Dicy McCullough: Dr. Rob has made great music in schools

  • Posted: Friday, April 19, 2013 11:20 p.m.
    UPDATED: Friday, April 19, 2013 11:22 p.m.
submitted photo
‘Dr. Rob,’ front, sits with former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt and students.
submitted photo ‘Dr. Rob,’ front, sits with former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt and students.

Have you ever seen Elton John perform in person? If you haven’t, but have seen Dr. William D. Robertson, then you’ve come pretty close. Dr. Rob, as he’s known by many, can make a piano sing and loves to imitate the style of one of his favorite performers, Elton John.

Not only a performer, but also a teacher, Dr. Rob is retiring April 30 from the Rowan-Salisbury School System, marking the end of a teaching career that began in Iredell County 30 years ago. A highlight in his career was being voted Iredell County Teacher of the Year in 1996. This past year, he served as music specialist for both Woodleaf and Cleveland Elementary schools in Rowan County.

Interestingly enough, during his teaching career few people have called him by the last name of Robertson. Students often called him “Mr. Music,” but that changed when he earned his doctorate in 1992. Not long after earning that degree, one of his performing groups began calling him “Dr. Rob,” and the title stuck.

With a father and two aunts in education, he felt a calling from an early age to become a teacher. To him, being around schools felt natural. When he was in his late teens, he used to perform gymnastic exhibitions at area schools. A young, agile musician at the time, he could do stunts such as run up a wall and flip backwards landing on his feet, stand on his hands on a water fountain while drinking water upside-down and even do a back flip off of a piano. “Unfortunately,” he says, “the years have managed to put a harness on that agility.”

Through the years, Dr. Rob has kept up to date with current educational trends and topics and recently shared some of his thoughts about the future.

“I do worry about the future of education because it’s getting harder to entice creative, intelligent young minds to enter a field that is so demanding and stressful in exchange for such a low salary. I especially worry about high-quality educators leaving the field in droves within the next few years. But, as for me, education has provided a haven the last three decades to do what I do best, which is making and teaching music.”

Indeed, Dr. Rob has been able to explore the best of all worlds as an educator. From teaching music to kindergarten children to directing high school choral ensembles ... from performing on radio and television, to piano concerts across the United States in venues such as the Biltmore House and the Governor’s Mansion ... from assisting various state departments to publishing research nationally, Dr. Rob has been able to savor many educational endeavors.

“It’s been a wild ride, all right,” he says of his three decades in education. “Performing, teaching, directing, composing, lecturing, researching, writing, publishing, I’ve been privileged to have experienced all of these! Kansas City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, New Orleans ... I’ve had the good fortune to have ‘done my thing’ in all these places and more! It’s all been simply incredible!”

With all of his talent and performing ability, Dr. Rob has been asked many times if he had any regrets about not pursuing fame and fortune in the performing arena. To that he always answers, “I’m a homebody, pure and simple. I like coming home to my family and sleeping in my own bed each night, something that education has enabled me to do. I just wasn’t meant to be on the road. I can’t say that it’s not been tempting at times. I made a limited run of two different CDs of piano music during the last decade and they both sold out. So, I can’t claim that the ‘what if’ of fame didn’t rear its head through the years here and there. However, I could never bring myself to answer the call, and I don’t regret it a bit.”

So why retire?

“It’s time for the new guard,” says the veteran educator. “There are too many obstacles such as excessive paperwork and antagonistic legislators making the job of teaching nearly impossible. Also, I’m ready for more flexible hours, as I wish to enjoy my wonderful wife, Dana. I want to spend time with my daughters, my granddaughter, my parents, and other friends and relatives who I’ve been ignoring in order to be an educator.”

Dr. Rob is finally considering going into part-time work at the college or university level and also has a desire to write. Encouraged by his wife, Dana, last year he wrote a 570-page novel. The story is a murder mystery, quite surreal at times with a bit of strange Green Acres-like humor mixed in. Family members and friends have read it and are encouraging him to publish.

There’s no doubt he is excited about the big change in his life. “It’s kind of like being born again,” he says. “No longer do I belong to the public schools. I’m free to re-shape myself and explore other areas. We’ll see where this novel thing goes. But, until then, I’m ready to go wherever the future leads me and do about anything except be quiet and do nothing — although, I must admit doing nothing sounds like something novel to explore at least some of the time.”

Dr. Rob, we wish you well with your new adventures and hope you won’t be a stranger to the students you have served so well. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day, children and teachers alike will once again hear you play your “oldie goldies.” Even now, it’s easy to imagine you at the piano, playing the tunes you have loved so dearly, including, “The Rose,” “We Are the World” and “Lean on Me.” There’s no doubt students have always been able to “lean on you” and will forever remember the music teacher they lovingly call Dr. Rob.

Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Call her at 704-278-4377.

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