The new Sag Harbor Community Band conductor on plans for the Fourth of July, his favorite 80’s pop band, and the difficulties of jumping in and rehearsing dozens of songs for the summer concert series in only two months time.
I took a look at you resume; it was very impressive, attending Columbia and Yale University, then later teaching at Yale. Why did you choose this lower profile position?
The community band is such a great tradition in Sag Harbor; it’s over 50 years old. It’s really amazing. As they describe it, it is really a bit of Americana right here in the village. I love band music; I’ve played band music and conducted band music for many years. I like making music on a regular basis and I’m already here in Amagansett doing freelance work. My family has been here for over 35 years and so I spent summers here growing up as far back as I can remember. I noticed the band was looking for a new conductor and it just seemed to fit with my schedule.
What did you know about the Community Band when you applied for the job?
I actually never heard them play until I auditioned for them this past spring. I’ve known about them for many years, but I’ve never actually heard them until just this year. They actually have a nice all-volunteer structure with several different officers and a board of directors. They seem to be a well-oiled machine performing every week at the American Legion and at the other various venues throughout the summer.
How are things starting between you and The Community Band?
Well, we have been in rehearsal since I took over in the beginning of May; we already performed once at the Memorial Day Parade and ceremony in Sag Harbor. We’ll be playing at the Southampton Fourth of July parade and our first Tuesday Night concert at the American Legion is the night after.
One part of my role as music director is programming all of the concerts, selecting the music. We have nine Tuesday night concerts and we play something like ten pieces per concert, it’s about 90 pieces of music to prepare for a season. That doesn’t even include holiday appearances. That’s quite a lot. You want to have a good mix of pieces that we play well plus new pieces that might challenge the group and challenge the audience.
Two months in, how would you characterize the band?
It’s a great group of people; everyone has been extremely welcoming and nice to me. It’s been a great experience meeting all the folks involved and making music with them as well. It’s a wide variety of people from high school students to retirees to professional musicians. It’s a great cross section of the Sag Harbor community.
Have there been any bumps in the road, joining and leading an already established group?
No, everything is actually going very well; I do have to say that it has been quite the challenge with only eight rehearsals to prepare 80 to 90 pieces of music. The great thing is that the band has played a lot of the music before so a lot of the work is my own homework. It’s been a busy couple of months getting caught up with the rest of the group.
You taught jazz at Yale University eleven years. Are you going to add in some jazz to the bands program?
Yeah, I got my undergrad degree at Yale…and then later I was the Music Director for the Yale Jazz Ensemble from 1997 to 2008. [The Community Band] actually already has a few pieces that are jazz influenced or jazz oriented already. I am a huge fan of jazz but this summer I don’t have a lot of flexibility to introduce new music to the band’s repertoire because…we wouldn’t have enough time to practice new pieces. In the next few years we’ll see how much jazz seeps into the band’s repertoire.
Fourth of July is right around the corner, I assume we will be hearing a lot of Sousa?
A lot of marches. John Philip Sousa is great; but personally I’m a big Henry Fillmore fan. I love the Fillmore marches. I don’t want to say that I like them more than the Sousa marches because that can be seen as sacrilegious in some ways; but I think because Sousa marches are played so often that the Fillmore marches are a little less formulaic. You can’t beat Sousa’s melodies, that’s part of the reason why they have lasted so long. The bottom line is I love them all equally.
Should the crowd be expecting any surprises at the parade?
I think in this transition year I am working with the recourses I have been handed so I don’t think there are any surprises; this year at least. It’s hard to predict the future but I’m looking forward to a future with the band when I can put a mark on the repertoire.
Your career seems to center around traditional music, do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
I have to say…pop music from the eighties, which I used to hate at the time, I find myself being very nostalgic for. I have to admit that Duran Duran’s greatest hits found its way into my music collection. I can’t deny it.