Westmont Magazine Have Choir, Will Travel
By the time he arrived at Westmont, Phil Robb ’74 was burned out on music. As a child, he sang with the San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Opera Company. He played trumpet in junior high school, joined his high school choir and spent a summer traveling over-seas with the Continental Singers. He wanted to pursue other interests in college — until he started taking a variety of classes and realized music suited him best. He ended up majoring in music and perform-ing with the brass choir.
A career in music had never interested Phil, but he needed a job after he graduated. He went to Dallas, where he had friends, and spent two years on the music staff of Campus Crusade for Christ. That’s where he met his wife, Pam. The two moved to Gilroy, Calif., so she could teach at a private school. Once again, Phil turned to music for employment. He began by substituting and then taught music at a private school while he completed a credential at CSU San Jose. In 1981, he became an elementary music specialist for the district, riding his bike from school to school carrying his guitar. Three years later he added the duty of directing the Gilroy High School Choir, which had 12 members at the time. As he built the choral program, he became a full-time teacher there He now conducts five high school choirs as well as a large ensemble at Gavilan College and serves as a music minister.
“Once I started teaching, I saw that I had some natural skills I could develop,” he says. His impressive legacy includes award-winning ensembles that sing frequently in the local area and travel periodically to Japan to perform in Gilroy’s sister city, Takko-Machi, also known as a garlic capital. He also took the choir to Germany and the Czech Republic in 2004.
Phil no longer harbors any ambivalence about music or its value in the curriculum. A passionate advocate for arts education, he explains how music benefits students. “Singing choral music involves more brain activity than anything else,” he says. “It uses all parts of the brain, including language and emotion. I always thought my kids were smarter — and it turns out they are because they’re using all parts of their brains. It’s worth being involved in music in school because it helps them down the road.”
Remembering how much he enjoyed traveling with the Continental Singers, Phil took his students to Japan in 1989 and returned every three years, giving concerts throughout the country as well as in Takko-Machi. The Japanese welcomed them warmly, held ceremonies honoring the choir and placed students with host families. After four of the tours, Phil and his two adopted children (now 27 and 24) were able to visit Korea, where they were born.
This summer Phil took 28 alumni on his last trip to Japan to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the sister-city relationship with Takko-Machi. The singers, drawn from all six Japanese tours, included five siblings from one family and four from another as well as a Las Vegas choral director and Westmont graduate Lisa Young ’94. “It’s an amazing group,” Phil says. “The fact that former students from all over the U.S. — and one from China — would give up a week of their lives for this trip with their high school choir director was very humbling.”