While many students might think picking the major that poses the least challenge is the easiest and quickest path to graduation, for Drew Robertson, it was never an option.
“That’s what I still enjoy: the challenge of music,” said Robertson, a spring 2023 music performance graduate specializing in tenor and alto trombone. “It’s like every day I get to wake up and figure out how to make a piece of metal, that otherwise shouldn’t make good sounds, make good sounds.”
But don’t let Robertson fool you, he’s doing much more than just making “good sounds.”
In his four years of undergraduate study at Missouri State University, he has played two concertos — one with the wind ensemble and one with the orchestra — performed at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City with the Wind Ensemble and played with MSU’s Trombone Ensemble, Trombone Choir, University Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble, along with numerous other accomplishments.
Most recently, he advanced to the Music Teachers National Association, Young Artist Brass Competition after winning at the state and west central division rounds. The 2023 national competition was held in Reno, Nevada, in late March; Robertson went home the winner of the national contest, beating out brass players from across the country.
Just days before, he had been performing with the MSU Symphony Orchestra at the Concerto and Aria Competition Concert.
According to Jason Hausback, professor of trombone at Missouri State and Robertson’s trombone teacher for the past eight years, while many music students participate in numerous performance groups and competitions, Robertson does so with remarkable skill and maturity.
“He just does it really well,” said Hausback. “It doesn’t seem to faze him — being stressed out, being nervous, doubting himself. Those don’t seem to be things as much for him as for other people … Some of that could be talent, but really, it’s just much hard work and preparing and coming up with ideas and taking them on and going for it. He does that really better, honestly, than anyone else.”
Robertson attributes his numerous accolades and successes to his resilience and the number of opportunities he’s taken on.
“The reason why I’m doing all these competitions and having success is because I’ve done so many that have failed. I’ve submitted for competitions, like three or four competitions every year, probably,” said Robertson. “Sometimes you win and sometimes it’s just like, ‘Thank you for submitting, maybe next year.’”
Despite the losses, Robertson has never lost his passion for music. His work at Missouri State has been the continuation of a dedication to music that began in middle school.
“I joined, and I was like, ‘I’m going to play trumpet, and then they were like’, no, you’re going to play euphonium,” said Robertson. “‘I want to do jazz’, and they finally said, okay, you can play trombone.’”
Not long after, in the ninth grade, Robertson was playing trombone in the all-state band.
“I did that my freshman year, and I worked my butt off and got like the last chair in the Missouri All-State band,” said Robertson. “From there it was like, ‘okay, I’m kind of good at this.’”
But he never settled for “kind of good,” chasing his love for the challenge music presented.
“In math, you can finish your math class and be like, I understand this. I’m going to go take a nap and not do my homework, and maybe you could go find Wikipedia articles and read about math or read textbooks,” said Robertson. “But with music it was like, ‘Okay, I can go and I can’t play this note. I’m going to figure out how to play this note. I’m going to figure out how to do this. I want to sound like this.’ And so it’s always been a thing that I can keep going and keep doing more with.”
Hausback said this mentality has been reflected in Robertson’s work ethic for years, dating back to Robertson’s days at Glendale High School in Springfield.
“I gave him a really tough solo and not something normally a high school student would play,” Hausback said. “It wasn’t the entire thing, but he came back two weeks later and had almost the whole thing memorized, and that’s something that even a college student would have trouble doing.”
Robertson’s commitment is already paying off, earning him acceptance to Columbus State University’s music performance graduate program in the fall.
“A big reason why I’m going to Columbus State is that that teacher just cultivates that experience of let’s play music together and let’s learn about trombone and be really good, but also have a really good studio culture where we care about each other,” said Robertson.
While continuing to study music performance, Robertson plans to audition for orchestras.
“I’m going to continue to start taking some more and more auditions, hopefully winning one at some point to where it’ll be a big enough of an audition that I can live off of that salary,” said Robertson.
Orchestra auditions take place when members leave or retire from a performing group, making seats at high paying orchestras coveted spots for those hoping to make a living off of their performance. Robertson’s goals will place him in an incredibly competitive industry, and although the road ahead for him might be difficult, one thing is clear: Robertson isn’t one to shy away from the challenge.
Follow Lillian Durr on Twitter, @lillian_durr
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