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Senior Pops Orchestra show goes on despite fire

Leonard Apicella in front of the burned-out remains

Leonard Apicella in front of the burned-out remains of Sweet Hollow Hall in Huntington, home to the Senior Pops Orchestra of Long Island. (Dec. 12, 2012) Credit: Johnny Milano

When Leonard Apicella saw the burned-out remains Tuesday of Sweet Hollow Hall in Huntington, home to the Senior Pops Orchestra of Long Island, he said, "It brought tears to my eyes, it really did. I didn't expect the devastation."

Every Wednesday for years, he and members of orchestra practiced at the hall, which was destroyed early Monday in a fire that Suffolk police said is being investigated as criminal in nature.

The building "was fully involved" when engines arrived, said Michael Carrieri, chief of the Melville Volunteer Fire Department. As with any major fire, officials called in the Suffolk police arson squad to investigate, he said. No one was hurt.

The building, part of West Hills County Park, had several functions. Last winter it housed a farmers market and also was used by church groups and an environmental nonprofit that conducted nature classes, said Emily Lauri, spokeswoman for the Suffolk Parks Department. The county will try to find alternate locations, said Lauri, who could provide no further information on the fire.

Apicella, the orchestra's new president, said, "We need to search for a new home . . . The loss is incredible." Stored at the hall were orchestra's percussion instruments, a digital piano, as well as musical arrangements collected since the group was founded in September 1979.

Still, it's hard to keep a group of determined musicians down.

With a holiday concert scheduled for Sunday at the Brookside Senior Center, North Merrick, the group found rehearsal space at a Wantagh church and borrowed percussion instruments from another church, said Apicella, 76, a retired music teacher who plays French horn.

After their regular rehearsal Wednesday, he said, "This is amazing. I can't believe we pulled it off this morning . . . When we met at the church and saw how many people came and did have [their music] folders with them, we were kind of consoled. Just to be able to do the concert on Sunday is a tribute to the orchestra."

Apart from the percussionists, orchestra members own their instruments and all but eight of the 50 or so musicians had brought their music folders home to practice, he said.

The all-volunteer community orchestra performs light classical pieces, show tunes, Big Band Era tunes, as well as a holiday selection slated for Sunday.

Members, many retired, include doctors, a psychologist, accountants, and a hospital administrator, but most are former professional musicians and retired music teachers, said Carole Reinwald, 56, the group's treasurer and a viola player.

The orchestra's financial data, as well as incorporation papers, are safe at her home, said Reinwald, co-owner of Reinwald's Bakery in Huntington.

Late Wednesday, she was reviewing the orchestra's insurance policy. She said she hopes that and the group's savings, which is based on donations, will be "enough to get us going again."

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