George Dobson and music at Carey

Although COVID-19 led to the cancellation last month of the whole school concert, there was a time when such an event was unheard of at Carey. Although it seems hard to believe now, with more than 20 ensembles in Middle and Senior Schools alone, instrumental music was once quite unpopular. An orchestra, formed in 1949, could each year barely scrape together more than a dozen or so players of strings and woodwinds.

Trumpeter George Dobson (1968–77) lit a musical fire at the school. Under his teaching and direction, brass, woodwinds and band music were taken up enthusiastically by many students. Well-known since the 1940s as one of Australia’s best trumpeters, during his career he directed the George Dobson Trumpet Serenade for the ABC, and played in the Victorian Trumpet Trio, the ABC National Dance Band, the ABC Variety Orchestra, the Sydney Trocadero Orchestra and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

In 1968 the school purchased a new set of band instruments from America, and 70 boys in Form 7 enrolled to learn brass instruments. In 1969, all Form 6 students were given one term’s instruction in a brass instrument of their choice. Woodwind instruments were encouraged too. It all represented the beginning of the school’s remarkable commitment to the performing arts.

The Carey Band placed music on the school community’s radar. George Dobson conducted it, arranged all of the music it played according to boys’ abilities, and even wrote simple parts, if necessary, to encourage newcomers. His infectious enthusiasm and skilled musicianship melded the band of 40 players who ranged from forms 7 to 12. He imposed high standards too, recalled Old Carey Grammarian Andrew Mott (1980): ‘He took no prisoners in a rehearsal and you were expected to be able to play your bit, as he pointed to each member of the section in turn, to run through a particular passage, hands on hips and a determined, fairly fierce gaze set upon you.’ As well as performing at each Speech Night, the band entertained everyone at school fetes.

George Dobson also played the Last Post and Reveille at Anzac Day school services – a moving and inspiring contribution. By the time he left, instrumental music had established a strong foothold at Carey, upon which subsequent generations of teachers and students have built.

Helen Penrose
Historian, HistorySmiths

Feature image: Record cover of Vic Trumpet Trio

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