Remembering Bob Genualdi

Robert Genualdi — known to generations of Westporters as Staples’ superb orchestra conductor, who went on to further careers and renown as headmaster at Fairfield High School, then director of the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras — died yesterday morning in Bridgeport. He was 84.

Genualdi was part of Staples’ legendary 1960s music department, teaching and leading with John Ohanian, George Weigle (who turned 87 on Friday) and John Hanulik. A string bass player, he received degrees from the University of Miami, Northwestern and Bridgeport. He played under the baton of Arthur Fiedler.

Robert Genualdi

Robert Genualdi

Genualdi’s love for music led him to play in symphonies and chamber music ensembles; judge competitions in many states; conduct at festivals; and compose several music compositions, and 2 works for full orchestras.

Genualdi moved into administration, serving as Staples’ vice principal in 1971-72, then acting principal twice (1972-73, and 1975).

In 2004, I interviewed Genualdi for my book, Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education. He said:

When I came to Staples in 1960 I had already spent 8 years teaching in northwestern Illinois, so I was not a novice. But Staples was by far the biggest school I had ever worked in.

It was such an exciting place, in many ways. The students were bright and ready to learn. There was a decent amount of diversity, with old-line Westporters and people who had recently moved in from other places.

And then – the icing on the cake for me – there were the arts. You had parents who were professional musicians, artists and actors, and they were so involved in making Staples a place that supported the arts. It was a very exciting time for me.

The campus was volatile, in a largely positive way. There was something wonderful about the way people interacted with each other. And the teachers very much cared about students, and the school.

Bob Genualdi, doing what he loved at Staples in 1970.

Bob Genualdi, doing what he loved at Staples in 1970.

I had terrific opportunities there, in the classroom and then as an administrator. (Assistant superintendent of schools) Frank Graff got me out of the classroom. I’d been the Westport Education Association president, and he berated me – kindly. He said if I really wanted change to happen, I could do it from the inside. It was easy to criticize from the outside, but he wanted me inside.

When I was acting principal, there was a lot going on: modernization, a reduction in staff because of declining enrollment, and the Staples Governing Board was being challenged by the Board of Education for taking too much power. I was in the middle on a lot of those issues.

It was a special school – a wonderful, unique place. It started with the staff, then the students, and of course the community. And not just parents of kids in the school – you had alumni, and people like Alan Parsell and Ed Mitchell. Plenty of people had a lot of pride in Staples, because it was the only high school in town.

Robert Genualdi, from the 1976 Andrew Warde High School yearbook.

Robert Genualdi, from the 1976 Andrew Warde High School yearbook.

After Staples, Genualdi became a high school administrator in Fairfield. The 1976 Andrew Warde yearbook called him a “truly sincere, honest, and open human being (with) a real concern for others.”

His 3rd career was as music director and conductor of the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras. He spent more than 25 years there, before retiring in 2007.

With his wife, violist Dorothy Straub, Genualdi helped organize and produce the national Jenny Lind Competition, for years a staple of Bridgeport’s Barnum Festival.

Funeral arrangements will be announced Monday, by the Spear-Miller Funeral Home in Fairfield.


13 responses to “Remembering Bob Genualdi

  1. William Adler

    I am very, very sorry to hear this news. Mr. Genualdi got me started in drums when, in my senior year at Staples, there was a sudden loss of drummers and he had to recruit several of us from other sections. When the Staples campus became highly politicized in the spring of 1970 I recall him coming by the tables of an anti-Vietnam War “teach in” and asking open-minded questions. I had a sense that this volatile period in America and at Staples played a role in his increasing interest in going into administration and making a difference on that stage as well as music. We’ll really miss him.

  2. Scott E. Brodie (Staples '70)

    “Mr G” guided my development as an orchestral musician from age 12 through high school graduation. A warmer, more understanding teacher and musician could not be imagined. When I was in Junior High School, he conducted an after-hours “All-City Orchestra,” getting to know us and introducing us to each other in advance of arriving at Staples. It helped make the community of musicians into a family which played together and stayed together. Many remain dear friends. He was also my first conductor at the Norwalk Youth Symphony, coaxing my way through my very first (and rather shaky) orchestral oboe solo. At Staples, Mr G was the consummate conductor and music teacher, but the high standards were always leavened by a warm touch of humanity and sympathy with the difficulties and annoyances of our day-to-day lives. To cite just a few examples: the rule was that wind players who wanted to play in the Orchestra had to play in the Band as well, schedule permitting. (After Sophomore year, we learned how to arrange our schedule as needed to bypass the requirement.) But the Oboe was not much good as a marching instrument. Mr G offered us a choice — if we wanted to march, we could play the Triangle or some such; if we did not, we could stay back in the rehearsal room and play chamber music during marching practice…. Junior year, my parents scored tickets for Beethoven’s 9th at the NY Philharmonic — the very evening of one of the Spring orchestra concerts. What to do? Mr. G of course emphasized the usual policy that I was expected to play the concert, but let me know that he would understand if I went to the Philharmonic instead, and quietly arranged for someone else to play my parts… Also Junior year, I won the 1st oboe position in the All-State Band. Problem was, I needed to appear for the concert in my High-School band uniform, and I was not in the Band (and thus had no uniform — see above.) Mr. G sized me up, and loaned me his own uniform for the occasion!… Spring Concert, senior year, he (no doubt in cahoots with Mr. Hanulik) programmed the 2nd movement of Bizet’s 1st Symphony — practically an oboe concerto. (I made certain there were no conflicts this time!). A perfect send-off after six years of making music together….

    A few years ago, our paths crossed backstage at a Bridgeport Youth Orchestra concert (my nephew was playing in it). He remembered me as if it were only yesterday we had last seen each other.

    A true gem of Westport education.

  3. melody james

    I remember Mr. Genualdi so well, and his wonderful conducting. I’d like to add the name of Mr. Ohanion to the names of the 1960 music department. It was a remarkable time with the emphasis on ARTS. I’m grateful.

  4. Mr. Genualdi was a great, great teacher.

  5. He was a prince. Always wished he’d become the long term principal of Staples. In the classroom and as an administrator he was compassionate, creative and honest.

  6. Susan R Sosna

    Well, I am still teaching band and orchestra– he was pretty much my main role model. Exquisite sense of pitch and time, had very high expectations for his players, did not let us be slackers, a player, a composer…I know that many of us from that era became musicians and music teachers. He truly affected the trajectory of many young lives.

  7. Arlene and David Gottlieb

    It is with sadness and warm memories that we remember Bob Genualdi. In 1977 David, I, Susan Schaeffer and three other amateur musicians founded the Westport Community Band. We put an ad in the Westport news to ‘take your instruments out of the closet, dust them off and come down to Staples’. We happily enlisted Bob to be the conductor of this future band. Within a short time, with Bob’s enthusiasm, warmth and commitment to the growth of our group, he was conducting a full complement of musicians.

  8. Jeff Pomerantz

    I studied string bass with Mr. Genualdi as a junior high schooler in the early 1960s and played in the Staples orchestra (graduated in 1967). I have often reflected on what a wonderful educator he was. I never felt he had a “favorite” student; he treated everyone the way he wanted to be treated.

    We had some very talented musicians in that orchestra and as I’ve grown older I have often reflected on how he was able to choose some of the ambitious pieces we played. It takes a special gift to be able to listen to a “grown-up” piece such as Wagner’s Overture to Rienzi, visualize the process that high school kids would have to follow in learning the music, and then to actually pull it off. I was very lucky to have had him as a teacher.

  9. Pamela Pollak

    In 1960, Mr. G said to me “you have cello hands.” He has remained a profound influence and role model in my life, not only as a musician but also as a teacher and as an advocate.

  10. Mr. Genualdi often hosted a party for orchestra members at his home in Weston following concerts. He was generous, too, as a teacher of the bass, employing both seriousness and humor. He was the most enthusiastic and animated conductor I ever knew. Hail and Farewell, and thank you!

  11. Dale Eyerly Colson

    Those of us who were part of the Staples music program in those “glorious days of yesteryear” were so blessed to be guided, shaped, prodded and educated by Mr. Genualdi. Dr. Weigle, Mr, Ohanion and Mr. Hanulik. I have no doubt that many of us are still musicians in one way or another and still actively using the gifts that they gave us and the knowledge they imparted. A mere thank you hardly seems adequate.

  12. Thinking today of what a compassionate teacher Mr. G was during my years in the band at Staples. I didn’t continue in music, but became an elementary school teacher. I’ll always remember the way he challenged us to be the best….a remarkable man.