Robert Battey


I came to the cello relatively late, having first studied piano and percussion, and dabbled in composition. I attended Interlochen Arts Academy as a youth, where I had the opportunity for close-up contact with some big names: Isaac Stern, Janos Starker, Lukas Foss, Alexander Schneider, Dave Brubeck, Frederick Fennell, and others. I also spent some formative summers at a small but intense music camp run by the pianist/composer Edwin Finckel. One summer I watched Pablo Casals teach at Marlboro and had a few moments with him afterwards.

Those experiences helped me decide on music as my life's main pursuit, and shaped my attitudes towards it; how each time one approaches a work something new is there for discovery, how humility towards our craft is the hallmark of the great performer, and, most importantly, how learning is a two-way street. Being in these environments also taught me, early on, the crucial lesson that the world was full of people much more talented than I, and that it was only through extra-hard work that one could hope to compensate.

While I knew I wanted to be a musician from my early teens, I only settled on cello as my main gig when I went to college. I had appeared as a pianist at the Kennedy Center while still in high school, and was accepted on timpani at several major conservatories. But the allure of the cello literature, especially the chamber music literature, was too strong, and I finally made my choice. I spent most of the next eight years studying music full-time. I did some conducting, but gave up composing. Among other sidelines, I sang the Berlioz Requiem under Robert Shaw and the Mahler Symphony No. 8 under Margaret Hillis.

The details of my professional training and career are on the other pages. Now, as I start to enter middle age, I have mellowed about some things (not everybody is going to like classical music, no matter what we do, and not every student, even if very talented, should be urged into a music career) and gotten worse about others (some of our celebrated performers today need to listen to themselves once in awhile). Mainly, I am more grateful than ever that I had the opportunity to learn the craft of music thoroughly, under good teachers who gave me the ability to continue to question and search, and grow with each musical experience, no matter how small. They also inculcated in me an appreciation for those who preceded us; I take much pleasure in tracing our artistic/cellistic roots through the study of performances of great musicians from long ago, and have amassed a large collection of rare historical recordings. I hope someday to make available an on-line catalogue of some of my more valuable items.

I have always tried to give back to the profession that has been my life. I have given concerts in farming communities and in nursing homes, as well as through the Young Audiences program. I served as a board member of the American Cello Council during its heyday in the 1980's with all those terrific Cello Congresses, and founded the Mid-America Cello Society and produced its newsletter for some years. I have served as a judge for the MTNA, Johansen International, and Gretchen Hood competitions, as well as for state solo contests in Maryland, Kansas, and Missouri. I wrote and produced the weekly hour-long show "The Fingerboard" on KCUR-FM in Kansas City; wrote the chapter on the Cello Concerto in Dvorak in America (Amadeus Press, 1993); and published articles in STRINGS and Stagebill magazines. I also do a multi-media lecture that I have presented for different cello clubs and similar gatherings, where I play recordings and videotapes of the giants of the instrument with commentary and analysis (an abbreviated version of which was given at the World Cello Congress III). In short, I've been a missionary for our cause in every way I can think of. Now the Internet Cello Society has opened new opportunities to share and exchange within the wonderful cello fraternity and I, for one, want to take advantage of it.

Whoever you may be, I welcome e-mail on any music-related topic.

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