Former Central Oregon Symphony leader dies at 87

Bob Armer oversaw the organization for a decade

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin


Published Dec 7, 2013 at 12:01AM / Updated Dec 9, 2013 at 06:50PM

A great proponent and teacher of classical music in Central Oregon died Thursday morning at the age of 87.

Bob Armer spent a decade as manager of the Central Oregon Symphony and executive director of the symphony’s association before retiring from his posts in 2005. During his tenure, Armer oversaw a tour of the state and recruited new talent, helping attendance to soar from the hundreds into the thousands.

“He completely laid the groundwork to make the symphony successful long before I got here,” said Michael Gesme, conductor of the COS and a professor of music at Central Oregon Community College. “When I arrived, I just jumped onto this amazing wave that originated with Bob. He is fabled, if there is such a thing, in the Central Oregon Symphony lore.”

Armer died from complications following a torn aorta he suffered this fall. He was born and raised in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles where he began a lifelong career as a flutist. His music training was marked by the presence of some of the last century’s most eminent composers, studying under and working beside Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein and Igor Stravinsky, who authored “The Rite of Spring.”

Armer’s performance career brought him to the South, where he was the principal flutist with the Nashville Symphony. He also spent seven years as the head of the flute department at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, one of the nation’s premier youth art centers. In Los Angeles, Armer spent 27 years as the community orchestra manager in Downey.

Armer spent the largest part of his career, however, in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he worked for 37 years as a music teacher, counselor and vice principal. In 1993 Armer and his second wife, Betty, moved to Bend, an area Armer had known since 1971, when he acquired a cabin on the Little Deschutes in La Pine.

Betty Armer said her late husband’s “main passion in his last few years was working with quartets and students, often in our house.”

Gesme praised Armer’s continued commitment to music education following his retirement from the symphony, a force that benefited Gesme’s own daughter.

“Once he retired, the wonderful thing was that he could focus his attention on so many young kids,” Gesme said. “That was always his passion, but if you’re busy running an organization, you don’t have as much time. Not only did he ensure they were getting a great education, but he would also rearrange music, so that it could work for all ability levels.”

“He loved teaching, but even though he was a flutist, he had a passion for teaching and getting young kids into strings,” said Armer’s son, Andy. “I think he felt that finding very good, young violinists was really important in his world, as it’s such a difficult instrument to play.”

Gesme stressed that Armer was more than just a talented musician and capable teacher.

“Bob was a model for not just the executive director position of a symphony, but any executive,” Gesme said. “He understood the organization from the mission level down to the mechanics — in this case not only the music and musicians, but also the tech people — to what was needed to make the programs work and be printed, to the patrons who came to enjoy the music.”

In a 2005 article in The Bulletin, Armer described the many hats he had to wear just prior to his retirement.

“I’m getting to the point where I can’t remember all the things I’ve got to do, to put it very succinctly,” Armer said. “Tickets, programs, soloists, cars, plane tickets, printing of all kinds of stuff, everything. Until the last few weeks, I was the office, from custodian to chief aide, and it’s been fun.”

Armer was not one to be stuck in his ways, continuing to stay up-to-date on the latest music software into his last years.

“He was probably more current in computer things than I am, and I’m half his age,” Gesme said. “He’s really a true Renaissance man.”

Despite his formidable digital skills, Armer was what his son described as “old school.”

“Giving his time to the community was really important to him. He really felt that serving and volunteering, especially with the youth, was something he should be doing,” Andy said. “He also just kept things alive, like writing thank-you notes and other things.”

Armer’s successful professional career was aided by what his family and friends described as an ability to relate to anyone.

Armer fell ill this year while in Florida, and his family ended up remaining in the state for an extended period, even celebrating Armer’s birthday there.

“A lot of people we didn’t even know, who had just met him recently, came to the party,” said Erica Gordon, Armer’s daughter. “That’s just the kind of person he was; he made friends with so many.”

In addition to his wife and two children, Armer is survived by his ex-wife Clarice Thompson, three step-children and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held for Armer at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 14 at the First Presbyterian Church in Bend.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160,

tleeds@bendbulletin.com