Dr. Robert B. Washburn, 85, of Potsdam


Calling hours to celebrate the life of 85-year old Dr. Robert B. Washburn of Potsdam will be held on Saturday, November 16 from 1 to 4 pm at the Seymour Funeral Home in Potsdam.

Dr. Washburn died at the United Helpers Riverledge facility in Ogdensburg on Nov. 13, 2013.

Dr. Washburn is survived by his wife, Beverly, a son, Brooks Washburn, and a daughter, Roberta Scharf, all of Potsdam. He is also survived by a brother, Ephrim Washburn of Seneca Falls, and 4 grandchildren: Lindsay Washburn, New York City, Blake Washburn, Albany, Wendy Corcione, Albany, and Eric Scharf, Seattle, WA.

Born July 11, 1928 in Bouckville, NY, he was the son of Robert P. and Florence (Brooks) Washburn. He was a graduate of the Crane School of Music for both his bachelor’s and master’s degree at Potsdam College.

He enlisted in the US Air Force during the Korean Conflict, where he was stationed at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX. His military service included duty as chief arranger for the Air Force Band of the West and the Air Force Sinfonietta. He spent a year as a member of the San Antonio Symphony. It was there he met his wife, Beverly J. Darnell, who was serving in the Air Force at Lackland, one of the founding members of the Women's Air Force Band and the ensemble's assistant conductor. They were married on July 10, 1952 in San Antonio.

Following his military service, Washburn returned to Potsdam where he joined the faculty of the Crane School of Music at the invitation of Helen Hosmer.

Robert Washburn was the Dean and Professor Emeritus and Senior Fellow in Music at the Crane School of Music of the State University of New York at Potsdam. After completing IBS undergraduate studies at Potsdam, he was awarded a Danforth Foundation Fellowship to complete a Ph.D. in composition at the Eastman School of Music where he worked with Howard Hanson, Bernard Rogers and Alan Hovhaness. He received his Ph.D. in 1960.

His further studies included a summer at the Aspen Music School where he studied with Darius Milhaud, and a season in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He also participated in seminars at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Oxford in England.

Washburn later received a Ford Foundation Grant which permitted him to devote a year to composition and has received grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Juilliard Repertory Project, and Meet the Composer. He was a fellow of the MacDowelI Colony and held a scholarship at the Bennington Composers Conference.

Subsequently he was awarded a SUNY Foundation Summer Fellowship to compose Symphony for Band. Other honors included the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Potsdam College Alumni Association's Minerva Award, and a SUNY Faculty Exchange Scholar appointment.

Many orchestras have performed Washburn's works, including Baltimore Symphony, the Indianapolis Symphony and Vancouver Symphony. He conducted a number of his own works at the Brevard Music Center, where he was composer in-residence. He works were performed at EXPO '67 in Montreal, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center.

Since 1961, Washburn received annual awards from ASCAP. He had received a number of commissions for works which have been heard at music festivals around the nation and overseas. He performed at the White House, where he was the guest of President and Mrs. John Kennedy.

In 1980 he was commissioned to compose music for the opening ceremonies of the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, which were broadcast over ABC, CBC and BBC television.

More than 150 of Washburn’s compositions have been published and he wrote articles for many scholarly publications. He has served on the editorial board of the Music Educators Journal, on the Advisory Committee of the N.Y. State School Music Association, and as music consultant for the N.Y. State Department of Education, the U.S. Office of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In addition to his activities as composer and teacher, Washburn was a specialist in the music of Africa and Asia. He made a number of field study trips to those areas, including a sabbatical leave spent in North Africa and the Middle East, a Fulbright Senior Fellowship in Cairo, Egypt, and an African Comparative Cross Culture Study Program in Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

Contributions in Dr. Washburn’s memory may be made to the Robert Washburn Fund, c/o the Potsdam College Foundation, SUNY Potsdam.



Saturday, December 10, 2016
, Watertown, NY
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