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The Man Under the Hat

September 26, 2013

 

Robken directs the band during the Tulane game while sporting his signature hat. - Photo by Deepanjan Mukhopadhyay

Robken directs the band during the Tulane game while sporting his signature hat. – Photo by Deepanjan Mukhopadhyay

JOHN SADLER
Staff Reporter

 

Jim Robken paced around the active band practice field, repositioning the drum major’s maces and giving advice to the musicians over the field’s public address system.

 

“The band is a critical component of game day,” Robken said. “You can see the people get excited when we start to parade to the stadium.”

 

Robken has been director of bands at Tech for 23 years and has his hands in all aspects of the band department.

 

After earning his bachelor’s degree at Tech, Robken enlisted in the Navy and served on an aircraft carrier for five and a half years. He then obtained his master’s degree in music composition at the University of Arkansas, where he became director of athletic bands.

 

“I was happy there, but I saw a position was open at my alma mater and was excited to try and take it,” he said.

 

Robken said Tech is one of the best environments he has worked in.

 

“The kids are fun, creative and willing to do whatever is necessary,” Robken said.

 

He said that while playing for all of the sports teams was fun for both him and the band. Basketball was his favorite.

 

“I know kids who will put up with being in the marching band just so they get to play at basketball games,” he said.

 

It’s the more intimate environment that makes everyone, himself included, enjoy it the most, he said.

 

“You’re all in the same building, very close to one another,” he said. “Everyone is just excited to be there.”

 

Robken said that he tries to make band non-strenuous and fun.

 

“It’s difficult to pledge too much time to this when you’re in college,” Robken said. “I try to make it fun and let the kids enjoy themselves.”

 

Drum major Camella Card awaits instruction from her band director at practice. - Photo by Deepanjan Mukhopadhyay

Drum major Camella Card awaits instruction from her band director at practice. – Photo by Derek J. Amaya

His directing style certainly pays off in the eyes of his students, especially Sabrina Olivares, a senior general studies major and tuba section leader.

 

“He is one of the most helpful faculty members,” Olivares said. “He has a completely open-door policy.”

 

Camella Card, a junior chemistry major, said her experience as drum major has been improved by Robken.

 

“He’s crazy in a good way that rubs off on you. He’s quite the character,” Card said.

 

She said the whole band treats Robken’s word as law.

 

“He’s got the kind of presence where you just listen to what he has to say,” she said. “Whether it’s right or wrong, what Robken says, goes.”

 

One of Robken’s most enduring characteristics is his signature white hat, which he is rarely caught without.

 

“The hat is more important than I am,” Robken said. “It’s a ticket into everything.”

 

The tradition began when he needed to find a way to make sure his students could see him during practice and games.

 

“Somebody just handed me a hat one day, and I’ve stuck with it ever since,” Robken said. “People see that hat and can be like, ‘Oh yeah, you, get over here.’ It’s a good safety thing.”

 

Olivares said Robken is one of the few truly unique people she knows.

 

“He knows his job in ways other people don’t,” she said. “People know who we are because of him.”

 

Robken’s admiration for his students is clear to anyone who speaks to him.

 

“I get to work with the best kids,” he said. “These kids are a great representation of our university and great ambassadors. It’s a pleasure to have that.”

 

As Robken moves in and out of the group of kids, giving individual recommendations to some and just talking to others, you can see  the students return his respect.

 

“He takes care of us,” Olivares said. “I’ve never seen another director like him.”

 

Email comments to jts040@latech.edu.

 

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