like non-classical music marches and Broadway musicals.
Timothy Roberts: I remember one of the best players, I don’t know how he finished at the audition but one of the best players at that air force band audition was a guy from Vegas, a sax player from Vegas and he was just playing all kinds of things around me that I had never been exposed to before. I went back and I worked on all those things, pulling the saxophone parts out of this library and sight reading, and reading through all this music. I did it probably for three or four months and it really helped.
Timothy Roberts: The navy band had their audition. I went back and took that and did better. Still didn’t get the job but finished a lot higher, but they told me that if I could wait a few more months there was probably going to be another opening in the band and there was and they called me in the summer and offered me a job. That’s how it started. I was scheduled to go to Bordeaux and study with Jean-Marie and I had to email… Not email at the time, I guess I would have probably licked an envelope and put it in the mail and mailed the letter to Jean-Marie and explained to him that I couldn’t come. That I had gotten a job.
Timothy Roberts: I certainly had no intentions of staying in the navy for 24 years but things happen and when you work hard and you… I always tell my students, “Make people want to work with you, and make people want to be around you, and work hard, and things always happen for you when you take that advice,” and that’s what I tried to do and I found myself continuing to stay. You do four years in the military and then after that you sign up for two year hitches and I just on, “Well, I’ll do another two, I’ll do another two, I’ll do another two.”
Timothy Roberts: Then Dale Underwood retired and that opened up that opportunity to be a soloist and the principal player with the navy band and things were going well, and it is a great way to, especially as predominantly a classical saxophonist, to use that term or I don’t like saying legit saxophonist, but for someone that doesn’t focus primarily on jazz. For an American, it’s a great way to make a living and really to play music that you… Be able to stay a musician your whole life and to support it.
Barry Cockcroft: What’s the typical day for the Navy Band?
Timothy Roberts: Okay, so there’s the four bands in DC are all kind of the same. Those are considered the more professional units and so those… There’s not really a typical week but for the concert band rehearsals would be 9:00 to 11:30, three or four days a week and then you’d probably have one weekend concert somewhere around the Washington, DC, area. A couple of afternoons a week, you could be put on a funeral at Arlington Cemetery, or a military arrival at the Pentagon, or playing at the White House, or a ceremony around Washington somewhere.
Timothy Roberts: During the summer, during the three months of the summer season you play three evenings a week. Usually Monday nights on the steps of the Capitol, which is neat. Summer is the busiest time with those military bands but it’s also some ways the most enjoyable because you’re playing for all these concerts that growing up you used to see on the news all the time, you know. Everybody knows the US Capitol, and the Pentagon, and the Washington Monument. Well, you’re playing evening concerts there for hundreds of people every night, so that was kind of neat.
Timothy Roberts: Then once a year, usually they go on a national tour, which those are… They can be difficult because you’re playing a concert every night and the tours… While I was there, tours were anywhere from 18 days to my longest, actually my first one was the longest one, 56 days and you’re pretty much, you might get a couple of days off but you’re pretty much playing a concert every night and it’s usually the same music.
Timothy Roberts: Usually there’d be an A programme and a B programme and they would rotate every other night but you get to know the Donna Diana overture, and Stars and Stripes Forever, and a Stevie Wonder medley those kinds of… Some of the music you enjoyed playing more than others or I should say, some of the music you envision yourself playing more as a young student than some of the other music but it’s all important music that people want to hear when you’re out in small towns in the middle of the country.
Timothy Roberts: A lot of the music that the military bands play when they’re out on tour is not the kind of music that we would hear at the World Saxophone Congress, where you and I are at right now. It’s more general purpose music for larger audiences that… More of small town America or small town Australia want to here. I assume it’s probably the same in Australia also.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah. At the same time though, you had opportunity as a soloist, to perform with the band as a soloist. What sort of occasions would that happen?
Timothy Roberts: That’s what’s really great about those jobs. In being principal saxophonist really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with being a soloist. They’re two independent positions but if you have success as a soloist, and you get good audience reaction, and you are prepared, and play well, then you can play a solo on every tour. If you were out on a 56 day tour and there’s two programmes. I mean, you’re playing 28 concertos.
Timothy Roberts: It’s the same concerto but I mean, you’re playing… The piece that I did a lot was the… There was a band arrangement of the Demersseman Fantasy. A fantasy and original theme and so that was… I played that sometimes 20 times on a tour. It was really great to be able to play with 62 other people that are just as good, if not better than you are. To be backed up by people with that kind of playing experience, especially as a young 25 year old joining that band and you’ve got people backing you up that have been doing it a lot longer than you and play a lot better than you do and you’ve been given this opportunity to play with these people.
Timothy Roberts: You yourself have played with the navy band, you know what it’s like to have these… I mean, there’s really those four bands in DC, there’s probably… It’s probably safe to say there’s not a whole lot of concert bands anywhere in the world that are as good as those four bands.
Barry Cockcroft: When I did come and play with the navy band, I had an eight-bar rest at the beginning of the concerto and then my entry and I got up to my entry, and I was just standing in front of the band dumbfounded that it sounded so good and I didn’t play. I couldn’t believe how good it. I’ve never heard a band like that.
Timothy Roberts: It is really special to be able to play with, like I said, 62 people that have the same training and come from the same background. They’ve just been doing it longer than I had and I mean, there’s nowhere that you can get that kind of experience. I know that even though I’ve had great teachers during my development process, and worked hard, and always had good instruction, and good instruments and all that. Probably, the greatest single factor in making me the player that I am today is being surrounded by the rest of the musicians in the navy band for 24 years and knowing you can’t ever mess up, you can’t ever make a mistake and you can’t ever have a different interpretation than the third trumpet sitting back behind you on your left or whatever because that he knows what he’s doing and you’ve got to pay attention. There’s really nothing greater to develop musicianship than being around that kind of environment.
Barry Cockcroft: Did the saxophone section breakout of the band to work together as well?
Timothy Roberts: Each of the four bands in DC are a little bit different. The Navy, when I was there, I think it’s still the same. There’s seven saxophones but it’s a four person section in the concert band and the other three will do more of the ceremonial work that I talked about earlier. Playing the funerals or playing the arrival ceremonies at the Pentagon, and then the other four would do the concert band work, rehearsals in the concerts, and then we’d switch back and forth.
Timothy Roberts: We always had a navy band saxophone quartet that would break out and make recordings and go out and do concerts and all that. That’s kind of on top of the regular duties and I know that they’re still, the four guys that are there now are still doing that. In fact, they’re playing tonight at the World Sax Congress, the David Canfield Concerto After Dvorak. I think they’re playing with the Croatian Armed Forces Band. They’re very active and very good players.
Barry Cockcroft: Yeah and part of the navy band activities that you were involved in was the symposium. Now at what point did you start to be involved with the organisation?
Timothy Roberts: Well, my very first year in 1988 in the band, everybody contributes to that effort. It takes just like the World Saxophone Congress here, there’s a team of people and I was part of the committee for, well until ’98, I guess give or take a year. 1998 when Dale was there. Dale was the coordinator of the symposium, Dale Underwood. Coordinated the symposium until 1998 and I took over when Dale left and all it meant really is I was coordinating the committee work. I tried to make it more of an international. It was always called I think International Saxophone Symposium but it never was really international. I didn’t think, I wanted it be more international.
Timothy Roberts: One of the things that I started was always making sure that every year an international artist was invited, and was featured, and did a masterclass. From 1998 forward, every year has had one domestic soloist and one international soloist and then we also started the College Saxophone Quartet Series, which really helped the growth of the event. I always remembered growing up as an undergrad that college quartets didn’t really have an opportunity to, unless they do one of the two or three competitions, there’s really not an opportunity to go out and perform, especially for your colleagues and your university colleagues around the country.
Timothy Roberts: We just started this, at the time they mailed tape recordings in with resumes for the group and we would choose 10 or 12 or 15 quartets and now I think they’re just there. It’s open up to anybody who wants to come play really, which is a good way to do it also, I think.
Barry Cockcroft: The event is the largest gathering of saxophonists in the world pretty much. Maybe there’s an occasional thing that gets bigger?
Timothy Roberts: Yeah, we always were really careful how we worded saying that. I don’t know if it’s the largest event of saxophonists. It’s the largest saxophone event in the world and the reason why is because of the way that the navy band markets itself. Those Friday and Saturday evening concerts are open to the public and are marketed to the community. We have that Friday night concert. Well, a lot of times will bring in 1800 people and not all of are saxophonists, which I think, personally, is really important that you have 1800 people there and 200 of them out there might be saxophonist. The other 1600 are people that want to learn about the saxophone.
Timothy Roberts: That’s the kind of the difference maker there is its… All military band performances have to be open to the public at all times because they’re taxpayer funded. Yeah, I mean the community is really important to that event and we have a community saxophone choir. We invite everybody at any ability of any playing ability to come in and play with his community saxophone choir. That does a Saturday morning rehearsal and then they… What we used to do, I’m not sure how they’re doing it now but we used to have them play in the lobby before the Saturday evening concert and they’d play a couple pieces.
Timothy Roberts: There was 100 people there and it would be little kids that were four feet tall that had just bought their saxophones and then there’d be the guest artist for the concert and really all abilities and all people across the community. That was kind of our, and still is, I’m sure it still is for the guys that are there now. The mission of that event is to promote the saxophone not to saxophonists but to people that wanted to learn about the saxophone.
Barry Cockcroft: How difficult was it for you to decide to move on from the navy?
Timothy Roberts: For me, not too difficult. There’s four bands the army, navy, air force and marines. They will have a band in DC and all of them have a time limit based on what your pay grade is and my time limit was probably going to be 26 years and I would have had to leave and every year people have to leave because it’s called time in service just like a lot of jobs. I was an adjunct teacher at George Mason University and at Shenandoah Conservatory in Virginia, and I had been at each of those schools for four or five years, and I had almost 24 years left. Well, 23 when I was offered the job.
Timothy Roberts: When the dean at Shenandoah decided he wanted to make the saxophone position at Shenandoah full-time and he wanted me to become full-time and I didn’t think I was ready for it. I didn’t think I wanted to do that because I loved being in the navy band and running the symposium and in hindsight, it was a very tough decision for me and family. But in hindsight, it should not have been that tough.
Timothy Roberts: It happened earlier than I thought it was going to happen. I wanted it to happen two years later so that I could maximise my time but it didn’t and things happened. I mean, we all know what it’s like getting a job as a saxophonist and I was offered a full-time job at a place that I loved teaching and so it kind of made sense for us to move on and move to Winchester.
Barry Cockcroft: I have to ask too, you must have been away quite a bit travelling with the band?
Timothy Roberts: Yeah and that was a good, that was one of the reasons for being a little bit more eager to leave because when you’ve got young kids, I mean 56 days in a row, a different motel every night, a concert every night and it was part of the job, our family had gotten used to it. But still, the idea of not having to do that anymore was attractive. At the time, I guess I would have been what? 46 years old. 46, something like that and those tours are great.
Timothy Roberts: Actually, I met my wife on one of those tours down in Georgia and they are… The opportunity to play a concerto every other night and some of the fondest memories I have in the navy band were those tours because we got to see… I’ve been in all 50 states, I’ve probably played, I don’t mean to brag to say this. Everybody in the band can say this. I’ve played in every city over 30,000 people in the U.S. and that’s a little unique. Not many people can say that.
Barry Cockcroft: Did you meet Corine at a performance? Did she hear you play or something?
Timothy Roberts: Yeah. She was an usher at one of the concerts in Georgia, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Was she impressed with your playing or were you charming?
Timothy Roberts: I don’t think she cared much. Yeah, I don’t think she… When we go to these small towns. This was in Augusta, Georgia. When we go to these small towns, we depend on sponsorship, usually of a… I don’t know how they’re doing it now but it was usually a local newspaper and I don’t know how many local newspapers are left anymore but at the time, we would always hook-up with the local newspaper for the marketing, and the advertising, and the programme printing and all that and Corine’s mom was the director of marketing for the Augusta Newspaper. She had her daughter and a couple friends serve as ushers that night. I don’t know, she particularly wanted to be at the concert but that is how we met, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: There’s probably some other things to talk about. It’s been fascinating to hear about your development in the navy. Perhaps just one last question on that was, how important was the influence of Dale Underwood on your work in the band?
Timothy Roberts: Dale is a special friend of mine and a special mentor too. Like I said earlier, I did audition for the air force band but the navy band, Dale really was a legacy for that whole type of… Dale really set the precedent for that type of a career and he… Everybody knew that Dale was a worldwide soloist and also was in the navy band, and the navy band was a springboard for Dale to launch the career that he’s had and still has. Really, he’s all over the place.
Timothy Roberts: A lot of the reason why I wanted to be in the navy band was because of Dale and his reputation, and the career that he had, and I still talk to… Dale retired in 1997. I retired from the band in 2011 and to this day, I talk to Dale every week and we just we’re best friends. He was a real kind of a father, a musical father figure to me while I was in the band and just being able to play next to him.
Timothy Roberts: Like I said at the beginning, you’d be in a musical situation where you wouldn’t know what to do, what do you do with this phrase or there’s this, a subito tempo change coming up or something that you didn’t understand why the band was playing it the way they were because that wasn’t what was on the printed music. A lot of times I would find myself just following what Dale would do because I was always second alto. Dale, of course, was principal alto and while he was there, I was second and sometimes I would play tenor but either way, I was always sitting next to Dale and listening to what he would do in a certain musical situation.
Timothy Roberts: I was always trying to listen to him and try to emulate what he was doing. I really learned a whole lot. Like I said, about how to handle, you know, what do you do if there’s a second trombone two rows back that’s a little sharp and you’re on the same chord that you’re playing in because, Dale, he knew how to handle those situations. It was a very important musical relationship for me and I think Dale enjoyed it too but it was very, very important.
Barry Cockcroft: Could you describe the difference in the way that you practise now as an individual compared to when you were practising, first as a student but also into the navy?
Timothy Roberts: One of the important things that the navy taught me was, and it took me a couple of years to realise this, to be an efficient practicer. And by that I mean one of the most important things, I may have mentioned the importance of sight reading in that audition process for those military band jobs. In fact, if I could just back up a step. Those military band audition sight reading in some ways is the most important part of the… Because it’s certainly the most important part of the job and you’ll get to those auditions and when I left in 2011, there were 91 people at the audition and 78 of the 91 had doctorate degrees.
Timothy Roberts: Now, you get that many good players in there and a lot of those guys are going to be like they were at the time we were doing… you had to do a package of excerpts and then one movement from either Ibert or Creston, I think. When you got that many good players, most of those guys can play a movement of Ibert pretty well. What they’re listening for is sight reading and because you’re going to… Working in the navy band, a typical situation might be that you get a phone call at eight o’clock at night and there is a military official from, and I’m just making up a country here, from let’s say Benin, a country in Africa.
Timothy Roberts: The military official from Benin, Africa is arriving the next morning at the White House and you’ve got to be there at eight o’clock to play the guy’s national anthem. That’s a very typical type of call that you would get and so what the process would be, a country like Benin, which might not be as organised as the military officials would be in the U.S. or in Australia. There’d be somebody in the band trying to get a copy of what the Benin national anthem was and nobody would… It would be tough to find out if Benin even had a national anthem.
Timothy Roberts: What would happen, especially back then in the ’80s, is somebody somewhere would have faxed it in and the music would, you can imagine a fax coming in from an African country in the middle of the night, the night before. I mean, sometimes it was illegible, sometimes it wasn’t all the band part. My point is that you’d get there in the morning and you’d never have seen the thing before and some of those African anthems, they’ve got some technique in them.
Timothy Roberts: The Australian anthem and the American anthem are pretty simple and you could just sit there and sight read it but some of these African anthems are overtures. It would come in on the fax machine and you wouldn’t… You’d look at it and a lot of times you couldn’t read what it was and you had to have a knowledge in your head of music theory and form and analysis to kind of decipher what it might be or what it was supposed to be.
Timothy Roberts: The point is, is that a very large part of the job is, to answer your question about practising, is being able to have eight hours on a… You’re given a piece of music and you have to know it and not make mistakes in eight hours. I’d like to think that I have gotten really efficient at practising and learning, and being able to learn a new piece of music in a pretty short amount of time because it was required of me for so long. I also remember there was one time when, Fred Hemke, my teacher, was going to be the guest soloist for the saxophone and that was the unfortunate weekend when he cut his finger. I don’t know if you remember that but that was when he lost the tip of his finger, it was that weekend.
Timothy Roberts: We always used to have a rehearsal soloist for the guests that would come in and I was the rehearsal soloist for Hemke on the, I think he was doing the Dahl Concerto. We found out about what happened to his hand and I had like a day’s notice and I was the soloist on the Dahl Concerto. You get in those situations and I think a lot of us have been in, where you’re put on the spot and you’ve got to come up with a way to still sound as good and make your audience not know that you’ve only had 24 hours. I know we’ve all studied Dahl and know it but you still have to get it going again in a day and being in those kind of situations or you’d be out on tour and…
Timothy Roberts: I remember we were on tour when Princess Diana unfortunately passed away and so we made some pretty sudden substitutions in the programming for that night. It happens once every two or there’d be some sort of… That was a pretty major one but they would… You’d get to the hall that night and you realise that the conductor decided he wanted to do a different overture and a lot of people, I think would be like, “Well, I’m not going to… I can’t do that. I haven’t had time to practise.” It doesn’t work that way in the military. You find a way to sound good on it in 15 minutes.
Timothy Roberts: I think that’s a long answer to your question. Practising efficiency, my efficiency greatly improved just because I needed to and that was a requirement of that job for so long.
Barry Cockcroft: You must carry that with you?
Timothy Roberts: I think it’s carried through. Yeah, I mean this weekend I’m playing with the Spanish-American quartet. We’re playing the Elliot Carter, The Canonic Suite. We’re playing that and we’ve got two brand new pieces that are one American and one Spanish that are based on the Carter piece and we haven’t had much time on it. That’s just how things work sometimes.
Barry Cockcroft: Have you got any suggestions that have helped you to keep healthy for your playing and also that will let you play for a long time into the future?
Timothy Roberts: Well, I think, yeah. You have to keep your body in good shape. You have to as we get older. I’m 53 now and I have to treat my body differently than I was at 20 years. I could do a lot more or a lot less. I probably should say a lot less. Good diet, especially in the week leading up to a concert, I think. Keeping healthy and running. I run a lot and I think that’s important.
Barry Cockcroft: How would you describe your typical day as a teacher?
Timothy Roberts: Well, let’s see. Yeah, I’m professor of saxophone at Shenandoah Conservatory and I’m also the instrumental division chair there now that just started last year. I’m now into a little bit more of an administrative role, which I enjoy as long as it doesn’t interfere with the teaching because I’m a teacher first, as we all are. My day, I start teaching at nine and I teach till… A typical day, teach till 2:00 or 3:00. Maybe from 9:00 until 2:00 or 9:00 until 3:00 and then, I usually have a couple of hours of administrative work before I go home. If the students have a concert on the weekend, I always come in for student concerts on the weekend or in the evenings and then, of course just like all of us, I try to keep as active travelling and touring for my own playing.
Barry Cockcroft: Does that fit into the university schedule, do they allow for the touring and the professional development?
Timothy Roberts: Well, yeah. I’m really fortunate with that because our dean is a performer himself and the most important criteria for promotion in his eyes is being active. He would be disappointed if there weren’t at least one time a semester that we weren’t out of the country doing something.
Barry Cockcroft: Was this the Dean who encourage you to come to Australia.
Timothy Roberts: He was. In fact, he is Australian originally, yeah and he was ecstatic about you inviting me to your Australian Saxophone retreat, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: The interesting thing of that of course, is when you visit somewhere, then you get to encounter students from the country you visit and you never know but in the end students end up coming back to the states and sharing some time with you.
Timothy Roberts: Then your fantastic student, Justin Kenealy. He came and enriched all of our lives for one semester. Justin, when he won the concerto competition at Melbourne Uni or something. It was the prize, if I understand. The prize was a semester abroad and yeah, so he came to Shenandoah because you and I met. I mean that was the original reason really.
Barry Cockcroft: That’s right.
Timothy Roberts: … because you and I met at the navy symposium and became friends. Then so I came to Melbourne and then worked with Justin and Justin must have liked his lesson or something because Shenandoah is one of the places that he chose and because we are a small private school, we can make things happen very personally and very quickly, which I think he liked also. We got him approved and in the door pretty quick, I think, yeah.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, you’ve had the opportunity to premier a number of new works. How important has it been for you to work with composers in developing new repertoire?
Timothy Roberts: Well, I think to everybody that’s of utmost importance. It happened a little easier for me I think because of the position in the navy band and as coordinator of the Saxophone Symposium, there were a lot of composers that were eager to have a piece featured at that event. All the saxophones and the band, we did get a lot of phone calls and mailings from composers that, “Hey, how about you play my piece? How about you play my?” That was important in getting a lot of those new pieces started and fortunately, the relationships continuing after that and continue developing into other relationships and other pieces by the same composers.
Barry Cockcroft: The pieces that you’ve commissioned or helped to develop, do you continue to play those pieces or do you tend to pick new pieces for your programming?
Timothy Roberts: Some. Well, just like every new piece some of them you play again. While I was in the Navy band, I tried to choose pieces for the Saxophone Symposium that were relative and were not just because that they were new pieces written by well-known composers but also because they were pieces that are good, that will get second performances and that’s actually a personal thing of mine, especially at World Saxophone Congress actually. I think that’s a whole another topic but a lot of the music is never played a second time. The majority of it, I’d say.
Barry Cockcroft: For sure.
Timothy Roberts: In an event like this, that’s okay. We’re here to express ideas and learn new music and get people to hear our new music and that’s really, really important but I think sometimes we lose sense of bringing in good new music, not just new music. That was always very, very important to me with the Navy Symposium and I think we always had a pretty good track record of that. Bringing in pieces that… I would like to think that every piece that we’ve premiered at the Navy Symposium has blossomed and it has become something and your piece, certainly even and with Matthew Orlovich.
Barry Cockcroft: Flying colours.
Timothy Roberts: Flying Colours and Crazy Logic, of course that’s with piano but we do have… I mean, the fact is we do have a very good track record for the navy symposium. When people put in a proposal to play a new piece with us, we do carefully screen it for viability and for accessibility for all kinds of audiences including saxophone audiences but that, it’s important for us to be able to say, “Hey, this piece was premiered at the Navy Symposium.” I think that benefited composers also because I think the reputation got out that, “Hey, if your piece gets on the Navy Symposium it’s going to stick,” and that was important to us.
Barry Cockcroft: Well, it’s been pre-filtered in a way because you’ve selected them.
Timothy Roberts: Yeah, so we filter differently than the World Sax Congress would filter and it’s important to us, and I thought it was a good way of.
Barry Cockcroft: Now, I’ve got some rapid fire questions for you.
Timothy Roberts: Okay.
Barry Cockcroft: Feel free to give a short answer or not. Is there something that you believe that other people disagree with?
Timothy Roberts: Well, a lot of what we just finished talking about. I think there are a lot of people that think it’s always important to… I remember going to school at Northwestern with saxophone majors that would only play music that was unpublished. Now and I think that’s a good example to use because in theory that’s a great idea, isn’t it? I mean that’s when… I mean you’re a publisher but I mean, the thinking on that is that you’re always creating new feelings and new work but in reality that doesn’t work. That music has got to be approachable and sometimes I think saxophonist, because we do play a newer instrument, I think we get in our saxophone heads sometimes.
Timothy Roberts: The evidence of that, again like we talked about earlier, is that 90% of the music this week won’t be played again and I think that’s… I think people would probably… That a good number of people disagree with me on that but I do think we need to be selective to play music that our audiences want to hear and not what we want to play.
Timothy Roberts: We tend to play music that makes us think academically and challenges our musicianship from within, but what’s coming out of the instrument to the audience that’s listening to it is that they don’t want to hear it again. If we don’t have audiences to support us, then we don’t play music anymore and I know there’s people that probably disagree with that.
Barry Cockcroft: Also, if we don’t have the general audience, we have saxophone players in the audience.
Timothy Roberts: That doesn’t help us.
Barry Cockcroft: We have to have more than that.
Timothy Roberts: Yeah, we have to have the old ladies and the young kids and the people that… Yeah, you’ve got to have diverse general audiences or things die.
Barry Cockcroft: What are some of the changes you’ve seen in the saxophone world and what are some of the things that have stayed the same?
Timothy Roberts: Nowadays? There are so many good young players, great young players. There’s recent DMAs, I mean there are… I told you earlier when I auditioned for the navy band in 1987 there were 21 people when I auditioned or when I left in 2011 there were 91 and 78 of them had doctorate degrees, and most of those guys could play really, really well. I think that’s the biggest change and you look at like at the… Last night at that concert. The concert that, this is with Zagreb Philharmonic, I think was the orchestra. A large auditorium. I don’t know what.
Barry Cockcroft: 2000 yeah.
Timothy Roberts: Probably 2000 seats, pretty much full and the hall was three miles from the conference with no transportation. The point is, is that it was full and that many people came and supported the concert where at a World Congress 20 years ago, there might have been a couple of hundred people there, right? I mean, you and I met at the Bangkok conference, which was, yeah, 2009. Now that was a little harder to get to I think but certainly, there were no concerts that had 2000 people there and that’s been… There’s just so many great young players out there and there’s a real hunger for learning the instrument and learning the music of the instrument that wasn’t there 20 years ago.
Barry Cockcroft: Is there a recent project that you’ve been working on that you’d like to tell us about?
Timothy Roberts: My recent, as soon as I got out of the navy band and went to teach at Shenandoah. I released a CD project, now this is seven years ago called Zynodoa, which is the native American name for Shenandoah. I kind of made it some of my favourite and most successful pieces that we did. That I had done either with the navy band or while I was in the navy band and Matthew’s Crazy Logic is on there and the Mackey Saxophone Concerto, which I’ve done a lot both while in the navy band and after the navy. That was kind of like my project to some of the favourites and then just two years ago, I did a CD of trio music for mixed saxophone and mixed trio that I released two years ago. That’s called The Trio Collection.
Timothy Roberts: Speaking about relationships with commissions and composers. John Heinz wrote a saxophone concerto with Wind Ensemble, which is really, really good that I would love to do at a congress at some point and no one really knows about the piece but I asked him to write a trio for saxophone, clarinet and piano and he did because of the concerto that he wrote for navy symposium. We actually premiered it at the last congress in Strasburg and so I recorded it on that CD. Then there’s a lot of your listeners will know the music of David Canfield, David DeBoor Canfield. He’s written a lot of saxophone music and he wrote the, not for me but we put it on my CD, the Trio After Brahms. He’s done all these after pieces and so that was with saxophone, violin, and piano.
Timothy Roberts: Then we’ve got a French trio with a flute, saxophone. Anyway, so that’s the Trio Collection. Last year or this year actually, I released also with, David DeBoor Canfield. He did a CD of his music and he wrote a sonata After Poulenc for Claude Delangle and we recorded that for his CD. Probably this next year I’ll do another recording of some favourite pieces of mixed genres also.
Barry Cockcroft: Where can we find out more about you, where can we get you CDs? What’s your preferred communication?
Timothy Roberts: I’ve been using Facebook more than anything right now, I think and my website is timothy-roberts.com. Yeah, I try to keep that updated. Certainly, I’m probably a little bit more active with Facebook and both CDs are on iTunes and my schedule is on the website.
Barry Cockcroft: Finally, you’ve made such a big contribution to the world of saxophone and it continues to this day. What do you see for yourself over the next 10, 20 years?
Timothy Roberts: Gosh, I’m pretty happy with things. I mean, I love my job. Everybody loves their but the way I look at things right now is I’m doing what I love, I teach the instrument that I love playing, I’ve got great students, I’m in probably the most beautiful part of the United States in the Shenandoah Valley in the mountains and I’ve got access to Washington, DC, an hour and a half away. If I wanted to go in and go see a baseball game or go have a nice dinner that’s close by. I’ve got a great support structure at my school with the leadership at my school for… We’re performing in international travel and it’s not only, is it allowed but it’s supported and there are creative ways available to keep that sustained.
Timothy Roberts: Right now, my whole studio at Shenandoah, every single member of the studio is on this trip. We’re in Zagreb right now for the World Saxophone Congress and my whole studio is here because Shenandoah has created a programme called global experiential learning, where the kids, the course is the World Saxophone Congress. The tuition is the travel expenses and they come home and they have a short little project, a short little reflection project on what they’ve learned and listened to here and it counts as credit towards their curriculum.
Timothy Roberts: They’re very innovative at Shenandoah and coming up with ways to support faculty and students doing professional activities and this is really what it’s all about, I think and as long as that… I’m very happy just doing what I’m doing now and playing when I can and-
Barry Cockcroft: It sounds wonderful, Tim. Thank you for your time today.
Timothy Roberts: Thank you, Barry.
Barry Cockcroft: And of course, I wish you the best for your performances.
Timothy Roberts: Thank you very much.