Ten Minutes With Jeremy Rothbaum // Melody Maker and Tuneful Teacher

By Valerie Reinke

Jeremy Rothbaum is known by his students as Mr. Fussy Pants, which gives you an idea of his meticulous and exacting nature—and his sense of humor. A music teacher at Blakely Elementary since 1991 and past director of the Young Singers program (now Bainbridge Youth Chorale), Rothbaum has created thousands of music lovers over the course of his career. As a prelude to his retirement in June, we caught up with the larger-than-life personality.

What were your early musical experiences?

I remember gathering around the piano with my mom and sister and as a family, singing Rodgers and Hammerstein. I started playing the piano at 8, the cello at 10, and then was in a rock band in high school, playing keyboards and singing lead vocals for The Electric PostTwelve Band.

When did you realize you wanted to teach?

I was at the University of Washington pursuing a music degree with the cello as my instrument but didn’t want to be a performance major, so I started taking music education classes. I went into an elementary school to observe and interact with the kids and it just sort of hit me: I really like working with kids.

What’s your goal as a music teacher?

The priority is to make music fun.

How do you relax?

I’ve been keeping a journal for the last 15 years so I like to go to a coffee house, have a cup and write. I also like to walk. From my home, I can access the Grand Forest trails.

Do you have a favorite song that you teach the kids?

There is one song that I always have my first graders do: “What a Wonderful World,” which they sing and sign. It always has the moms pulling out their handkerchiefs.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Increasing self-esteem and confidence in the children. A lot of the kids who are left behind in other areas of school find that music is a place where they feel really good about themselves—they feel smart, they feel a part of something bigger than themselves.

Worst teaching gig?

When I was a new teacher in West Richland, I had to teach strings and band. It was horrible for the kids because I knew nothing about band.

Is there a restaurant you’d recommend?

I like hole-in-the-wall ethnic places. I just went with my daughter and future son-in-law to Asadero Sinaloa in Kent. This is not border food or Tex-Mex, but authentic, regional specialties from the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

What’s one thing that people generally don’t know about you?

I am part of a meditation group that meets weekly at the Bodhi Center near Gazzam Lake. This is a great group and when I retire, I hope to devote more time to meditation practice.

What’s at the top of your retirement bucket list?

It’s a little vague but I hope to do a lot more hiking both in the mountains and the desert. I definitely want to keep working with kids in music. I don’t know that it keeps me young but it keeps me immature, which is invaluable! —

Ten Minutes With Jeremy Rothbaum Melody Maker and Tuneful Teacher