For most of the week, they’re doctors, engineers, librarians and music teachers. But on Wednesday nights, from September to May, they’re drawn to East Northport Middle School as musicians to hone their playing skills together.
Originally known as The Northport Community Orchestra, the group had its first rehearsal 10 years ago, according to its website, northportsymphony.org
Since then, its intergenerational members have been sharing their fondness for music and offering free concerts (donations accepted). The Northport Symphony Orchestra is one in a network of similar groups that are part of the cultural fabric of Long Island and offer performance time for the musically talented.
“It means a lot to me to play in an orchestra,” says cello player Susan Rubner, 73, of East Northport, who’s been playing with the orchestra for about five years. A professional musician and music teacher, Rubner joined for the joy of playing after deciding to make time for it in her schedule. “While it’s nice to earn money by playing, I decided I should play because I enjoyed it, too,” she says.
Members include high school and college students, people who are still working and those long retired. The evening practice time lets those who work participate. Oboist Witold Koziel, 51, drives to practice from his information technology operations and support job in Westchester County. He’s been an orchestra member since 2011, when he found the group through a web search after he decided he wanted to get back to playing, since his children were older.
Koziel, who lives in Syosset, studied the oboe while he earned his degree in music performance at the University of Wroclaw in Poland, but had stopped playing for more than 20 years.
“This was a good way back in. There were a few occasions over the years when I felt motivated to do something, but there was nothing keeping me going,” Koziel says. “First of all, you need some motivation and you also need opportunity to play. This group of people have managed to keep it together.” The orchestra’s music director, Richard Hyman, “has been doing a good job of finding repertoire, and it’s fun, that’s the first part that makes it enjoyable. The people are nice, too,” he says. Members enjoy socializing at rehearsals and at after-concert parties, as well as at an annual summer fundraising garden party.
Hyman, who also is the conductor, co-founded the orchestra along with cellist Leila Zogby. Auditions for the orchestra were held in the fall of 2006 and members played their debut performance in May 2007 at the Northport Chorale’s 25th anniversary concert. In 2010, the group incorporated and changed its name.
Hyman, 64, of East Northport, who also is a composer, retired three years ago after 35 years as a music teacher in New York City schools. He also serves as music director of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington and performs in the Huntington-area rock band The Queazles.
When choosing music for the 32- to 40-member group, he looks for pieces that fit its instrumentation, although the group can also add extra players on occasion. “I try to find music where everybody’s playing everything,” he says. They performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, a piece that requires three trombones and two French horns, for example, because he knew he could get enough extra horn players. “It’s important we do the great masterworks,” he says. “We’ve done five of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, Mendelssohn, and Mozart, Haydn.”
At rehearsals, the group reads through a piece of music, going back periodically to work on what needs to be fine-tuned. “Sometimes it’s the rhythm, or a question of whether a note is sharp or flat,” he says. “A lot have been with the group for 10 years, so they’ve honed their skills — the challenge is in the interpretation.”
For the first piece of the evening, the musicians run through the three movements of Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, stopping to work on timing, entrances and dynamics. When the orchestra overplays some forte (loud) chords, Hyman says, “Remember: the entire passage is piano [soft], so don’t make the fortes so big; just play them like accents.” The theme ripples through the orchestra at the start of the third movement as various instruments repeat it, with imitation spreading from the violins to the bassoons, oboes, clarinets and flutes and French horn as the music builds to a crescendo. “That’s very rousing,” he says as they finish the movement. “Are there any passages you want to go over?”
As with most skills, practice makes almost perfect. “Every concert we get better and better, and that’s my goal,” Hyman says. Playing in the orchestra is an oasis, he says. “For an hour and a half, your mind is focused.”
Carol Montparker, a pianist from Huntington, who has “passed her 70th birthday” and has been a guest artist with the orchestra, applauds its attitude and preparation. “The progress the orchestra has made in the last several years is wonderful,” Montparker says. “There’s an element of love in the air at a concert and rehearsals that is very enjoyable.”
Flutist Edna Sussman agrees. “I look forward to our rehearsals,” says Sussman, 64, of Kings Park, a reference librarian at Half Hollow Hills Library who also is a member of the Long Island Flute Club. She was one of the orchestra’s original board members. “It’s a wonderful experience to play with these people and to play for the community,” she says.
Clarinet player Bill Baldwin, 61, of Northport, a home repairman who’s in his first season with the orchestra although he also plays with several other groups, says playing music is what he does for enjoyment. “This is my golf,” he says, laughing.
Another clarinetist, pediatrician Kathrynne Yland, 52, of Huntington, who’s been with the orchestra for 10 years, says music has always been an important part of her life, and she’s happy to have found a berth. “We play great music and it’s a great group of people. It’s a unique opportunity to play with an orchestra.”
To save money on music, the orchestra buys instrumental parts on CDs, and Hyman gets some music in the public domain from various websites. Expenses such as printing, publicity, music and the music director’s salary are supported by donations, business sponsorships, advertising in concert programs and some Long Island arts grant funding through the Huntington Arts Council.
The orchestra also does an educational show at a local library, this year scheduled for April 23 at the Northport Public Library. (See box.) Hyman talks about how a theme is developed, how a composer takes small ideas and develops them, with the orchestra playing passages as he explains. The orchestra then performs the full piece.
The orchestra is well-received when it plays at Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Commack, says Dawn Lettau, director of therapeutic recreation. More than 100 residents attended the orchestra’s Jan. 8 performance at the facility. “Our residents love them,” Lettau says. “They’ve been coming here for years. Residents love the music, it’s everything to them. Everyone can enjoy music regardless of their cognitive status.”
Two free performances are scheduled at Northport High School:
Feb. 17, Winter Concert, 8 p.m.
The program includes Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 in D major, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 with special guest soloist Edward Lattari.
May 5, Spring Concert and 10th Anniversary Gala, 8 p.m.
The program includes Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 and Grieg’s “Peer Gynt” Suite No. 1.
April 23, 2 p.m. Northport Library program
Conductor Richard Hyman explains musical points as the orchestra illustrates the passages; then the group plays the entire piece at this free event.
For more information on the orchestra, go to northportsymphony.org and click the navigation icon in the blue circle.
—- KAY BLOUGH