Bob Calonico, beloved director of bands, to lay down his baton

Bob Calonico at the Big Game

Bob Calonico at his last Big Game leading the Cal Band, on Nov. 18. (Cal Band photo)

Robert Calonico, a beloved and enduring presence on the UC Berkeley campus as director of bands, including the high-spirited Cal Band, will retire in June.

Now 63, he has been director of bands at Berkeley since 1995 and was director of UC Jazz Ensembles for five years before that.

During his tenure, he brought the UC Jazz Big Band and combos to Hawaii, took more than 100 members of the Cal Band to Japan and China and and, with the band, made a surprise halftime appearance at Super Bowl 50, alongside Coldplay and Beyoncé. The Cal Band — officially called the University of California Marching Band — also has performed twice with the San Francisco Symphony Pops.

Calonico is well known on campus for fostering a warm and inclusive environment within the UC Berkeley bands, and for working collaboratively with student leadership. UC Jazz Ensembles and the Cal Band are part of Student Musical Activities at UC Berkeley, both administered by Cal Performances, which announced his retirement today.

“Bob Calonico’s expert musicianship, passion for education, and total dedication to his students and to the importance of music in the lives of generations of UC Berkeley band and wind ensemble members, is second to none,” said Matías Tarnopolsky, executive and artistic director of Cal Performances.

“His sense of the vital role of music as part of Berkeley’s daily life — whether in the grand pageant of a sporting event or in the beautiful routine of a rehearsal — is an example to us all,” Tarnopolsky continued. “We will miss his musicianship, his wisdom and his sunny personality, but will forever keep at heart the example he has set and continues to set. We offer him our most heartfelt congratulations as he embarks on his next chapter.”

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Calonico revived the long-dormant University Wind Ensemble, part of the Department of Music. He is credited for his interdisciplinary collaborations with UC Berkeley faculty, which have connected music with such fields as astronomy, history, physics and literature. As a proponent of new music, Calonico has commissioned works by Berkeley Department of Music faculty and co-commissioned works by other well-known composers.

The final wind ensemble concert of the academic year, with Calonico conducting, is planned for April 22 in Hertz Hall. In addition, for his last tour as director of bands, Calonico will travel with the wind ensemble to Croatia and Italy in May.

“The very best part of the job here at Cal has been working with the students —they are just really special,” said Calonico. “I learned a lot from them and I hope they learned something from me. I’m so proud of all of them.”

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said, “Bob Calonico’s career at Cal is defined by his care for and devotion to our students. Over the course of 28 years, thousands of young musicians benefited from Bob’s love, attention and musicality. For all he has provided to the fortunate members of the Cal Band, and the university as a whole, he deserves our deepest respect, appreciation and gratitude.”

Calonico was born and raised in Berkeley and attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, graduating in 1976. His parents met there as undergraduates in the late 1940s, and four of his five siblings are also Berkeley alumni.

In 2016, Calonico checked one more accomplishment off his bucket list, leading the Cal Band in concert at the Great Wall of China.  (Cal Band video)

As a student, he was active as a clarinetist, playing in the marching band, the wind ensemble, the orchestra and the contemporary chamber players under the mentorship of UC Berkeley faculty and staff including Michael Senturia, James Berdahl and Robert Briggs. As student director of the Cal Band, he got an early taste of how the student-run group functions.

He first studied clarinet privately with the late Rudolph Tapiro, former principal clarinetist of the Oakland Symphony, and later with Rosario Mazzeo, a former member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Calonico earned a master’s degree at Cal State University Hayward (now East Bay) and his doctorate in music education from Boston University. He joined the musicians’ union at age 18, and has remained active as a performer to this day. He is a longtime member of the National Association for Music Education, the College Band Directors National Association and the California Music Educators Association, where he served as president from 2006 to 2008. He also conducts the Danville Community Band.

“What’s special about teaching music is that you’re with a group of people who are all working towards a common goal. Team building, spirit, camaraderie are all really important,” Calonico reflected. “This is an important time in a person’s development. When I think of the friends I made as a student here at Cal, those friendships have lasted a lifetime. The friendships my students make here will last a lifetime as well.”

A farewell event for him is in the works and will be announced later. In retirement,Calonico hopes to keep music and his university friendships at the center of his life and to travel more extensively with his wife of 35 years, Sharon Calonico, a violinist and teacher.

Read more in the Cal Performances press release.