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The MAESTRO



Robert Navarro

When Robert Navarro isn’t teaching music at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Academy, he is composing, producing and mastering recordings. He also teaches stringed instruments, music technology and vocal technique to students in St. Lucie County. ANTHONY INSWASTY PHOTO

BY DEBRA MAGRANN

The beautification of historical downtown Fort Pierce is evident not only in what is seen in new businesses moving in but also through intangibles and nuances that are felt like the light of a morning sunrise.

Influences characterized by originality and expression are setting a path for creative professionals to enrich the cultural fabric. Educational models are transitioning from a stolid STEM model (science, technology, engineering and math) to one of STEAM — by infusing an A for arts into the process.

A leader in the educational arena, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Academy is a private school, nationally recognized and accredited for its college preparatory and accelerated diploma options. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church opened the school in the fall of 1970 as an extension of its mission to the community and is committed to the pursuit of the highest academic standards possible.

The pre K-12 school offers hands-on learning experiences through a unique blend of downtown partnerships. The waterfront location allows students to immerse themselves in an environment that emulates an ebb and flow of natural radiance and energy. Surrounded by such an enviable location, it might be difficult for anyone to concentrate on studies, but this isn’t the case at St. Andrew’s.

Young aspiring musicians are receiving a more meaningful and rewarding educational experience. Known for its award-winning performing arts programs, students work with a variety of professionals in a spectrum of nontraditional disciplines including writers, visual artists and vocalists.

Guiding the budding performers is Robert Navarro, who joined St. Andrew’s Academy as its music director in 2016. A Grammy-award winning musician, he is an accomplished performer from New York City with more than 25 years of experience as a professional pianist, teacher, arranger and producer. He studied composing and music production for film scores and has worked for major recording labels like RCA and Columbia Records.

“Children who are into music are very important to me,” Navarro says. “Being at St. Andrew’s Academy gives me the opportunity to teach music that expands their horizons, without limits to learning at a higher level.”

He sees his legacy as passing on a love of music to youth. Bolstering confidence in his students to perform in public, Navarro explores fundamental techniques to gain mastery in musicianship: building a repertoire, hand-positioning and fingering, music notation and sight reading, phrasing and interpretation, and playing by ear.

Navarro was born in Brooklyn in 1957. When asked at what point music touched his soul, he said as a child. His father, who promoted local musical acts, was always hanging out with great musicians. “They were always coming by the house,” he recalls.

Then one day he came home with a trio of Latin guitar players who sat, played, and sang three-part harmony. “For the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted to do,” Navarro says. He was 5 years old.

Both parents were very supportive of their son. Navarro played acoustic and electric guitar but never had any formal training; he was self-taught. By the age of 12, Navarro was earning money playing at weddings, which meant he had to be chaperoned, being the youngest one in a band of two guitarists, a bass, drummer and vocalist. “We were so blessed; we had the backing of our entire community.”

As a teen, Navarro began playing piano, transferring everything he knew from guitar — every chord — to the piano.

“I was playing by ear because we couldn’t afford lessons. I couldn’t read music,” he says. “My first teacher in high school was an older gentleman and a jazz player. He taught me and was amazed at what I picked up. He really cared and I learned so much. I needed direction.” It was then that he learned improvisation.

He would save his dollars for private instruction, soaking up everything like a sponge. His education continued at home by listening to records, diligently replaying them over and over. That is when his real training evolved — by ear — listening.

“I encourage my students to read (music) and listen.”

As a working musician, he began City College of New York at the age of 17, paying for it on his own, traveling with a touring band. It took him 15 years to graduate.

As a skinny teenager, Navarro mastered music engineering in New York under the watchful and experienced tutelage of two of the most respected engineers in the music business: John Fausty and Kurt Upper. Technology in those days was reel-to-reel and analog equipment.

At 19, recording companies sought him out to write arrangements. He was so well-known that he formed his own band. Members had to sight-read sheet music while Navarro led; by the third time around they had to play without the music. Practicing meant six to eight hours a day for Navarro.

In 2007, he committed his life to Jesus Christ and his world changed dramatically — for the better. Aside from teaching, he plays piano for a gospel church and has to flip to any song in the hymn book and play it by sight. “We’re going to sing you a song — do you know it?” He just follows along.

“I love my students, they are my pride and joy. I hope they continue to love music like I do.”

On his own time, Navarro still practices four hours a day and teaches piano, guitar, cello, viola, violin, bass, music technology and vocal technique in Port St. Lucie. He can be contacted at stluciemusiclessons.com. His band, Mucho Mambo, plays at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart on March 10.



ROBERT NAVARRO

Age: 57
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Family: Wife, Yvonne R.; Melody, a health sciences student at University of Florida, Gainesville; Jazmin, a dual enrollment senior at Treasure Coast High/IRSC
Occupation: musician, arranger, audio engineer, composer, producer, educator and band leader
Education: City College of New York with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in music, earned a master’s from New York University. He also studied at Mannes College, (Extension Division for Jazz Studies), and Manhattan School of Music (Classical Studies).
Hobbies: Cooking
Who inspires me: “God — he’s the one who makes all this happen!”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I am a dog lover. I have two Chihuahua dogs that are like my sons — their pictures are on my cell phone.”