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Meet a St Ives Character: Bob Cooper OAM

Meet Bob Cooper OAM – Concert Violinist and Mandurah Resident

When an eight-year-old Bob Cooper picked up a violin for the first time, he sparked a lifetime love affair and a career path that would span more than forty years.

His father, a magistrate, was very wary of Bob’s desire to turn his music into a profession, but his mother had always been supportive. She had been a concert pianist in England before the first World War and had moved to Australia not long after it finished.

“My father said if I showed talent and won scholarships to pay my way through studies then he would back me all the way. I won my first scholarship at age eight, and continued to earn them for fifteen years until I finished my studies,” Bob says.

After graduating from the Melbourne University Conservatory with first class honours, talks turned to international options. At that time, the music industry was quite small in Australia so it was common for musicians to pursue careers overseas. This became an option for Bob one year after graduation when the Mayor of Ballarat started a trust fund to send him overseas where he had two different scholarships in place: the first was with the Royal Academy of Music in London and the second was for Master Classes in the Parise Conservatory. For the next four years, Bob studied in both cities: not a bad gig!

After finishing his studies, Bob worked as a musician for ten years. In that time he travelled to many countries as both a soloist and leader of many different orchestras including the USA, Russia and most of the European countries.

“Each country is vastly different, and the way the audience is during a performance varies as well. Some would be very loud and cheer which is something we would build off, whereas some audiences would sit stone-faced. It was an interesting experience.”

One of his most treasured memories was during his time as the concert master at the Royal Opera House in London. His orchestra were part the production of Swan Lake that featured prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn as Odette.

“Along with the dance there is often a violin solo and as the concert master I performed the solo. The very first time I played the solo for Margot was special. At the end of that show she was given a bouquet and she called me up on stage and gave me the bouquet. It was a great moment and lovely memory.”

In a career full of wonderful memories, there is one more that jumps out at Bob and that was when he was given a medal by the Queen of England in 1951. At that time there were many Commonwealth students in London so the Queen started a competition for them, which Bob won. He was presented the medal in Buckingham Palace!

In 1962 Bob returned to Australia to find a thriving music scene. He continued his work in music in Adelaide and then in Western Australia before retiring in 1988. It was shortly after retirement that he was awarded the Order of Australia media for his services to music in Australia and abroad.

Bob Cooper OAM

Read more of Thrive here.