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Remembering Bernard Dobroski, former dean of the Bienen School of Music

Professor emeritus and alumnus dies at 76; credited for faculty hiring, dual-degree offerings and the school’s extended reach into the local community

Bernard J. Dobroski ’81 Ph.D., professor emeritus and former dean of the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University, died Feb. 19 in Highland Park, Illinois, at age 76.

Bernard Dobroski
Bernard Dobroski

Dobroski served the Bienen School of Music in various capacities from 1974-2020. His term as dean, from 1990 to 2003, featured an emphasis on faculty and student recruitment, expansion of course offerings for non-music majors and community engagement programs.

“From his days as a graduate student at Northwestern, Bernard Dobroski was strongly committed to the School of Music and the University at large,” said Dean Toni-Marie Montgomery, who succeeded Dobroski in 2003. “Bernie’s legacy can be seen in the hiring of faculty, many of whom continue to contribute to the Bienen School’s excellence. He expanded the school’s dual-degree offerings and greatly increased the number of opportunities available to non-music majors at Northwestern. Thanks to Bernie’s focus on community engagement activities, the school extended its reach into the local community.”

Henry Bienen, Northwestern University president emeritus, said, “Bernie Dobroski was a fine and committed dean of Northwestern’s music school. He served with unflagging energy to increase the excellence of the school. He was determined to have a new building for the school, and that happened eventually. He loved music, the music school and Northwestern. We mourn his passing.”

Dobroski received a bachelor’s in fine arts in music performance from Carnegie Mellon University and a master’s in music performance and music history from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. From 1968 to 1972, he performed as a tubist and keyboardist with the U.S. Navy Band, as a soloist with the U.S. Navy Concert Band, as a conductor and performer with the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Band, and as a leader of the U.S. Navy Brass Quintet. He was an instructor and director of the Preparatory Wind Ensemble of the Washington Youth Orchestra from 1969 to 1972.

In 1981, Dobroski received an interdisciplinary Ph.D. from the Northwestern University School of Music, where he also studied tuba with the late Chicago Symphony Orchestra tubist Arnold Jacobs. Dobroski held various faculty and administrative positions at the school from 1974 to 1985, including assistant dean, director of undergraduate studies, and associate dean for administration. In 1986, he became dean of the University of Oregon School of Music and Department of Dance — a position he held until 1990, when he returned to Northwestern to assume the deanship of the School of Music.

As the Bienen School’s sixth dean, Dobroski established new academic majors in music technology and music cognition, founded the Philharmonia orchestra for non-music majors, and started the joint degree program with the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Reaching out to the Northwestern and Chicago-area communities was high on Dobroski’s list of goals as dean. In 1991, he initiated Kids Fare, a series of participatory programs for children aged three to eight to attend with their parents. The project expanded to offer several seasons of family concerts, bridging the gap between Kids Fare and formal concerts for children ages six and above.

During Dobroski’s tenure, the Evelyn Dunbar Memorial Early Music Festival debuted in 1996 and the first-annual Winter Chamber Music Festival took place in 1997. Other notable events included a weeklong celebration of John Cage’s 80th birthday in 1992 with the composer in attendance and a yearlong celebration of the School of Music’s centennial beginning in fall 1995.

Author of numerous articles in research journals and other music publications, Dobroski edited the College Music Society’s national newsletter, contributed to the Instrumentalist magazine, and was the founding editor of Accent, a national music education publication. He appeared frequently as lecturer, adjudicator and clinician, and performed as a tubist, conductor and keyboardist throughout the U.S. Dobroski served on the boards of several regional and national organizations, including the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center, Savannah Voice Festival, The Sherrill Milnes VOICExperience Institute and the Chicago-based Bel Canto Foundation. 

In 2003, Dobroski stepped down after 13 years of service as dean and assumed the John Evans Professorship in Music. He taught graduate and undergraduate courses in the Bienen School of Music and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He retired at the conclusion of the 2019-20 academic year and was named professor emeritus. 

Dobroski is survived by his wife, Sally, and children, Andrea and Paul. Donnellan Family Funeral Services in Skokie is handling funeral arrangements.

Katelyn Balling is the senior communications coordinator at the Bienen School of Music.