Former MU music director remembered after death

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contornoFormer Marquette Director of Music Nick Contorno, 75, died Sunday in Arizona.

Contorno, who was director of music from 1983-2006, won the 2013 Lifetime Achievement in Music Award from the Civic Music Association. Erik Janners, Marquette’s current director of music, spoke highly of the late music director. 

“Nick was very welcoming, extremely positive, warm and gracious,” Janners said.

Janners met Contorno in 2007, when Contorno helped him during his first few years as director. Contorno retired a year earlier in 2006, after 23 years in the position.

Contorno’s career in teaching began in Glendale, where he received his first teaching position as an instrumental music instructor. He then moved on to serve as director of bands in Whitefish Bay.

He was appointed as director of music at Marquette in 1983. The band under his direction played at the first Marquette Big East Conference Tournament, and he also directed the band in the Superdome at the 2003 Final Four in New Orleans.

His legacy didn’t end at Marquette, however, as Contorno was also a dedicated professional musician outside of the university. He played with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus band, among many others. He even accompanied Sonny and Cher for a performance.

Most recently, a school was dedicated in his name in Gonaïves, Haiti in 2011. The school is called, “Ecole de Musique Nick Contorno des Gonaïves.” The idea for the dedication came from Contorno’s former student Tayna Schmid.

Schmid started a small charity organization in 2010, called Musical Haiti, which focused on providing musical education to Haitians after the disastrous earthquake in 2010.

After meeting with Contorno, or “Dr. C,” as all of his students knew him, she chose to name the school she was trying to build after him when he decided to donate extensive amounts of sheet music to the cause.

“I cannot imagine a better example for these children,” Schmid said.

Contorno won the Michael George Distinguished Music Educators award in 2007.

“He was one of the absolute best people that I ever knew,” Janners said.

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