As a grad student in the 1940s, one of Stanley Ruttenberg’s early encounters with music was in Arnold Schoenberg’s Los Angeles apartment, where he took equipment one afternoon to play back some of the earliest electronic recordings for the avant-garde composer.
Thirty years and a thousand miles later, when Boettcher Concert Hall opened at the Denver Performing Arts Complex in 1978, Ruttenberg was quick to discover Ring 4, where he could sit above his favorite section of the then-Denver Symphony, the low brass.
“He would sit up there and cup his ears. Any time the tubas got loud, he loved it.”
One of Becky Ruttenberg’s most indelible memories of her father was his love of music. A geophysics administrator at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) by day and the longtime board president of Colorado MahlerFest by nights and weekends, Stan always had an affinity for the bombastic. “He liked romantic music the best. Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mahler. The bigger, the better,” his daughter remembers.
Yet Stan’s personality was anything but big—modest, happiest behind the scenes and ever the diplomat, he used his experience in the global science community to help grow MahlerFest from a regional festival 30 years ago to one of international renown today. Becky, who plays violin in MahlerFest, knew that when her dad passed away in February 2017, she had to honor his legacy by doing what she could to help music thrive. “I’m so impressed with the College of Music and how great the students and faculty are, so I wanted to support them.”
A fitting tribute
When Ruttenberg inquired as to where a gift to the College of Music could make the most impact, she couldn’t have hoped for a better answer. “I asked where there was need, and they told me low brass. I thought, ‘Dad would love that.’ He’d be embarrassed by all this attention, but he’d secretly be pleased as punch.”
This year she established the Stanley Ruttenberg Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund to support low brass graduate and undergraduate students. It’s the perfect fit, given Stan’s love of the tuba. One of his longtime friends, Mahlerfest tubist Tom Stein, put it best: “Being a tuba player, you don't get many fans. Stan was a fan of the tuba. He always came up to me to talk about his favorite tuba parts and how much he loved it when the tuba filled out the sound and made the room rumble. [It’s] odd how two people can come together and form a decades-long bond over an oversized hunk of brass.”
Ruttenberg, herself an accomplished musician, says she wanted to make it possible for more students to make music a part of their lives. “I studied music and math in college, I taught public school music and I was assistant concertmaster in the Mississippi Symphony. Even though my career took eventually a different path, I loved the aspect of creating something that’s bigger than you. Music washes all over you.”
Where math meets music
After earning math and music degrees from Oberlin College and Conservatory and Syracuse University, Ruttenberg is now a software engineer at NCAR—following in both her mother and her father’s professional footsteps. But she says the love of music they instilled in her and her sister at a young age is just below the surface.
“For me, reading music is like reading a computer program. If you listen to Brahms, you can dissect his work and hear how he used math to put it together, but underneath that you can feel the emotion, the loneliness. That’s why music speaks to me on a cerebral and an emotional level.
“We need music to help us develop all parts of our brains. Music makes you human. A world without music would be a very dark world.”
Becky Ruttenberg still plays music as a member of the Longmont Symphony Orchestra; in May, her father received an honorary Doctor of Science from CU Boulder in recognition of his significant contributions to science, the arts and public service. For more information about the Stanley Ruttenberg Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund, visit the CU Foundation website.