BERKELEY — Dr. Robert Calonico will probably never let go of music, but he says he’s looking forward to a slight change of tempo after years of practice room instruction, fiery performances alongside musical icons and enough travel to circle the globe several times.
“If I think about the amount of miles on buses alone, it’s too depressing,” Calonico, 63, said Wednesday afternoon from his campus office. “But it’s been fun. I’ve had a great run.”
The longtime UC Berkeley musician and educator announced his plans to retire in June after 28 years of service conducting the 225-piece “Pride of California” marching band and the University Wind Ensemble, and teaching applied woodwinds classes.
“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,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement. “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.”
Even as Calonico made sure to uphold traditions in hundreds of performances at Cal athletic contests, he said he has always worked to adapt to the times.
“You can always count on change. Maybe musicians are a little better at it than others, as music changes all the time, it’s our medium,” he said.
Born and raised in Berkeley, Calonico followed in the footsteps of his parents and four of his five siblings, graduating from Cal in 1976. From there, he’s seen a whirlwind of performances in studios, classrooms, and stages, including a cherished memory of a night backing jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald with Ernest Heckscher’s big band at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel.
Balance is a key quality Calonico says has kept him steady in academic and family affairs.
“Some students in engineering or pre-med, for them, rehearsal for two hours lets them use the other sides of their brain. They march around the field and it gives them the energy to forget what they’ve been doing all day, and then study into the night and do the thing they’re passionate about.
“One thing I find as I get older, a question I get from younger people is advice about balancing these things. Very luckily, I married a person who understands,” he said of his wife of 35 years, violinist and teacher Sharon Calonico. “I hope she would say the same about me.”
Matias Tarnopolsky, executive and artistic director of Cal Performances, remembers one of many instances of Calonico’s aplomb.
“His attitude is that everything is possible,” Tarnopolsky said. “I once called him on a Saturday and said, ‘Bob, Gustavo Dudamel is coming to campus for master classes. Could the band serenade him on a rehearsal break?’ Later that day, the UC marching band was marching up to the glade, and there was Dudamel conducting right along with them. … Bob made that happen.”
After playing a key role in bringing back the Wind Ensemble from a nearly 20-year hiatus in the mid-1990s, Calonico said he’s looking forward to the academic year’s last Wind Ensemble concert April 22 in Hertz Hall, as well as a final tour of Croatia and Italy in May.
University officials plan to host a farewell event at a later date.
Contact George Kelly at 408-859-5180.
Beloved Cal band director to retire on high note