Bearcat With a Horn: For Love of Alma Mater

There is a beautiful, mesmerizing trumpet solo within the second movement of Ottorino Respighi’s symphonic poem, Pines of Rome. For effect, the solo is typically played offstage, and always by a musician of considerable talent and artistry. Through the twists and turns of a life in music, that solo has become a very special piece for Bob Hockenberger, CCM ’65, CECH ’66, ’68.

The story begins in 1961 with the young Hockenberger entering the College-Conservatory of Music thanks to scholarship support that would fuel his career, shape his feelings toward his university, and ultimately pave the way for future musicians at UC.

“Somebody took a chance on me. I got a scholarship. I’ve never forgotten that,” Bob says. “Somebody gave money to CCM for me to go there, and my obligation as a product and steward of the program is to help someone else.”

In gratitude, a trumpet scholarship at CCM is funded in Bob’s name, and another for flute in his late wife Carol’s name. Their story will be part of CCM’s 150th anniversary celebration of couples who met at the college and later married. He remembers when, in his early days on campus, he first laid eyes on her as a hazing ritual found him wearing a beanie and using a toothbrush to clean the CCM Village’s water statue of Pan.

“I look across campus and there is this tall, brown-haired beauty, and I thought to myself, ‘Who is that?’” Bob recalls. Fortunately, the future Mrs. Hockenberger, a sophomore at the time, didn’t return his gaze, thus preventing any troubling first impressions of the moony, Pan-scrubbing freshman.

Bob knows he was fortunate in other ways as he worked his way through UC. Earning a bachelor’s degree in music followed by bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, he prepared for potential careers in performance and teaching, and ended up doing both.

From Cincinnati to Rome, and Back Again

“In 1964, before I graduated, I began playing principal trumpet in the Dayton Philharmonic — the youngest ever to do so,” Bob says. “It was an exceptional regional orchestra, and I did that for almost 10 years. I auditioned for a similar position in the Montreal and St. Louis symphonies in the late ’60s but was runner-up both times. To borrow the expression from Bull Durham about the major leagues, I just barely missed ‘The Show,’ but I got to play for a lot of people.”

He also spent five years as Wright State University’s first-ever trumpet teacher, taught high school in the Dayton area, and worked for the Ohio Education Association, which caused his trumpet practice time to diminish to where he was falling short of his own performance standards, which led to his resignation from the Philharmonic.

“I stopped playing altogether for about 25 years, and I really regret that decision,” says Bob. “I should have continued to play and practice just for fun.”

The impetus to come out of retirement occurred a few years ago. He learned from a friend that the friend’s son was involved in staging an upcoming performance of Pines of Rome with the Central Ohio Symphony in Delaware, just north of Columbus. The news immediately took Hockenberger back to his younger days when he played that piece of music with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as a CCM student, then again as the principal trumpet with the Dayton Philharmonic.

“I said, ‘Wow! I’d love to play that again!” Bob remembers. “My friend said, ‘I’m sure Dale [the son] would let you do it.’ I replied, ‘Ehh, I haven’t played in 25 years.’ I called Dale and asked if I could audition. He told me, ‘I know your pedigree … If you practice, you’ve got the gig.’”

Hockenberger retrieved his trumpet from storage, practiced every day for eight months, and played the part in the lovely Gray Chapel Auditorium on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University, the symphony’s home concert hall.

“What a thrill to play that piece again,” Bob says. “Let me tell you — I still got it! The adrenaline flowed, and I played my butt off. It was wonderful!”

Thy Loyal Children We Will Be

That’s pretty much what others have felt upon hearing Hockenberger play signature UC songs at alumni events, notably at his own Golden Reunion in the spring of 2015 during his Pines of Rome practice period. Playing the Alma Mater for a group celebrating 50 years as Bearcats certainly had an effect on the man holding the trumpet.

“It’s hard to describe,” he says. “There’s an emotional flow and you get excited. After all, principal trumpet players are divas. We like to show off. So it’s definitely a thrill to play that.”

Hockenberger will always be an involved alumnus. He is a board member of CCMpower, a member of the UC Alumni Association’s William Howard Taft Society, a UCATS member, and a regular contributor to special projects for the marching band. Because of his fierce loyalty to his school, he has been a regular at the UC Alumni Association’s past Columbus-area Senior Sendoffs, where incoming freshmen and their families gather during the summer to get acquainted with each other and their new Bearcat lives. Hockenberger relishes the opportunity to share what he knows about this critical time.

“We’re looking in the eyes of these 18-year-old kids, sitting there with their parents, about to embark on something they’ve never done before — something they’ll do only once in their lives. They’re about to start their careers. And I want to help them if I can.

“UC was, and is, a wonderful place. It took care of me, guided me, took me under its wing, and helped make sure I wasn’t afraid to succeed. I realize others helped me when I needed it, so now I want to help others.”

By Keith Stichtenoth
Special Assistant,
Executive Communication

Email Keith
or call 513-556-3296

Bob Hockenberger’s trumpet playing at his Golden Bearcat Reunion two years ago delighted the Bearcats in attendance, including UC Bicentennial co-chairs Bob (Bus ’76, ’88) and Kim Dobbs (CECH ’78).

Hockenberger loves to play UC’s Alma Mater. “It’s hard to describe,” he says. “There’s an emotional flow and you get excited. And it’s a glorious feeling when they look at you and smile.”


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