Getting Personal: Robert W. Rumbelow

Getting Personal: Robert W. Rumbelow


Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, a chat with Robert R. Rumbelow, the director of bands at the University of Illinois. 

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

As a musician, I've changed from naturally being a morning person when I was younger to being a late-night person. With concerts and other professional evening activities, I need to be in full form rather late. So, when I'm not traveling, I typically get up around 7 so I can start working by 8. The first hour of the morning is usually invested in checking morning emails and preparing materials for classes and meetings.

What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?

I had the good fortune of having lunch with my wife today. We ate at Sun Singer in Champaign. She usually orders the grilled cheese (delicious), and I usually order the Bavarian pretzel sandwich, then we trade half so we get both!

Best high school memory?

Well, most of my great high school memories are wrapped into music, of course. I loved high school and was in a great high school band program of national respect at Lee High School in Midland, Texas. Even the late Harry Begian (the UI's third director of bands) would visit and do a clinic with us each year. Although I find it difficult to narrow to a "best" high school memory, a couple of the ones I enjoy reminiscing about include marching in the state marching competition when I was a junior and playing a terrific concert in Gammage Auditorium at Arizona State.

Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.

I know this is a loaded question, but yes, I do have favorite shoes. I love shoes made by Allen Edmonds. Two years ago, I decided that I should have special "game day" shoes for the Illini football games and had a pair made by Allen Edmonds with navy blue uppers and as close to light orange as they could on the rest of the leather. The soles are made of rubber and have a special design so they can perform well, even when the turf is wet. Although I've worn them a time or two outside of game day, they really are reserved for our football games.

What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?

Sunday afternoons can often include concerts. If not my ensemble — the Illinois Wind Symphony — one of the other bands or school ensembles may be in concert. However, my "perfect" nonperformance Sunday afternoon is to be at home with my family: Linda, Wesley and Katarina. What we do doesn't matter too much. I simply enjoy just being together since everyone's schedule is so different and crazy throughout the week.

Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?

I can't think of any books I read as a child that I still read today. However, I do have an extreme love of reading books about music, musicians, the arts, group psychology (very related to ensemble conductors and program leaders), etc. Although I don't stray too far from professional reading, my wife, Linda, is an amazingly well-read person on many and often odd subjects, so I love discussing what she is reading.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I've been fortunate enough to travel a good bit as a guest conductor and clinician. I love visiting and working in Japan and have done so a good bit. The respect there for classical music and musicians is exciting. However, the places I'd love to visit that I've not yet had the opportunity to see include the south of France and Venice, Italy.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

In my childhood, it was my cat, Cecil. Today, it's very easy since my family has only one pet. Ruby is a 5-month-old red toy poodle and is possibly the cutest little dog around. So small and full of personality. She has been a major addition to our family and something unique to our time in Champaign that has made all of us feel more "at home" or "grounded." Amazing! I didn't know the dog would have such a positive effect on our adjustment to a new town and area of the country.

Have you discovered that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?

I've always carried around traits of my parents. From my father, I carry the ability to ultimately laugh at ludicrous things that would otherwise bring people down and the ability to just keep going if you know you are doing good work. It takes me awhile to get there, but I see that as something from my father. I know that I'm like my mom in many ways. She was firm, fair and loving. She also had a temper when she thought something was wrong with the world and didn't wait long before she fired off a strongly worded letter to whatever official might be appropriate. Although that may not be the best example, it's one that has clearly stuck with me. She fought strongly for whatever she believed in. Frankly, I see parts of my parents in me every day. I suppose that's the way of life. Although they have both long since passed away, I'm grateful to them for so much.

What would you order for your last meal?

It's no secret that I love to eat, so this might be the hardest question of all these for me. I suppose a terrific prime rib with plentiful sides like you would get at the great American steakhouses like Morton's or Ruth's Chris.

What can you not live without?

Perhaps the answer is as simple as "music," but I think it has more to do with the "sharing" of the music in my mind, with my personal stamp of understanding, with students, colleagues and audiences. The "sharing" part is the most important part since that includes family and friends and is probably more core than the music part.

Who do you have on your iPod?

My iPod is shockingly varied. Truly everything from the finest classical standards, classic band repertoire, new/modern "classical" music to Snoop Dogg, Jason Aldean, Top 40 pop, alternative and loads of jazz of various styles. The "who" is eclipsed by variety. I truly enjoy a wide variety of music, and the selections on my iPod (iPhone really) change frequently.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

I've been blessed with many happy memories, and to single out only one is daunting. I'd like to think there will be a new happiest memory around the corner. Frankly, one of my happiest memories involves being at home with my children on an Easter Sunday morning when they were 2 or 3 watching them run around the backyard all dressed up. I'm not really sure what they were looking for, but finally I understood they were to pick up the eggs and put them into the basket. What a cute and loving memory that is for me.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?

Well, you spoiled the question by the word "living" but OK. Maya Angelou, Oliver Sacks and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

Be the first one to work, the last to leave and put your commitment toward others, not yourself, first. I should also mention that this is dangerous advice. It can put you in harm's way since you are not thinking of yourself as a priority.

What's your best piece of advice?

Don't be a complainer. Spot the shortcoming, devise a plan to fix it, then fix it yourself. Don't get caught up in the blame game. Spot it, plan a solution and get to work.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

The first paying job I can remember was playing piano at a country club for $10 an hour five nights a week for about three hours a night. We were not members or anything; they just wanted a pianist for cheap. I remember they had to locate the piano in between the bar and restaurant since I wasn't old enough to be in the bar. Later, I had a similar job in college playing a white grand piano in the middle of a very upscale restaurant called Beethoven's, which doesn't exist any longer.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

One of the most pivotal decisions of my career was leaving Columbus State University in Columbus, Ga., to come to the UI. It wasn't that the position here didn't have an international stature, but I had everything running really well in Columbus. My family was amazingly happy, our lives were balanced with work, family, religion and friends, and it was the only home my children had known. Professionally, my ensembles and programs gained a strong national following, and life was good. While it wouldn't seem like much of a decision to leave a small regional university focused on teaching to take leadership of the band program at a significantly important research-level school of international repute, it was. I arrived at the decision with my wife's support. She knew of the amazing tradition of UI bands just as much as I did. The "of course" moment was rather quick, even though we knew it would take a few years to establish ourselves in new communities.

Do you have a bad habit? What is it?

My worst habit or trait is being impatient. Oddly, it doesn't crop up in the classroom. I'm probably too patient in that domain, but it certainly does crop up in my administrative and home life.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

Of course, this would depend on the situation, but generally I'm more of a "straight on" kind of guy. I'm usually calm but can also be passionate. Either way, I'm very firm in my resolve confronting the situation head on. In recent years, I've been working on letting things sit a while before addressing them, but that's difficult for me. The more stressful a situation becomes, the more calm and clear I get. My wife, Linda, will back me up on that. It's sort of "relationally opposite."

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