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Roger Samuel

Roger Samuel, a longtime Claremont resident who made an enormous impact on countless budding musicians, died on August 29, 2015 after a 17-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 72.

He was born on October 27, 1942 in Los Angeles to James and Ruth Samuel. He attended Marshall High School in Los Angeles and also marched as a young trombonist in the Hollywood Sons of the American Legion Band, where he met his future wife Janet. They attended California State University, Los Angeles and received degrees in music education.

The couple was married in 1964 and had three children, all of whom were inspired by their parents’ love for music and now work in music as teachers, performers and administrators. 

For 38 years, Mr. Samuel served as a music teacher and music coordinator in the Azusa Unified School District, until his retirement in 2003. He was also a respected trombone instructor and clinician as well as an active performer throughout southern California.

In 1989, the Samuels founded the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra (CYMO), which continues today to teach, inspire and serve 170 young musicians each year. Roger was the music director and conductor of the orchestras until his death.

Over the years, membership in the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra has provided its young participants with unforgettable experiences as well as a strong musical foundation. These include regular concerts presented in Bridges Auditorium at Pomona College as well as memorable travel opportunities.

The Samuels led delegations of 100 teen musicians on tours of Europe four times over the years. During the latest trip, held in 2013, the orchestra performed at venues like the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, Schleissheim Castle in Munich and the Teatro Verdi in Padua, Italy.

Claremont resident Cindy Fan has wonderful memories of her time in the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra, where she served as concertmaster for a couple of years. She went on to major in music at Yale and is now a private violin teacher.

“Mr. Samuel’s guidance was one of the strongest musical forces in my life,” Ms. Fan said. “He poured out his love and his energy into all of us, and it definitely shaped me as a musician. I can’t say enough about what he’s done for all of us. Anyone who has played under his baton was really changed for the better.”

Larry J. Livingston is chair of the department of conducting at the USC Thornton School of Music. He counts himself as fortunate to have known Mr. Samuel and his family for three decades. He has enjoyed many a CYMO concert and even, on occasion, has served as a guest conductor. Mr. Samuel, he said, was a true gift to the community.

“First of all, he had the most important attribute of a music educator. Although the music was vitally important, it was the children that mattered most. He had a deep caring for them,” Mr. Livingston said. “He also had boundless energy. Even when he was struggling and dealing with cancer, he remained vital and alive.”  

Of course, Mr. Samuel considered it an achievement when one of his students grew up to be a professional musician, as many have. But he saw all students’ time with the CYMO as critically important, even if they pursued other careers.

“He wanted everyone in his group to be sufficiently inspired that they would continue playing music, no matter what profession they went into,” Mr. Livingston said. “He wanted them to be good audiences, and to treasure the central place of music in their lives.” 

On the CYMO Facebook page, there is a notice letting orchestra members and alumni and their families know about the passing of Mr. Samuel. The post received nearly 100 comments, sending love to the Samuel family and lavishing praise on the late music educator. These include a tribute by former Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra member RoseJeanWeller.

“Mr. Samuel lived life the way many strive to...making an immense, wonderful, positive and resonant impact on thousands of young musicians. What a gift it was to have him our lives,” she wrote. “I learned so many things about music, and life, from my time being mentored by him. He’s left a profound and prolific influence in all our lives.”

“Fermata in peace,” she concluded, referring to a symbol of musical notation indicating that the length of a note should be prolonged.

Mr. Samuel is survived by his wife Janet Samuel and their children, Greg Samuel, Gail Samuel and her husband William Christian, and Brent Samuel and his wife Shirley Ho. He also leaves his grandchildren, Samuel and Orlando Christian and Zoey and Maya Samuel, as well as a sister, Pat Brown.

The funeral for Roger took place on September 11 at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Claremont, where he was a parishioner for nearly 40 years. He is buried in Oak Park Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra (PO Box 722, Claremont, CA  91711) and the USC Norris Westside Cancer Center (9033 Wilshire Blvd., Ste 300, Beverly Hills, CA 90211).