As executive director of the Cascade School of Music, Robert Lambeth doesn’t just believe in the power of music. It changed his life.
The 51-year-old joined the nonprofit school’s staff in June and has helped shepherd it through its recent growth spurt.
Founded in 2002, the school was headquartered for eight years at 200 NW Pacific Park Lane in Bend. After maxing out that 4,500-square-foot space, which had eight classrooms, Lambeth and colleagues found the school’s new home at 510 NE Third St., in the heart of town.
The 6,100-square-foot school now has 17 classrooms to serve its 651 pupils, 27 of them new as of January. The student musicians range in age from a 2-month-old baby in the Kindermusik program to an 82-year-old, according to Lambeth. “I don’t know any other school that can say that,” he said.
His own first lesson in the power of music occurred when he was a young boy with a speech impediment. Born two months prematurely in Alabama, he was at first kept on an incubator, “and my early years were quite difficult,” he said. “My speech impediment was something that I struggled with until 6½. I couldn’t say SHs or CHs, and I couldn’t say R’s. That’s a problem when your name is ‘Robert.’ I would say ‘Wobert.’”
As a boy, Lambeth spent about five years in speech therapy. “It helped to a degree,” he said.
Lambeth’s dad was in the military, and so the family moved a lot. In fact, between his dad’s career and his own, Lambeth has lived in five countries and seven states.
A former Portland area district manager for U.S. Bank, he was recruited by a head hunter to work for Lloyds Banking Group in London.
He next served as the executive director of the Hawaii International Film Festival before moving to California to be closer to his mother.
But long before he set forth on his career path, Lambeth spent summers with his grandparents.
“My grandmother would say, ‘Robbie, I want you to come to church with me, I think you’d like it,’” he said. “And my grandmother was quite a singer. She would always say, ‘You get your voice from me.’”
That was true, perhaps, on two levels: In church, Lambeth discovered his singing voice, which soon improved his speech.
“This was way before people started talking about the power of music and cognitive skills or education,” Lambeth said. “My grandmother would say, ‘You have a good voice. You can sing.’ I would just sing, sing, sing from that point forward. … As I was singing, through that summer with my grandmother, my speech just got better and better.”
To hear the school director speak now, you wouldn’t know that he ever struggled with his speech, although, he said, “Even today … if I’m tired, I’ll start to slur my speech and (have a) lazy tongue.”
He believes that singing helped develop his ear. And with two music degrees — a bachelor’s from the Conservatory of Music at the University of the Pacific and a Master of Music from the University of Colorado, “I know the power of … how developing the voice helps with many things, including articulation and enunciation and everything else. But yeah, that was the first real experience with music for me.”
He began playing piano as well. In 1977, his family moved to Germany, and it was in Europe that he had his first exposure to operatic singing.
The love of music continued after he moved back to the U.S. in his mid-teens and began doing musical theater, performing in roles such as Rolf in “The Sound of Music.”
Prior to his studies at the University of the Pacific, Lambeth attended two years of community college.
“I’m not a person who thinks everybody must go to college. But I do believe that everybody should have an education,” Lambeth said. “One of the things that I love about my experience is that I didn’t go straight off to a four-year college. I spent my first two years in community college in Northern California, because we just couldn’t afford four-year college. I’ve always worked and gone to school.”
He credits that time for his work ethic, one that his colleagues at Cascade School of Music find remarkable.
“We were unbelievably lucky to get him as our director,” said Kate Hanni, development director at the school. “I’ve talked to him on the weekends. He’s been working six days a week, most weeks. One day he’s out in a snowstorm, in a parade, holding up one side of a banner, with a truck in front of him with the exhaust in their faces. Just willingness to take on, you know, I’m here and he’s vacuuming,”
“I vacuum every morning,” he said.
“Or helping the people putting in the security system, or the insulation so we have better sound-proofing between the rooms,” Hanni continues. “His knowledge of finance and grant writing has helped me become a better grant writer. And he’s got a master’s degree in music, and he understands the business of music. Literally, how do you find a person in Central Oregon that would have that specific and particular skill set?”
The new building has greatly raised the visibility of the school, which at the moment is fielding inquiries from more than 70 potential students.
With all of this in mind, Lambeth already anticipates a day when the school outgrows its new home.
Cascade School of Music registrar Carly Marunowski joined the staff in November 2016 after she moved to Bend from Minnesota, where she had worked as assistant registrar at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
“Since I’ve been with the school there’s been a lot of growth, and needing to serve a larger community in terms of music education, Robert’s timing to join the organization was superb,” she said, “definitely the right person at the right time.”
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