Dr. Robert John Rockabrand

Date of Birth

September 8, 1931

Date of Death

September 23, 2020

On September 23, 2020, Robert J. Rockabrand passed away peacefully at Serenity House in Santa Barbara surrounded by his family. He had just celebrated his 89th birthday. He is survived by his wife Sara, daughter’s Melissa and Steffani, and son Brad.

The younger son of Claude and Anna May Rockabrand from Chicago, Illinois, Bob enjoyed a playful childhood in the company of his many cousins. As an avid White Sox fan, he would spend his free time listening to the radio announcers and cheering on the team that he would eventually spend a season with as a bat boy at age 15. He graduated from Austin High School where his choir director recognized and encouraged his musical talents.

As the first in his family to attend college, Bob was accepted to Principia College in Elsah, Illinois where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. He was also very active in music and the dramatic arts while at Principia. It was here that he first conducted a choir, a student group called Starlight Chorus, and found the passion for his career as a choral director. He was also very active in his dormitory house of Rackham Court West and served as its President during his senior year.

Immediately upon graduating, he was drafted into the Army where he served the country for two years before returning to academia to pursue a Bachelor and then a Master of Music degree at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. As a student at Westminster, he was a member of a choir that toured the globe over the course of five months in 1956-1957. During his final years of graduate studies, he met his lifetime sweetheart, Sara Turner and when Sara graduated in 1961, they were married. After teaching at Westminster for six years, where he was the assistant conductor of Westminster Choir and prepared choirs for performances with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and The National Symphony, among others, Bob and Sara headed to Stanford University where he earned a Doctorate of Musical Arts. He went on to teach for five years at Ball State University in Indiana and for one year at The North Carolina School of the Arts before joining the music department at Principia College in 1975. He served the department and the college for 22 years as a Professor of Music where he held the Charles Stewart Harding Mott Distinguished Professorship Chair. He also served as the academic advisor to the gentlemen of Rackham Court West until his retirement in 1997.

As Principia’s choral director, “Rocky” led frequent tours with a combined chorus of college and high school singers. With his wife Sara, he directed Principia Travel Studies Programs in the United States and Europe. He also taught at Alumni Week, Summer Session and other adult continuing education programs. In 1989, Bob was awarded a Certificate of Merit from the American Council of Teachers for innovative academic advising, and, with Sara, an Alumni Merit Award from Westminster Choir College in 1996. He was also a lifetime member of the American Choral Directors Association.

After Sara’s retirement in 2010, she and Bob left their Elsah home of thirty-five years, where they raised their three children, to relocate to Goleta, California. Shortly after settling in, Bob, always happiest in the classroom and with students, introduced himself at Westmont College in Santa Barbara where he and Sara have taught for almost ten years. Affectionately known there as Dr. Bob, he continued his life’s calling at Westmont, teaching voice lessons, singing with the choir and touring both domestically and internationally. He was also honored to be selected as a charter member of the Phi Kappa Lambda Music Fraternity.

In over 60 years of teaching, he mentored hundreds of young men and women, delighting in the relationships that were natural to his boyish, playful demeanor. He maintained consistent correspondence with many of his students, stood with some at their weddings and even officiated at others as an ordained Minister.

Bob was a lifelong Christian Scientist. He was an active member of the church, soloing in various branches for over 60 years and served as first reader for three years in Elsah, Illinois. As a musician and music scholar, Bob served the church on two hymnal revision committees spanning three decades, as well as contributing to the 2008 Hymnal Supplement and then the 2017 Hymnal with his own compositions and arrangements. He was also the producer-director of the 1988 recording of hymns published by The First Church of Christ, Scientist entitled: “The Healing Word of Love.” Until just two weeks before his passing, he and Sara were making the final revisions to a book they are writing, detailing the history of the Christian Science Hymnal and its heritage, including testimonies of healing.

Those who knew Bob need no explanation of what an incredible man he was. His conviction was impenetrable and his laughter contagious. Throughout his entire life, he demonstrated an unquenchable curiosity and an unparalleled passion for life. A beloved husband and loving father, Bob will be deeply missed. His wife Sara, to whom he was married for almost 60 years, cherishes the countless memories that she and Bob made over the course of a lifetime love affair.

The family will not be holding any kind of service at this time. In lieu of flowers or cards, the Rockabrand Family is inviting contributions to “The Robert J. Rockabrand Legacy Fund” through their GoFundMe page found here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/robert-j-rockabrand-legacy-fund.


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