In Memoriam: Benno P. Fritz

George Washington University band director remembered for dedication to students.

Ben Fritz
Dr. Fritz, here conducting an ensemble at commencement in 2012, was an enthusiastic and dedicated mentor and musician. (Photo: James Calder)
February 05, 2016

Benno Fritz, director and founder of the George Washington University’s band program, died Friday morning in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“Ben Fritz has been a beloved member of the Columbian College community, remembered for his talent and dedication as a musician, performer, teacher and mentor,” said Ben Vinson, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “He will be deeply missed by all those whose lives he touched.”

Dr. Fritz, a trombonist, was an associate professor of music as well as director of bands. He conducted the University Symphonic Band, University Symphony Orchestra, University Wind Ensemble and the award-winning Colonial Brass, which plays at basketball games and university functions.

As coordinator of all ceremonial music for the university, Dr. Fritz also was a fixture at graduations, convocations and other major events.

Assistant Professor of Music Robert Baker, a close friend of Dr. Fritz, said he used these occasions not only as opportunities to give families and graduating students a memorable experience but also as teaching moments for the students in his ensembles.

“Every graduation in 25 years of teaching at GW, I’ve been up at 6 o’clock doing the sound check with Ben,” Dr. Baker remembered. “And in any weather, under any circumstances, he was cheerful.” 

In a YouTube video posted in 2012 by Kevin Frey, BA ’15, Dr. Fritz plays his trombone, conducts enthusiastically and laughs with students.

“His commitment to students, whether through class or ensembles or other connections, was really remarkable,” said Douglas Boyce, chair of the music department. “He was very caring, very protective and very considerate of his students’ needs and capacities.”

Dr. Fritz joined the GW faculty in 1990 after teaching in the public schools of Michigan, California and Virginia. When he created the university’s band program, Dr. Boyce said, it was a “small, ad hoc organization.” It has since grown to encompass about 100 students in multiple ensembles, all of which perform regularly on campus and on tour.

Testament to his dedication to students, Dr. Fritz had an office in Thurston Hall. Most  weekends, he commuted to Daytona Beach, Fla., where his wife Alice Mikolajewski lives.

A former member of the GW Music Department faculty, Ms. Mikolajewski moved to Daytona Beach to take a music directorship at St. Paul’s Basilica. At the time, Dr. Baker recalled, she and Dr. Fritz had only the “tentative spark” of a relationship—but the couple wanted to make it work.

“They dated long distance for a couple of years, and then a few years ago they were married,” Dr. Baker said. “Ben was in a really good place in his life. They were really happy together.”

Dr. Fritz also is survived by a son, Harrison, from a previous marriage.

As well as an enthusiastic member of the university community, Dr. Fritz was a working craftsman who performed regularly on tenor and bass trombone with various Washington, D.C., chamber groups. He worked often with Potomac Brass, the Academic Brass quintet and the Washington Revels, where his brass arrangements have been regularly performed since 2008. He also was a composer: the Charles County All-County Honor Band premiered his most recent work, “Race to Cobb Island,” in November.

He remained dedicated to secondary education, serving often as a judge of high school band competitions and participating in band clinics.

Dr. Baker said his inbox had been flooded with memories and celebrations of Dr. Fritz as alumni who knew him received word of his death.

“There’s much to celebrate in Ben’s life—his professional contributions and what he did for the university,” Dr. Baker said. “But what’s really striking is the intense loyalty of those he taught.”

The GW Division of Student Affairs is offering support to those students affected by this loss, and the Employee Assistance Program is available to faculty and staff. Mental Health Services within the Colonial Health Center can be reached at 202-994-5300. Students who have academic concerns may reach out to their academic advisers. Those who are concerned about a member of the GW community, including parents, can complete a CARE Network Report form.