Teaching students, taking the stage

Robin Whittaker (middle) last played at the Affirmation Lounge with his band Loose the Snare on March 23. (Young Joo Jun/AQ)

When you think about your professors, you probably don’t imagine them rocking out on stage. But some profs at St. Thomas University do just that.

St. Thomas University English professor Matte Robinson is an avid trumpet player who’s in a trio of projects when he isn’t teaching English or explaining the concept of modernism.

He learned to play the instrument in Grade 5 at George Street Middle School under his music teacher, Don Bossé.

Robinson plays trumpet in the Don Bossé Sextet. He also plays in The Alex Bailey Swing Band and recently added a third project, a funk outfit called The Capitalized.

Robinson is mostly an improvisational player, as his schedule only allows for a single rehearsal before any show he plays. He said he incorporates this skill into his teaching methods.

“The idea of improvising, and my experience of improvising on stage, is right in my teaching philosophy, it’s a wonderful thing to think about,” said Robinson.

Drama teacher and head of Theatre St. Thomas, Robin Whittaker, has balanced school and playing music both as a student and a teacher.

Whittaker started playing classical guitar when he was eight.

He first practiced under a teacher named Bayla Marin, whose mentor Eli Kassner was taught by Andrés Segovia, an important figure in classical music.

“My parents were quite proud that I was being taught by a disciple of a disciple of Andrés Segovia,” said Whittaker.

Whittaker has played in multiple bands with a high school friend. They played in Callus One, an acoustic project, and Area Nine and the Buzzing Hornets, an electric guitar-driven project. They played shows at some high-profile venues in Toronto like Lee’s Place and The Opera House.

In December 2016, Whittaker got together with Chris Saad, the technical director of the Black Box Theatre and former drummer of Fredericton punk rockers The Vogons, for casual jams.

“I felt kind of goofy at first. I haven’t done this in a while,” said Whittaker.

After a few sessions, Whittaker taught Saad some songs from his old bands.

They soon recruited Dylan Sealy, a student of Whittaker’s, and University of New Brunswick grad Aaron Ellis, to form Loose the Snare and have played a handful of gigs since. They last played at the Affirmation Lounge on March 23.

Whittaker said the project is a great release for him now that his passion for drama and music is his profession.

“I started doing music before I ever started doing theatre so it’s just been in there for me for a long time,” Whittaker said.

“I’m really grateful to Chris for saying we should jam sometime.”