Robert Simiele inspired and led music students – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Robert Simiele was a drummer, high school band teacher, choir founder and mentor to thousands who picked up anÂ instrument or used their voice to share a love of music.
While many of Simiele’s students might never have played another note after leaving school, some went on to distinguished music careers.
Simiele, 71, died Jan. 25 in Milwaukee of complications from heart disease.
AsÂ music director at the high school now called Bradley Tech, Simiele passed along his passion for music to a couple of generations of students from 1969 until his retirement in 2000. He played drums in several bands and for artists passing through Milwaukee. He was a composer and music arranger and founded aÂ community chorus.
“Bob always had very good bands and he also taught choir at Tech. He had a reputation, especially with the kids, of being a really good director,” said Dale Pforr, retired music director at Milwaukee Hamilton High School.
“He was pretty much what they called ‘old school.’ He was toughÂ on the outside but nice on the inside. His students adored him,” said Joe Seroogy, music director at Bay View High School from 1971-1982.
Unlike most high schools in Milwaukee where junior highs acted as “feeder schools,”Â Tech drew students from throughout the city. While Pforr knew of good music students coming from Bell and Audubon middle schools and Seroogy knew the promising musicians in the programs at Fritsche and Scholes middle schools, Simiele did not have that luxury.
“You could plan your year and program based on what was coming up,” said Seroogy. “At Tech you didn’t know what you had until the first day of classes. It was difficult.”
Simiele grew up near Syracuse, N.Y., and began drumming at a young age, starting with just a snare and then an old drum kitÂ before buying a set of Ludwig drums while he was in high school playing with rock and roll bands.Â He earned a bachelor’s in music education and a master’s in music composition at Northeast Missouri State.
He moved to Milwaukee when he was hired to teach at Boys Tech in 1969.
“IÂ think he had a real passion for music. He loved being involved with the art form. He craved it,” said his younger brother Dick.
Simiele played all percussion instruments and was especially adept at marimba, Dick Simiele said.
“He played in a lot of pit orchestras through the years. IÂ think it was a decision he made whether to go out on the road and play in rock bands or do something more permanent. When he got the job in Milwaukee, he was excited,” said Dick Simiele.
Some of his students became professional musicians including R & B singer Eric Benet. Drummer Carl Allen taught at Juilliard from 2001 to 2014, the last sixÂ years as artistic director of jazz studies. Allen was a drummer when he entered Tech as a sophomore in 1977 but it was Simiele who introduced him to jazz drumming, bringing in albums of famous jazz drummers like Art Blakey andÂ Max Roach, and instructing him to listen to their techniques.
“Little did IÂ know going there that Mr. Simiele would be suchÂ a major influence on my life,” said Allen, who won a scholarship to a summer jazz camp at a festival in Green Bay. That, in turn, led to aÂ college scholarship and set Allen on his path to New York and a career as a professional jazz drummer.
He was music director for several decades at Unitarian Universalist West Church in Brookfield, building the choir from a handful of people to 60 voices, as well as starting a children’s choir that grew to 55 singers, said Nancy Bratt, Simiele’s longtime piano and organ accompanist. In 2003 he founded Choral TapestryÂ “A Community Chorus.”
“He believed music should be a community affair and open to anyone without auditions,” said Bratt, adding that Simiele had a broad depth of knowledge about many styles of music.
A funeral is scheduled forÂ 2 p.m. Saturday at Bethany Calvary United Methodist Church, 7265 W. Center St., Milwaukee. A celebration of his life and music will be held May 13 at St. Alphonsus Church,Â 6060 W. Loomis Road, Greendale.