Music professor Bob Chamberlain has seen Webster University’s campus grow from six buildings to over 30. He opened the London campus at Regent’s American College, held administrative positions for nearly 15 years and taught music classes the entire time. After 42 years at the university, he is retiring.
Chamberlain’s first job out of graduate school was at Webster. At that time, the university had mostly fine arts—there was no school of communications and no school of business. Since then, the music faculty alone has doubled in size.
“The growth is really overwhelming when I really think about it,” Chamberlain said. “Most people aren’t lucky enough to graduate from college, get a job and stay there for 40 years. I feel pretty darn lucky for that.”
Chamberlain started out teaching music theory. Along the way, he became dean of students for six months. He then moved to London for 15 months, opened the Webster campus there and served as the first director of that campus. When he moved back to St. Louis, he became the director of academic advising, where he stayed for more than 10 years. He continued teaching the whole time so he wouldn’t lose his teaching status.
“I’ve always loved teaching, and that hasn’t changed. How I’ve done it has become more refined,” Chamberlain said. “You learn your craft better and you become more proficient at it. I think I’ve kept a pretty open attitude.”
During his time in London, Chamberlain’s job was to open the campus, hire the first faculty and recruit the first student body. He said it was exhausting for him. The hours were long—seven days a week—and there was very little time for a break. His family was young; his daughter was two years old and his son was born in London.
“I wish I had back some of the family time that I missed,” Chamberlain said. “I don’t regret doing it, but I didn’t realize what I was in for when I moved to London.”
Chamberlain credits a lot of his experiences to the flexibility of the university. He said there are many chances for entrepreneurialism that he may not have had at other universities.
“Here, if you have an idea and you want to promote it, you can,” Chamberlain said. “A lot of schools don’t allow that. And I took those chances.”
Duane Bridges is a former student of Chamberlain. He is now an adjunct professor of music at Webster, where he directs the New Music Ensemble. He also teaches in the music department at Nerinx Hall High School. He first met Chamberlain about 15 years ago when he transferred to Webster as a music student. Bridges had regular classes with Chamberlain, but the two also studied independently together for Bridges’ composition degree.
“(Chamberlain) taught so much to me. He was more of a mentor than a strict teacher,” Bridges said. “He was always open to my ideas. I wanted to take in all I could, and he certainly paved the way for me to do that.”
During Bridges’ time at the university, Chamberlain wrote a recommendation letter for him to receive a study-abroad scholarship. Bridges was shocked when he was chosen for the scholarship, and that was his first trip to Europe. Now, through his career at Nerinx Hall, he travels to Europe quite frequently. Bridges then went on to become a graduate student at Webster, where he said his relationship with Chamberlain started becoming more of a friendship.
“I honor all the stuff he’s taught me. I’m happy to see him when I do see him. I’ve got nothing but praise for him,” Bridges said. “There’s no question that he’s well-loved and will be missed.”
Chamberlain’s specialty is music theory and composition. Most of the classes he taught were theory, composition, private lessons and other specialized courses. His favorite class is music theory because he said it’s what makes music tick.
“Theory is the heart and soul of what music is, and seeing lightbulbs go off inside students is great,” Chamberlain said. “Private lessons are fun, too. It’s always a surprise to see what students bring in.”
Chamberlain said the most rewarding part of his long career at Webster comes at graduation. He loves to see students walk across the stage and receive a diploma, especially students who struggled during the early stages of college.
“The real reward is to see the look on their faces,” Chamberlain said.
Throughout his career, Chamberlain has learned not to lose confidence in himself. He said his time at the university has been great.
“I learned to say yes whenever you can,” Chamberlain said. “I learned to trust myself and to take risks more than before.”
For the future, Chamberlain plans on using his new freedom to write more music. He said he has no other major plans after retirement.
“I love writing music, and I anticipate writing more,” Chamberlain said. “If there’s any big plans for me now, it’s to write.”
More than anything, Chamberlain said he will miss the interaction with faculty and students after he retires. He said the music program is pretty tight-knit and has evolved as a family.
“I’m walking away from that family. I’ll miss that the most,” Chamberlain said.