Robert Samarotto

Robert Samarotto

Rob Samaratto portraitRobert "Sam" Samarotto was a member of the Music Department from 1962-1990. Sam was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 3, l933 and grew up there. He then went to S.U.N.Y. - Fredonia for his B.M.E. in 1955 and the University of Illinois for his M.M.E. in 1959. From 1955-58, he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and played in the band. He taught music classes in the Buffalo, New York, school district from 1959-62. He was then hired by Bill Abbott to teach clarinet, woodwinds, and music history at Wisconsin State University-River Falls.

He continued to develop personally and professionally throughout his life. During the summers of 1962 and 1963 he studied at Columbia University in New York. He had a faculty development grant to study at the U. of Chicago 1967-68. He had several sabbaticals, which he used to compose music and to study and develop poetry.

When he first came to RF, Sam was assigned an office on the 3rd floor of South Hall, along with Elliot Wold and Carolyn DeJong. Later he moved to the 2nd floor of Hathorn Cottage, an old house on campus, where the Wyman Education Building now stands. A number of Music faculty were in the cottage, but there was only one phone, on the first floor, and no secretary. So, usually, since everyone was giving lessons or on a different floor, there was no one to answer the phone. The ringing continued, and continued. One day someone got so frustrated, they ripped out the cord.

Sam was interested in so many things that it was sometimes difficult to keep track of him. The clarinet was his preferred instrument, and he played as an adjunct member of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, but he was also an excellent saxophone player. He was a member of the Minneapolis Woodwind Quintet, and one of the founding members of "Zeitgeist," a new music group. During the 1971-72 season, he performed at the Guthrie Theater, and he performed at the Walker Art Center a number of times in their new music/new art programs. From 1974-75 he was Visiting Professor at the U. of Minnesota where he taught new music as a replacement for Eric Stokes. He was as comfortable playing Mozart as he was improvising jazz or playing new music and creating totally new kinds of sounds with his clarinet.

At UW-RF, Sam helped to initiate the Arts and Ideas classes in the Humanities and lectured on music in the Ancient World, the Medieval World, and the Renaissance. He worked with many woodwind players from groups in the Twin Cities and Wisconsin, as well as jazz players and concert bands, helping them achieve higher performance levels. He gave many clinics and workshops in western Wisconsin and influenced many young musicians.

In 1970 the university contracted with the artist Andy Warhol to come to UW-RF and talk about his art. In those days, the most famous people in America came to River Falls. Andy was going to make a coast-to-coast tour of college campuses. He traveled with his usual entourage. But he soon tired of answering student questions, and so his friends began wearing his wig and appearing on stage and making silly answers to questions. They thought no one would know the difference, and for a while they did not. But then it was discovered shortly before he came to River Falls. Sam had met Andy in New York and knew what he looked like, so he agreed to drive to the airport and pick Andy up and then have dinner with him and the entourage at the West Wind (an experience Andy said he would never forget) and then deliver him to the North Hall Auditorium with the admonition that if he himself did not appear on stage and answer questions he would not be paid. And so he did. Andy showed his newest movie "Chelsea Girls" in two different versions at the same time on two screens on stage and then he answered questions.

Sam's first marriage was to Ann, a talented musician, violist, and mother of their two children. Later he married Dr. Sandy Soares, Professor of French at UW-RF. Sam and Sandy bought a large old house with a huge garden on the northwest side of River Falls. In the garden, they planted heirloom tomatoes, herbs, and a variety of unusual vegetables. Their dinner parties, usually for both students and faculty, were legendary. They were both excellent cooks. Sandy specialized in French cuisine and Sam in Italian. Sandy's "coq au vin," with chicken and fresh vegetables simmering in red wine all day, was better than anything you could find in France. Sam's Italian dishes, with homemade pasta and sauces of red tomatoes and herbs from his garden, were memorable; ravioli which took two days to prepare was the ultimate delight. And they both enjoyed pastries, and so desserts and wine were also very special. Sandy was much involved in faculty governance and frequently had to make trips to Madison for meetings. She and Sam would drive down together and take turns reading aloud, from a new book or collection of poetry. They often made weekend trips to Chicago to enjoy the music, arts, and cuisine of the city. And they read to each other all the way down and back.

Sam's last love was Patrice, an artist, and the two collaborated professionally. Sam had always written poetry, but now he became more serious, and Patrice would provide illustrations. They were published nationally and acquired recognition. Sam would often read his poetry in coffee houses in River Falls and the Twin Cities as he was developing it, and Patrice would display her drawings and paintings. Anyone who obtained one of her drawings and his poetry about his vegetables was very fortunate. Sam and Patrice lived in the large old house on the hill across from Rodli Commons.

Sam died of a heart attack on January 1, 2003, while visiting San Francisco.