Former Cal Band Director Upheld "California Spirit"


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Robert Briggs, director emeritus of the University of California Marching Band, passed away at UCSF Medical Center on Wednesday due to complications from gall bladder surgery. He was 81.

Briggs was part of the Cal Band for nearly all his life. According to Jamie Rawson, a friend and class of 1977 Cal Band bass player, Briggs began his lifelong dedication to the band when he joined in 1947 to play the cornet.

As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, Briggs marched with the band as the football team played in three successive Rose Bowl games, starting in 1948. Briggs marched again in 1959 as an invited alumnus, making him the only member in Cal Band history to march in four Rose Bowls, according to Rawson.

After Briggs graduated with a bachelor's degree in music, he went on to serve in the U.S. Army for two years and earn a masters degree in music at San Francisco State University. He returned to the Cal Band in 1971 as assistant band director under James Berdahl and was formally appointed director in 1973.

Briggs enjoyed a long career as director, spanning 22 years until he retired in 1995, when he was named director emeritus. He then moved on to conduct Fairfield's Solano Winds Community Concert Band for 13 years until his death.

Current Cal Band director Bob Calonico said that Briggs, who was affectionately nicknamed "Old Bob" by the band, embodied the mythical California spirit of the songs that had meant so much to him. Although Briggs' passing creates a hole in Cal Band history, Calonico said that his legacy will continue.

"(The students who knew him) and I will continue to talk about him so that his spirit will continue to live in our current band," he said. "The spirit of Bob will be here forever."

Calonico said that after Briggs

retired, he continued to keep a watchful eye over the band. He conducted at a number of events each year, including Cal Band Night during Big Game Week and Alumni Band Day every fall.

In December 2006, Briggs was honored with the Tony Martinez award for his contributions to the band by the Cal Band Alumni Association. His friends said that on Homecoming Day, Briggs was planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Cal Band's tour of the Brussels International Exhibition.

The influence that Briggs had on the lives of his former band members still resonates. Rawson, who exchanged e-mails with him for 20 years, praised his love and devotion to the campus. In addition, he said that Briggs played a significant role in his own life.

"I would say that when he passed me at my musical audition as a meager freshman, he made a change in my life that has affected me everyday since," Rawson said.

Barbara Goodson, vice president of the Cal Band Alumni Association, also said she would not be the person she is today if it weren't for Briggs' guidance. Goodson, who played the mellophone in the class of 1977 band, described the conductor's style as "quiet exuberance" and said that he lived his life doing what he loved.

"I think if you had a chance to ask him what were the best moments of his life, he would immediately say this performance or that performance," she said. "That's what his great joy in life was-his music."


Contact Emily Grospe at [email protected]

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