Conductor Mathias Rogala-Koczorowski has been awarded a Certificate of Merit by the RSL for his service to the Bathurst RSL Band over the past two decades.
This is the highest civilian award the RSL can bestow on a non-member, and Mathias is only the third successful nomination by the RSL Sub Branch.
He said he considers the award an acknowledgement of the band, rather than himself.
Mathias said the band is dedicated to the community in so many ways.
“Being there for the Diggers on those important occasions is a key part of that,” he said.
Mathias started leading the band towards the end of 1989 and is now in his 24th year as conductor.
He came to Bathurst at the beginning of that year as a brass teacher with Mitchell Conservatorium.
When he arrived he learned the RSL band was likely to fold, so he went along to a meeting and offered to take over as the director and keep it going.
Mathias said there were only about 10 members at the time, but since then he has built it right up again and now there around 30-40 members, the proper complement for a wind band.
A true community band, its members not only play at major commemorations like Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, they also play at Proclamation Day, Carols by Candlelight, the Bathurst Show, the Brucedale Picnic Concert and occasionally the Soldier’s Saddle.
The Bathurst RSL Band also plays charity engagements and gives free recitals in Machattie Park.
Mathias said next year is the band’s 130th anniversary. It is a direct descendant of the Bathurst District Band which was founded in 1885 and directed by Sam Lewins for the past 50 years.
Mathias was born in Sydney. He joined the school band when he was 10 years old, playing the tenor horn.
“I have never lost my love of making music just for the sake of it, even though I was a professional musician for many years,” Mathias said.
“Music is a way of channelling deep feelings that are beyond words.”
When he became a professional musician he switched to the nearest orchestral equivalent, the French horn.
“It was not an easy transition – the horn is much more challenging,” he said.
“However, I came to love it very much. It is an essential part of who I am – a horn player.”
He said he didn’t know he wanted to be a professional musician until he dropped out of studying arts at university.
His parents were not impressed.
While he was a talented musician who picked things up as he went along, he didn’t have his first lesson until he was 20.
“A lot of it I picked up sitting next to a star player and my mentor Cliff Goodchild, who was the principal tuba with the Sydney Symphony,” Mathias said.
“I was lucky in those days, there weren’t many French horn players coming through so I got into the ABC National Training Orchestra straight away.
“I was 24 when I got my first proper professional gig.”
He then spent three years playing in the Opera Orchestra (the Elizabethan Trust Sydney Orchestra) which is now known as the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra.
Mathias said he has no regrets whatsoever about choosing the life of a professional musician.
“It was fantastic to be able to make a living doing what you love,” he said.
Between 1979 and 1981 he studied at the College of Music in Cologne after writing to the famous horn teacher there asking for an audition.
“I had a fantastic time,” he said.
“Every night there was a world class concert – if not in Cologne then in Berlin, Munich, Dusseldorf or Paris.”
Over the next eight years he travelled with the Melbourne Philharmonic on the country circuit, travelling across Australia.
“We did it all,” Mathias said.
“We were usually billeted with people and I learned what it is like to live in different parts of the country.”
In 1988 he took up an administrative position co-ordinating the NSW bands for the bicentenary. He managed the Australian tour of the world-famous Black Dyke Mills Band from Yorkshire. He also served as the conductor of the Woollahra Philharmonic for 13 years.
Mathias came to Bathurst in 1989 and began teaching at the conservatorium.
“That’s the last thing I’d ever expected to happen to me – but I found I enjoyed teaching” he said. “Bathurst has a very rich musical and cultural life for a country town.”