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robin etter-cleave - flute - bio



I grew up in a small town in New Brunswick, one of the Maritime provinces of eastern Canada – a lovely little town called Sackville. (Although I didn’t consider it “a lovely little town” when I was growing up there!). Sackville was named a Cultural Capital of Canada for 2008 and it certainly is that and has been arts-centred for many years. Sackville was also awarded a Municipality of the Arts Prize for being “……a model for cultural development in smaller communities, fostering a lively arts scene with broad community support.” The home of Mount Allison University, the uni offers a wide range of activities and events to its townsfolk (about 5,400) and visitors alike, (I feel like I’m writing a tourism brochure!!). Sackville and Mt. A. both played a big role in my love of, and success in music.

Sackville is situated just 50 kms away from Springhill, Nova Scotia, where Anne Murray grew up. I remember loving her music and being in awe of her. I played her “Snowbird” over and over again and never grew tired of listening to it. Anne put our side of Canada on the map! I’m sure I wouldn’t find a Maritimer who wasn’t proud of “our” Anne Murray!

My family of Mum, Dad and my sister Lorraine didn’t play music together, although Lorraine played the piano and Mum loved to sit down at the piano or organ and play by ear. It looks like my prowess in music may come from my Mum’s family and some from my dad’s family. Mum came from a large family where some of her immediate family were musical, but it seems that some of Mum’s aunts and uncles had the gift of music. My dad’s family weren’t musical, (I never even ever heard Dad hum!), but it looks like some of his mother’s family might have been quite talented. Dad died in 1977 and we had never talked much about his family. So I guess some of my interest in music may be inherited, but I know that I owe a lot of my love and success in music to the environment that I grew up in.

I can’t remember my first exposure to music, but I do remember that the first instrument I played was the violin. As a kid of about 5 or 6, I was part of a violin group in town that was given an opportunity to perform live on T.V. In those days, “live” meant “live”, so we couldn’t watch the performance after we finished playing. My memory of this performance was of me playing my violin and having an itchy spot on my leg just below my knee. So, as we all know how good us girls are at multi-tasking, I stood tall, smiled at the camera, lifted one leg and scratched my itchy leg with my other foot, (and didn’t miss a beat with my playing!). As the timing would have it, the camera was straight on me at the time. After the performance, I can’t remember my mother commenting on how the performance was, but I do remember her being in stitches of laughter and shaking her head as she described my balancing act. So there it was – my career in music was kick-started!

After the violin, I remember absolutely loving Class Music lessons at school. We had a terrific teacher when I was in middle school and I loved all the singing we did. By this stage, I had taken up the piano and went to a music teacher’s house once a week after school. I remember being a bit uneasy around this guy and having to wait outside on his veranda for lessons, even when it was raining and I was getting wet. That, coupled with the fact that his writing was illegible in my homework work gave my mother reason to cease my lessons with this guy. I don’t think I managed to get another piano teacher straight away, but I did continue my piano playing at home, just because I liked it. We had a songbook with all the hits of the time that I liked playing during the next few years and Mum loved to hear me play some of her favourites like “Five Foot Two”, “Moon River”, “King of The Road”, “White Cliffs of Dover” and The Beatles’ “Yesterday”.

Also at some stage between grades 4 and 7, I began playing the guitar. This just seemed to happen, I guess, as one of my best friends was playing the guitar, too. I know I was pretty young, as I can remember when Mum and Dad had parties, they would often grab me to entertain their guests on the piano and/or guitar. I can remember sitting on the piano seat one night playing my guitar and swinging my legs, so I guess I wasn’t old enough for my feet to reach the floor! Mum loved Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and she always asked me to play that. I was happier to launch into my favourites like “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” and Dylan’s “ Blowin’ In The Wind”, and a few years later would add in my own composition, “Pollution”. But I did the “good daughter” thing.

When I started junior high school in grade 7, I was offered a place in the school band playing the clarinet and I accepted, even though I had always loved the sound of the flute and that was my first choice. So, I played the clarinet for a couple of years and then one day before band practice started, I asked a friend if I could try her flute. She said I could have a go, so I picked it up and just started playing it. The band director came over and demanded to know who had taught me to play the flute, and he didn’t believe me when I said that this was the first time that I had tried to play the instrument. Right then and there he said to forget the clarinet and change to playing flute in the band. The rest of the flute players weren’t too happy when I was put on principal flute player pretty soon after! (Learning the clarinet had helped me with a lot of the fingerings on the flute.)

From there, I went on to senior high and while I was in high school, I had flute lessons with the flute teacher (Bindy Code) at the uni and played in the university Symphonic Band. Our band program at school was pretty good and most of my good friends were muso’s, too. In grade 12, my good friends Jack, Paul, Dave and Bob formed a band and asked me to play flute with them. We called our band “Jessica” and we practised in the local Catholic Church hall. We played in town a bit, doing covers like “Evil Woman” and Elton John’s “Daniel”, and we performed James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” at the Mt. Allison Winter Carnival in the big Convocation Hall. I asked a good friend of mine, (Wayne Hubbard), if he would play with us on the huge pipe organ in the hall and he prefaced the song with a powerful rendition of Bach’s Toccata (from Toccata and Fugue in D Minor), just before I came in on my alto flute, reverbed to the sky! By that time we were in uni and we got a great buzz out of playing in the hall. That Winter Carnival performance is a great memory.

I was awarded a renewable entrance scholarship and a bursary at the university conservatory to study Music and thus I did from 1974-1979, graduating from Mt. Allison with a Bachelor of Music, a Bachelor of Education and a Certificate for Excellence in Flute. I also learned to play the alto saxophone as my second instrument. Those five years were the best! During that time, I did some recording on ABC radio with the quintet I played in and was a regular performer each winter in the Ice Capades pit band. (Ice Capades is the equivalent to Disney On Ice here.)

After leaving uni, the last 35 years have been filled with singing, teaching music, teaching ESL (English as a Second Language), playing music, learning music, recording music and conducting music. I can’t complain about that!

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Most of my education was completed in Sackville, N.B Canada. In primary school, I attended Central School, then I went on to Middle School at Holy Rosary, then onto Sackville Junior High and then the brand new high school of Tantramar Regional High. After I finished grade 12, I was accepted into the university in our town – Mount Allison University, where I completed my 5-year Bachelor of Music Degree, Bachelor of Education and was awarded a Certificate of Excellence in Performance in Flute. In 1982, in Adelaide, I studied for a Diploma of Jazz Education and completed two years out of a three-year degree before moving up to Queensland. Bummer I didn’t get it finished.

In 2012, I went back to study and complete a Graduate Certificate in TESOL, (Teaching English to speakers of Other Languages) along with a Cert IV in Training and Assessment. This qualifies me to teach adults at TAFE (Technical and Further Education) colleges. I’m really enjoying this new career and I can often integrate music into the class course work. Listening to and singing along with songs is a great way to learn/improve English and I haven’t found a student yet who doesn’t enjoy it!! Yay!

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I taught for a few months in Newfoundland in far east Canada as a Junior High Music teacher, before moving to Australia and taking up permanent residency here. I taught from 1980-1984 at Banksia Park High School in Adelaide with some terrific teachers, particularly a lovely lady named Pauline Fox, who is still teaching Music in Adelaide. I also taught guitar and flute at the Salisbury College of Advanced Education and really enjoyed these nighttime lessons, working with adults.

In 1984, I moved up to sunny Queensland to take up the position of Director of Music at Ipswich Grammar School and to teach private lessons in flute and piccolo from home. What great fun we had at Ippie Grammar! I met Peter Cleave at Grammar in '84 and he and I married in January 1986. In 1988, I left IGS on maternity leave, as in October 1988, our first daughter Jessica Elizabeth Cleave was born. A bit less than 2 years later, our second daughter Laura Anne Cleave was born. I did a bit of part-time work still at Ipswich Grammar with the boarders and as a supply teacher until 1992.

In 1995-1996, my girls and I spent the year in Canada and I worked there in Sackville as a supply teacher, a flute teacher and in the university bookstore. It was an interesting year, and great to catch up with my family!

Upon returning to Brisbane, I was offered a three-week “fill-in” position teaching Music at Good News Lutheran School in Middle Park. The job was then advertised as a permanent part-time position. I applied and was offered the job!! I loved the job, but after 17 years as Music Coordinator there, decided it was time to work my brain a bit harder and opted to change my teaching focus to that of teaching English as a second language. I’ve been in that industry for three years now and I love it. On the whole, the students are so thankful for all that you can do to help them learn the language and adapt to living more easily in Australia. We have lots of fun days!! I do miss my old job, however, especially hearing the students sing – my favourite sound is that of children’s singing voices!

I still also teach Music from my home studio, although I have cut back on the number of students I have this year. I still really enjoy it though, and my two jobs provide nice, balanced days.

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Hmmm, personal huh? Well, I look back and think that if I had another chance at life, I would do a lot of things very differently than I did this time. I guess we all say that! But I’m happy with my life and the way things went, generally (except my divorce!). My belief is that you never stop learning and that every experience is a good one, although it may not seem so at the time. I love learning. I love doing new things, meeting new people, and taking chances, (generally - not with money!!) I had a head-on motor vehicle accident in 1992, (no, it wasn’t because I was taking a chance!), resulting in multiple fractures, but I believe that event, although it wasn’t too pleasant at the time, in the long run was a very positive experience. I sure learned a lot about anatomy ……..and the legal system!! And I’ve learned to appreciate every single day I’ve had past June 18th, 1992. I must admit though, I get very frustrated with my ongoing injuries, as they have now led to some major surgical precedures. Last year I had a total right hip replacement, along with my leg being twisted back so my foot now points straight ahead (yay!) and my leg being lengthened with the plan to make it the same as my other leg. (It was 3cms shorter due to the accident.) Unfortunately, there have been complications from that surgery, so still it continues! But really, I can’t complain. I can put my hand over my heart, feel it beating and say, “Yup, I’m doing GREAT!”

I’ve got a lovely extended family, with my Brian, my girls aged this year 27 and 25 and Brian’s son and daughter, aged this year 31 and 29, respectively. They have all grown up to be great young adults and I really enjoy their company! Life’s good.

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