Stewart's a fulltime instrument of learning

Last updated 05:00 23/12/2013
Stewart Stanbridge,

EAR FOR TALENT: Stewart Stanbridge, who teaches around 150-200 students a week, checks the progress of Ryan (7) and Toby Smith (9).

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With nearly 30 years teaching behind him, he has no intention of slowing down, reports Libby Wilson .

Stewart Stanbridge agreed to be an itinerant music teacher for a year.

That was 29 years ago.

He's been asked if he's going to retire soon, but he doesn't want to.

"While I can relate to young people and inspire them to play above themselves, why should I?" he said.

"It's become a part of life."

"I'm at a bit of a loss now in the school holidays, when there's no kids around."

Now, with itinerant teaching and conducting around six bands, he sees between 150 and 200 kids a week - that leaves little time for him to play.

Initially he was just working in high schools, but he decided his students should be able to start learning earlier.

The Waikato Academy of Music was born, to cater for primary and intermediate pupils, "and it's grown from there".

Mr Stanbridge's musical influence has reached young people through orchestras, concert bands, or private tuition in places from Hamilton to Te Awamutu.

And they're in good hands - past pupils and members of Mr Stanbridge's bands have gone on to the NZ Navy Band, Symphony Orchestra, and further afield to Her Majesty's Royal Marines Band.

"It's amazing when you catch up with them and hear what they've been doing. It's quite satisfying to know that you were a part of getting them off the ground."

Mr Stanbridge's passion for music started in his hometown of Gisborne, where he learned the cornet in the Salvation Army band from age eight.

He admits, with the hindsight of a seasoned music teacher, that he "probably didn't practise enough".

But it didn't stop him from moving on to trombone and euphonium, which remain his instruments of choice.

For a long time, music was a hobby.

He trained as an automotive engineer and then worked as a schoolteacher.

Then he started a quartet at one school - it grew to fifteen almost overnight and became a concert band.

He agreed to that year-long stint as an itinerant teacher, moved to Hamilton two years later, and never looked back.

Now, after 26 years of teaching around the Waikato, he is a well-known figure around the region's music classrooms and ends up in a different staffroom every day. He's developed an instinctive feel for certain parts of the job, too.

When a student first comes to him, he tells them to smile, looks at their teeth, and reckons he can tell straight away whether they'd be better suited to a brass or reed instrument.

Oh, and the outspoken ones are usually good on brass, he says with a chuckle.

And he's got a good memory for the names of his numerous students, but it can get tricky.

"Particularly when you haven't seen them for a while and they turn up and you think ‘clarinet', or ‘flute'. You always remember the instrument."

He has a few good stories too, like when he was at a festival with the Waikato Youth Symphonic Band and a young clarinettist opened her case to find . . . nothing.

"We were ready to go on stage and she came to me and said ‘Mr Stanbridge, there's no instrument in my case'."

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Fortunately, he had a good friend at KBB music, and a brand new clarinet was quickly plucked off the display stand.

Maybe stories like that are the reason Mr Stanbridge still finds it nerve-racking waiting at a performance for latecomers. He has passed on his passion for music to hundreds, if not thousands, of young people, and his three children have followed him into teaching music, although just one remains in the Waikato. With all the music in Mr Stanbridge's life, there's little time for anything else. He used to play representative hockey, but these days he goes fishing and enjoys early morning walks with wife Margaret.

libby.wilson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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