Dorothy Straub died last month at 74. She was a longtime music educator in Westport and Fairfield; conductor and administrator for the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras, and past president of the National Association for Music Education.
Dorothy — the widow of Robert Genualdi, former Staples High School orchestra leader and music director of the GBYO — was beloved in Westport for her work with young people.
Countless students got their start in music thanks to Dorothy. Many made it their careers.
Greens Farms Elementary School music teacher Suzanne Sherman Propp is one. She writes:
Dorothy was the kindest, most patient and sweetest music teacher. I started playing violin with her in 4th grade at Bedford Elementary School. Both Cindy Gibb and I (and many, many others) took lessons with her, in school and privately, for many years.
Dorothy often tried to encourage me to move on to what she considered “better” teachers. But none were ever as patient or as tolerant of my, um, “poor work ethic” as she. I always ran back to her.
She encouraged me, when I was 14, to audition for All-State. I made it, where I met many other Westport music heroes, including Tommy and Chris Hanulik, Sue Sweetnam, Suzy Polk, Keith Conant and Tommy Greenwald.
Dorothy loved to hear stories of my crushes, and Cindy and my escapades. She had an adorable laugh. We always knew that her very best friend was Bob Genualdi. She was downright giddy when she told us they were getting married.
To say that Dorothy Straub was a huge influence on who I am as a musician, educator and citizen of the world is a vast understatement.
Cynthia Gibb — a 1981 Staples graduate who went on to fame as a film and television actress, and is now a noted vocal coach in Westport — adds:
When I was 10 years old at Bedford Elementary School, we had an assembly. Not all 4th graders studied a stringed instrument, but a violinist in town wanted to attract more students to music. I was fitted for a 1/4-size violin by a sweet woman with a warm smile. That began my decades-long relationship with Dorothy Straub.
I studied regularly with Dorothy from that time through my senior year at Staples. She prepared me for my school and All-State orchestras, and chamber orchestra with John Hanulik.
I would not have known at that time how to say what I know now as an adult: It was clear that Dorothy loved her job. She loved playing music, but I also felt her love of teaching.
She was kind, patient, encouraging, complimentary and joyous during our lessons. She was quick to laugh and smile, even when I hadn’t practiced!
Many years after leaving Westport, I got a call from Dorothy asking if I’d host an event for her. I was beyond honored to collaborate with her at the Kennedy Center for the annual gathering of the National Association for Music Educators, of which Dorothy was president. I was able to publicly thank Dorothy for being my mentor and inspiring my love of music, which has been a significant part of my career.
Hearing that Dorothy was sick, I tried to schedule a visit with her. Sadly, I did not manage to see her before her death. The regret and grief has weighed heavily on me, so writing some words to honor and celebrate Dorothy makes me feel a bit better.
Also, knowing that all children in Westport now study a stringed instrument because of her means that Dorothy’s legacy lives on through the music that our young people make. They may not know her name, but Dorothy Straub’s influence is felt throughout our schools and children.
I fully expect that Dorothy is up in heaven making music with Mozart and Bach. I hope she subscribes to Dan’s blog, so she can feel my love and appreciation.