Retired local band director takes the baton during Purdue halftime show

A retired local educator from Columbus will take the reins in leading dozens of high school and college marching band students Saturday afternoon at Purdue University, hoping to make it a memorable and educational experience for everyone involved.

Don Robertson, 80, will be working with the Purdue All-American Band and 30 high school bands when they perform in front of thousands of people at halftime during Purdue’s noon football game against Nevada. He is a retired educator who served as band director at Columbus North from 1982 to 1989, then as band director at Northside Middle School from 1989 to 1996 before retiring.

Robertson was invited to guest conduct for the bands through his involvement with Phi Beta Mu, an international bandmasters fraternity, and has remained actively involved in music through the Indiana State School Music Association and other organizations.

Jay Gephart, director of the All-American Marching Band at Purdue, and Matthew Conaway, assistant director of the band, also serve in Phi Beta Mu, Robertson said.

“Through the association of the gentlemen in that organization and what we’ve accomplished over the years, they said, ‘Hey, would you like to do it?’ and I said, ‘I’d love to,’ and I jumped at the chance,” Robertson said.

He plans to prepare with the Purdue band for a few hours today and will then rehearse with all band participants Saturday morning.

Robertson said the high school students received their music in advance and hopes they are ready to go.

The music being performed will have ties to the upcoming Indiana Bicentennial through the composer, song title or references within the musical selections about Indiana, he said.

“I hope I can contribute something for the students who are there as high school kids from various schools from around the state,” Robertson said.

“I hope I can contribute something of a meaningful educational experience for them,” Robertson said. “My experience with the bands over the years was just fantastic.”

Although Robertson admits he is somewhat nervous going into Saturday’s performance, he is looking forward to the opportunity.

“You always have that slight anticipation of what could possibly go wrong,” he said. “And you make plans in your own mind of what you can do to alleviate and fragment those problems to the point where they don’t occur.”

He also plans to tell students in advance what he hopes to accomplish as they prepare to perform for those in attendance.

“My philosophy is we’re going to be performing for thousands of people and you know, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do it right and you’re going to paint a picture,” Robertson said. “You’re going to paint a picture with music and notes rather than a canvas and oil.”