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'He has a gift': Longview High School sophomore only student in state to accomplish musical feat

By Ryan Perry rperry@news-journal.com
March 3, 2012 at 10 p.m.


Robdrick Halton readied his contrabass clarinet.

"I haven't played this in a while, so please excuse me if I squeak," he said. The instrument let out a soft, long note, and away he went. His fingers blurred across the keys as he belted out a two-minute allegro piece with the precision of a seasoned professional.

The instrument is one of five the 15-year-old Longview High School sophomore plays - and Halton is the only student in Texas named All-Area on instruments in two musical families. He recently placed second on the contrabass clarinet among high school students in Texas.

"It's very difficult to get to the state level," said Louis Robinett, LHS band director. "There are thousands of people he is going against, and he is in the top 1 percent of people who tried out. When you have a sophomore who is playing several instruments, it's just incredible."

Halton qualified for All-Area on the French horn, which is the instrument he first started playing when he joined the Judson Middle School Band.

"He's a very versatile musician," Robinett said. "He can play French horn, clarinet, tenor sax and cello, and now he's going to learn to play trombone. He can pick up just about anything, really."

Inspired by his sister who played multiple instruments in school, Halton said he pleaded with Robinett three years ago to let him play the clarinet in band as well. Juggling practice with the two instruments was not always smooth, though.

"During the summer, I had clarinet and French horn lessons. I would play really badly because I wasn't use to playing the French horn as much. They're totally different - woodwinds and brass."

Halton said the clarinet is his favorite instrument, so he had to maintain a balance.

"It was pretty difficult because I practiced clarinet more than French horn, and I would kind of lose my embouchure on French horn," Halton said. "I had to get used to it."

Embouchure is how a player's mouth adjusts to the mouthpiece of an instrument.

Robinett said he often has to discourage students from switching instruments so they can focus on one.

"Kids are kind of fickle," Robinett said. "They'll switch from one instrument to the next because we live in such a buffet-style culture. We want them to focus on one so they can become good at it."

Considering the differences in the instruments and the practice required on each one, Robinett used Halton in a dual role.

"During marching season, I had him march with the clarinet and play French horn in the stands," Robinett said.

<strong>Work ethic</strong>

One of Halton's strengths is that he embraces a challenge.

"I like the hard parts so I can go home and practice," Halton said. "I practice about an hour and a half daily."

Robinett says Halton's determination sets him apart from many of his peers, adding the sophomore exhibits traits not often seen in students, especially underclassmen.

"He's self-motivated," Robinett said. "He'll come in and ask questions, which is uncharacteristic of a lot of kids. They try to skirt an issue because they know they'll have to work more. He's always looking for something else to do."

Halton lends his talent to a variety of groups. He performs in several levels of school music, and he performs in the East Texas Symphonic Band, and when his grandfather asks, he plays hymns at the Lighthouse Church of God in Longview.

"He loves the challenge," Robinett said. "He's playing several instruments, and if he gets bored with one, he'll play another one better. He's always looking for a challenge. I hope he doesn't outgrow music and want to move on to something else."

Halton is competitive, but he prefers an instrument where there is more competition.

"French horn competition is hard, but clarinet is very, very competitive," Halton said. "There are a lot of people who play."

It's not all about the challenge, though. Halton said the clarinet just feels more natural.

"I can play the same level piece on both French horn and the clarinet, and I'll play it better on the clarinet," Halton said.

He does not consider himself to be the best French horn player at the school, but he is patiently waiting for his day to come.

"Sarah Konvalin will be leaving next year, and then I can be the best," Halton said with a smile.

He has a quiet confidence on his music ability that fuels his practice.

"My ability is a point of pride for me, but I try not to be conceited," Halton said. "I work really hard, though."

<strong>Push for improvement</strong>

According to others, Halton challenges and improves the students around him - sometimes knowingly, and sometimes just by working at his craft.

"I wish I had a room full of students like Robdrick," Robinett said. "He's a leader. We call it osmosis. If you have a kid like him sitting by an all right student, he's going to turn that student into a pseudo-Robdrick. He bleeds off on everyone else, and they want to be better because they're sitting by him."

Bandmate Alexandra Furtney said she and Halton push each other to improve.

"We're really objective with each other," Furtney said. "We're honest with each other on how we sound, and we tell each other what would make us sound better. We're pretty critical of each other."

The criticism is paired with their hopes and goals for the future. Furtney, a sophomore flutist, said they came close to achieving a short-term ambition this year.

"Our goal was for all of us to make All-State," Furtney said. "We all made it to All-Area, but Robdrick made it to All-State. We're all really happy for him.

"Robdrick inspires me because he is so dedicated," Furtney said. "It inspires me to push myself harder."

In turn, Furtney's extra work pushes Halton.

"She encourages me to practice more," Halton said. "She'll stay after school until 5, so that pushes me to try harder."

"I didn't know that," Furtney replied.

Whether in school or not, the two play because they enjoy it. Furtney also plays with Halton in the East Texas Symphonic Band, and they play on their free time, as well.

"I went over to her house to play some duets Saturday," Halton said.

"We had our own little master class, and we were playing duets just for fun," Furtney said.

<strong>'A gift'</strong>

Although Halton dreams of a full-ride scholarship to Northwestern State in Louisiana and a career in music education, Robinett believes he can achieve more.

"He needs to shoot higher, honestly," Robinett said. "He has a gift, and I think he could be a conductor of a military band or even at a collegiate level."

His talent, work ethic and desire often puts him alongside or in competition with more experienced musicians, but Halton keeps achieving levels uncommon for his age.

"He has a grasp for music … it's really innate," Robinett said. "We just cultivated what he already had. He's a great kid - very respectful. He's highly intelligent, and he picks up music very quickly. I can't say enough about him."

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