After 40 years as a band director with more than 20 at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Robert Calonico retires at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year.
You could say that the University of California (Berkeley) Marching Band has been a part of Dr. Robert Calonico’s life since before he was born. His mother had tried to join the band back when women weren’t allowed.
After attending UC Berkeley himself, marching in the Cal Band, and serving as director of bands, Calonico is retiring the baton (though not completely) at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. While some traditions have remained strong at Cal, Calonico has also seen and facilitated many changes and accomplishments for the band.
Halftime: What’s your musical and educational background?
Calonico: I was 12 years old [when I] started studying clarinet. [I] played all through high school and then went to Cal for undergrad. And then [I went to] Cal State [Hayward]—it’s called Cal State East Bay now—for a teaching credential and a master’s degree in clarinet, and then later on [got] a DMA [Doctor of Musical Arts] from Boston University.
Halftime: What led you to be director at Cal?
Calonico: I taught for 12 years in a public school, Terra Linda High School in San Rafael, [California]. … I came back to Berkeley in 1990, ran the jazz program for five years, and then switched over to the [marching] band in ’95.
Halftime: Take us through some of the Cal Band’s history and traditions.
Calonico: It’s student-governed. I’m one of five voting members of that committee. … My function is institutional memory, and I’m the one who’s looking three to five to seven to 10 years ahead—the long-term vision of the band—while the students manage the day to day.
Many [bands] have gone to the corps style of marching, and our students prefer to keep our high step, and they take a lot of pride in that.
Halftime: Since you first joined the Cal Band as a student to now, what has changed and what has stayed the same?
Calonico: A lot of the traditions are the same. There’s a slight modification in the uniform.
The other really pivotal moment for a lot of college marching bands across the country was [the passage of] Title IX [in 1972]. Women were allowed in band. It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to the band. … Women have held every office in the band.
When [my mom] was an undergraduate here, she knocked on the band director’s door and said, “I’d like to play in the band,” and the person said, “No women allowed.”
And she stormed off. I don’t know that she really ever let it go.
Early in my career, I said, “Hey Mom, why don’t you conduct the band today, and then everything will be okay?”
She goes, “You know, it won’t make up for it, but I’ll take it.”
Halftime: How have you helped grow and enhance the Cal Band?
Calonico: [I’ve worked] to make the environment a positive one for everyone. … My hope is that everybody feels welcome and included.
Halftime: What have been your proudest moments as director?
Calonico: Super Bowl 50 was a [proud] moment; playing at the Great Wall of China was another.
April 21, we will have performed with the Boston Pops. We’re going to do the fight song with them and then “Stars and Stripes” under the direction of the conductor Keith Lockhart.
Halftime: What was it like preparing for your Super Bowl 50 appearance?
Calonico: We had to pre-record everything, so the drummer of Coldplay was the person that we worked with along with all the recording people.
There’s a picture [of Super Bowl 50] in the band room, and I will do clinics from time to time with high school groups that are on tour, and I’ll just point to that picture, and I’ll tell them, “You never know where music’s going to take you.”
Halftime: What advice do you have for other band directors?
Calonico: If you’re going to pursue music education, be the very best musician you can be and then pass that on to your students.
Halftime: What advice do you have for marching band musicians?
Calonico: Embrace this. We’re a part of the spectacle.
Halftime: How do you feel about your upcoming retirement?
Calonico: This is my 40th year, and it just feels like the right time. … I wish [the Cal Band] every success. … I will cheer from afar and applaud their performances.
Halftime: What’s next for you?
Calonico: I’ll keep my community band and do some other things. … [I will], as a really good friend of mine says, “Stay engaged.”
I want to acknowledge all the band directors in the Pac-12 Conference: Thanks for making it so fun all these years.