From Cincinnati to Rome, and Back Again
"In 1964, before I graduated, I began playing principal trumpet in the Dayton Philharmonic — the youngest ever to do so," Bob says. "It was an exceptional regional orchestra, and I did that for almost 10 years. I auditioned for a similar position in the Montreal and St. Louis symphonies in the late ’60s but was runner-up both times. To borrow the expression from Bull Durham about the major leagues, I just barely missed ‘The Show,’ but I got to play for a lot of people."
He also spent five years as Wright State University’s first-ever trumpet teacher, taught high school in the Dayton area, and worked for the Ohio Education Association, which caused his trumpet practice time to diminish to where he was falling short of his own performance standards, which led to his resignation from the Philharmonic.
"I stopped playing altogether for about 25 years, and I really regret that decision," says Bob. "I should have continued to play and practice just for fun."
The impetus to come out of retirement occurred a few years ago. He learned from a friend that the friend’s son was involved in staging an upcoming performance of Pines of Rome with the Central Ohio Symphony in Delaware, just north of Columbus. The news immediately took Hockenberger back to his younger days when he played that piece of music with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as a CCM student, then again as the principal trumpet with the Dayton Philharmonic.
"I said, ‘Wow! I’d love to play that again!" Bob remembers. "My friend said, 'I’m sure Dale [the son] would let you do it.' I replied, 'Ehh, I haven’t played in 25 years.' I called Dale and asked if I could audition. He told me, 'I know your pedigree … If you practice, you’ve got the gig.'"
Hockenberger retrieved his trumpet from storage, practiced every day for eight months and played the part in the lovely Gray Chapel Auditorium on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University, the symphony’s home concert hall.
"What a thrill to play that piece again," Bob says. "Let me tell you — I still got it! The adrenaline flowed, and I played my butt off. It was wonderful!"
Thy Loyal Children We Will Be
That’s pretty much what others have felt upon hearing Hockenberger play signature UC songs at alumni events, notably at his own Golden Reunion in the spring of 2015 during his Pines of Rome practice period. Playing the Alma Mater for a group celebrating 50 years as Bearcats certainly had an effect on the man holding the trumpet.
"It’s hard to describe," he says. "There’s an emotional flow, and you get excited. After all, principal trumpet players are divas. We like to show off. So it’s definitely a thrill to play that."
Hockenberger will always be an involved alumnus. He is a board member of CCMpower, a member of the UC Alumni Association’s William Howard Taft Society, a UCATS member and a regular contributor to special projects for the marching band. Because of his fierce loyalty to his school, he has been a regular at the UC Alumni Association’s past Columbus-area Senior Sendoffs, where incoming freshmen and their families gather during the summer to get acquainted with each other and their new Bearcat lives. Hockenberger relishes the opportunity to share what he knows about this critical time.
"We’re looking in the eyes of these 18-year-old kids, sitting there with their parents, about to embark on something they’ve never done before — something they’ll do only once in their lives. They’re about to start their careers. And I want to help them if I can."
"UC was, and is, a wonderful place. It took care of me, guided me, took me under its wing and helped make sure I wasn’t afraid to succeed. I realize others helped me when I needed it, so now I want to help others."
Originally published by the UC Alumni Association
Story by Keith Stichtenoth, Special Assistant, Executive Communication