Ask music teacher Dale Stuckenbruck his favorite instrument, and it's quite possible he'll say "the eggplants." Rub two together and they make a squeaking sound like sneakers on a gymnasium floor, or a monkey chanting "ooh ooh ooh."
A close second might be the carrot. Carve it into a recorder-like instrument and it carries a flutelike melody. Then there's the watermelon. Hollow it out and thump it with lemongrass stalks and it offers a drumbeat.
Put them together and you've got what Stuckenbruck has dubbed "The Long Island Vegetable Orchestra," which will perform a four-minute, original classical piece called "Carrots and Strings" at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the Hillwood Commons Lecture Hall on Long Island University's C.W. Post Campus in Brookville.
The orchestra is really more of an ensemble made up of four high school vegetable players and Stuckenbruck, accompanied by a violin, a viola and a cello. Afterward, they eat their veggie instruments, so there's no waste, Stuckenbruck says. "My daughter, she made a carrot cake," he says. Stuckenbruck also has made soup. "If you cook it at really hot temperatures, it's servable to other people," he says. The watermelon hull and veggie skins are contributed to a compost pile on campus, he adds.
The free, one-song performance is part of a kickoff to this summer's themed courses at C.W. Post, which will focus on "Sustainability: Our World, Our Responsibility." The classes will explore such topics as environmental journalism and clean energy. Keynote speaker at the event is scheduled to be Richard Kirk Mills, a C.W. Post professor of art.
Stuckenbruck, who teaches violin at C.W. Post, is also a music teacher at the Waldorf School, a private school for preschool through 12th grade in Garden City. It was while teaching there that he launched a vegetable orchestra to teach students "everything around you in life can become a musical instrument." Stuckenbruck got the vegetable orchestra idea from the Viennese Vegetable Orchestra, which was founded in 1998. An orchestra in Vienna was asked to do an experimental performance at a festival and decided to make music from the toughest items they could think of -- soup ingredients.
For his Long Island version, Stuckenbruck goes shopping before rehearsal at Chinese and Korean vegetable markets and at Whole Foods, and he also gets donations from C.W. Post. Stuckenbruck might be in the produce aisle, looking at a bunch of celery stalks to see whether rubbing the leaves together makes a rushing sound like the wind. Or tapping the watermelons to see if the shell is hard enough to play. It costs $200 to $300 in vegetables to rehearse four times, do a sound check session and perform, he said. The microphone check is a key element of preparation, so the vegetable sounds can be heard.
The instruments have to be created as close to the performance as possible, and won't last more than 24 hours because they dry out. At a recent rehearsal on a Thursday night at Stuckenbruck's West Hempstead home, the group made instruments in his backyard, using an ice-cream scoop to hollow the watermelon, a handheld, motorized drill to tunnel through the cucumber and the carrots, and a paring knife to carve embouchures, or mouthpieces.
Max Cheney, 15, is a Waldorf sophomore from Glen Cove, and he made a trumpetlike instrument from a cucumber, a carrot and a red bell pepper. Orin Pearce, 16, is a sophomore at Waldorf from North Woodmere who usually plays the drums; it was a natural transition for him to take on the watermelon.
"With the drums, there are a lot more options," Orin says, such as striking the cymbals. "Here you are more limited, so you have to be a lot more creative." Stuckenbruck's daughter, Erin, 16, is a junior and she plays the carrot alongside her dad.
Rehearsal involved reading off regular musical scores with measures and notes. It's a challenge to keep it going -- Erin's carrot, for instance, was getting soggy and wouldn't play.
Stuckenbruck is no stranger to unusual musical performances. He was nominated for a Grammy for playing the musical saw, and he also plays the wine glasses. The veggie group is slated to perform again at C.W. Post when summer classes are in session in July. Says Stuckenbruck: "These are the concerts these kids will remember 50 years from now."
The Long Island Vegetable Orchestra