SCARSDALE, N.Y. – Gerald Robbins has played piano in virtually every major music venue around the globe as a soloist and recitalist and has also distinguished himself as a chamber musician.
But he derives as much satisfaction and reward from teaching children at Hoff-Barthelson Music School in Scarsdale, where he has been a staff member for nearly two decades.
Robbins, who is also a member of the chamber music faculty at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, has appeared as a soloist with the London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, London Mozart Players and New York Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra.
Recently, his rendition of the Schumann Piano Concerto was selected from hundreds of recordings to anchor the opening scene as well as a subsequent scene in the recent summer hit movie, “The Butler,” which starred Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey and had cameos from an all-star cast including Jane Fonda, Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Terrence Howard, Mariah Carey and John Cusack, among others.
But even with all of his individual success, Robbins is still passionate about teaching children. He embraces that role as much as he does his own genius on the piano.
“Teaching children especially at an early age is probably the most essential learning period for the kids,’’ Robbins said. “They learn how to organize their practice, thoughts and feelings, and learn how to have a creative imagination. They also learn, while practicing and researching their instrumental study of music performance, if they want to pursue it as a career, or even if they go into the business world, whether they can carry the necessary organized thinking structure of those lessons over into their chosen professional life whether it be in business or in the arts.
"What’s great about music is that it teaches you how to discipline your life, how to think in an organized way, and how to balance that disciplined thinking with what you feel.”
Robbins’s primary role at Hoff-Barthelson is to teach chamber music, which is a small group of performers on several different instruments. When he started, the school had about 15 chamber groups and they practiced only on Saturdays. Now, there are more than 40 chamber music groups, and lessons run throughout the week.
He believes children need more support for music programs at public schools, which have cut back programs due to budget constraints.
“Music has to be of greater importance in public schools,’’ he said. “Hoff-Barthelson is filling that need for students who want more exposure to serious music study. It’s of great intellectual, psychological, philosophical, spiritual and emotional value to expose the kids to high culture when they’re so young.”
In addition to “The Butler," Robbins recorded a Chopin piano piece, one of his Nocturnes, for “A Shocking Accident,” a British film short based on a Graham Greene novelette. It starred Jenny Seagrove and won an Academy Award for outstanding short film in 1982.
He also played "Rhapsody in Blue" for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme on their Emmy Award-winning 1975 TV special, “Our Love is Here to Stay.” It was filmed in London and Paris and was a salute to George and Ira Gershwin.
Robbins was thrilled this summer that his Schumann Concerto CD was chosen to be part of the music soundtrack for “The Butler," a movie Robbins considers an important biographical film based on a true story in African-American history. “It’s a privilege to be a part of a project like that,’’ he said. “It’s a historical document tracing the civil rights struggle from the 1950s to the present.”
Robbins has retained a passion for music throughout his long career, and enjoys passing along that passion to children at Hoff-Barthelson.
“I hope the community of Scarsdale realize that they have such a wonderful school in their midst,’’ Robbins said. “These kids aren’t playing hard rock. They’re playing great classical Western Art music, and exciting and imaginatively, stimulating jazz and popular music. I would love for Scarsdale to hear our concerts and see how wonderful these children are, and be supportive of them, and understand that they are making a cultural contribution to the community.”