Frank Ruggieri was 96 years “young” when he died. A more active, interesting, talented man could hardly be found nor could he be matched for his lifetime of activities and achievements. Most people are missed by their relatives and close friends because of their absence. Frank Ruggieri is especially missed for all the things that he did every day and every week for the many friends who knew him, for those who worked at the Music Pier and in the Orchestra, and for all the extras in our lives that he brought to us.
Frank Ruggieri was born on November 17, 1906 near 6th and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia. The oldest of four, he, his brothers Jerry and John, and his sister Mary, were orphaned at an early age. His mother died in 1918 and his father in 1920. His brothers and sister went to live with his father’s brother at Broad and Morris Street. Frank went to New York to live with his mother’s brother Robert Sensale, a contrabassoonist for the New York Philharmonic for 37 years. Frank studied music with his uncle and attended public school in New York. He returned in Philadelphia in 1921 and played as bassoonist under Erno Rapee at the Fox Theater for silent movies.
He graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music. During his years of study at Curtis, Frank free-lanced in Atlantic City, N.J. He played for Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, and Sigmund Romberg as their shows did pre-Broadway runs before grand-openings on Broadway. Frank also began performing at the Ocean City Music Pier. In 1932, he was hired as principal bassoonist in the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C., directed by Hans Kindler. Frank performed in the inaugural concert for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. In the thirties, Ruggieri played and traveled all over the U.S., Canada, and Cuba with the Ballet de Monte Carlo. In 1937, he was solo bassoonist with the Cleveland Symphony, directed by Arthur Rodzinski.
During World War II, Frank and others from the Cleveland Orchestra volunteered for the U.S. Air Force Band. Frank enlisted to serve in the new band. During that season, 1941-42, Rodzinski had programmed the Shostakovich “Seventh Symphony” which had a long bassoon solo. Rodzinski, reluctant to let Frank go, wrote the War Department requesting a two-week delay for Frank’s induction. The request was granted. Frank performed on Saturday and on Sunday boarded the train from Cleveland to Florida. After 30 months Frank returned to the Cleveland Orchestra for one season. He also taught in the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he met his wife, Anne Buzzelli, the school’s registrar. They married in 1941. Their daughter, Geraldine, is married to Carmen DePersia and they live in Sewell, N.J.
Frank moved back to New York to free-lance. In the forties he played at Radio City Music Hall. In 1949, he began playing second bassoon position with the New York Philharmonic under Leopold Stokowski and Dimitri Mitropoulous. Eventually he played under Leonard Bernstein. With the orchestra he traveled all over Europe, Japan and the Far East. He spent 23 years with the New York Philharmonic and retired at age 65 in 1972. But he had been active over all the years in the O.C. Pops during the summers, and also with Curtis Institute. He remained active in the O.C. Pops until this past spring. He had been manager, bassoonist, and librarian in his early years and on the occasion of John Warrington’s untimely death, filled the position of conductor and musical director from 1978 until 1986. During his time as conductor, he brought a new format to the style of programming and also encouraged the introducing of younger performers onto the Music Pier Stage. After he became Conductor Emeritus, he still continued to conduct two shows per summer. But it was his generosity with his time and talents that made him outstanding. He attended every show, took pictures of all sponsors, performers, and special events. He actually gave copies to many who were in these pictures. His little notes that accompanied these gifts were always refreshing to receive.
Frank was always generous sharing techniques and fingerings with others who were interested. He was always encouraging. He often did favors, lent a helping hand, and gave each task 99.9%. He valued friends and friendship more than money, success, and power. He often stated “Friendship is one of a human being’s greatest assets” as reported by James D, Hough (“Frank Ruggieri – An Exemplary Gentleman Among Bassoonists.”) The following quote is from the “South Philadelphia Lifestyles” article by Mary Jane Thompson. “You have to keep active to enjoy old age. Music keeps you young.” — Frank Ruggieri, Conductor Emeritus of the Ocean City Pops Orchestra