US conservatory influencer dies after back surgery at 68

US conservatory influencer dies after back surgery at 68


norman lebrecht

January 30, 2019

The University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music in Stockton, California, has posted sad news of the death of Eric Hammer, Director of Bands and Professor of Music Education for quarter of a century. He was due to retire in the course of this year.

Peter Witte, the conservatory director, writes:

Dear Pacific Family,

I write to share heartbreaking news.

Earlier today, Professor Eric Hammer, passed away at home while recuperating from surgery. At this time we are unaware of the cause.

This news is tragic. Dr. Hammer’s spirit enlivened us all.

A Pacific alumnus, Dr. Hammer had just recently announced his retirement in 2019, after a 26-year career as Director of Bands and Professor of Music Education within our storied Conservatory of Music.

As an artist, educator, and servant, Eric’s reputation is immense. In every sense of the word, Dr. Hammer was an artist-citizen.

Eric’s passion for Pacific was clear. Together with his faculty colleagues, he built and sustained two wonderful wind-bands, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble and the University Concert Band, open to students across all walks of life at Pacific.

He supervised the student-led Pep Band. He guided our music education student teachers as they launched their careers throughout California. He stayed connected to Pacific alumni throughout the nation, ensuring that they maintain ties with their alma mater, even as they build their own careers and communities.

For decades students came to Pacific specifically to play in Dr. Hammer’s ensembles – to be his students. He created a sense of community simply in the way he walked into a room. He brought people together, he was warm, endlessly energetic, and he believed that every child must sing, in school and throughout their lives.

At the end of every concert, his bands sang our alma mater, Pacific Hail, from memory, and in harmony. And they meant it. Truth be told, I got a lump in my throat every time his bands sang.

Darn near weekly, Eric was either guest conducting or working in area high schools and community colleges, an exemplar Pacifican. The repertoire he chose, the way he taught it, what he expected of each of us, especially so in the days ahead, will remain with us: decency, effort, joy, and a balance of striving and humility – these are Hammer hallmarks.

As we grieve, let Eric’s lessons be our guide: we will be of service to others; we will do what is right, and do it the right way; we will imagine incredible things and then make them happen; we will turn sorrow into light, as Eric did.

Eric found the best in others, and I believe that even in our sorrow he asks that we reach through our grief to make things more musical, inclusive, and loving.

Eric would want us to spend the rest of our years striving for a certain kind of spirit, an example that he set for us all.

Eric had a word for such a spirit.


With immense sadness,





  • Patrick says:

    Very sad, he was loved and respected by so many.