On the Road, Days 1&2: SLC to LI

BeerArriving at JFK is always an other-worldly experience. We had barely disembarked when we were shunted through some doors to Baggage Claim by a pair of elderly Asian women, who continuously yelled at us: “Don’t come back! Don’t come back!” I then waited at Baggage Claim for my suitcase. The carousel started. No bags. It stopped, then five minutes it started again. No bags. Third time was a charm.

I then needed to find the ground transportation phone bank because a seat on a van had been reserved for me to take me to Westbury, LI. None of the phones listed the company that had been booked so I found their phone number and dialed directly. “Hello,” I said. “You ready?” was the answer. “What do you mean?” I asked. “You ready?” “Maybe,” I said. “You have your bags?” “Yes!” Now I understood. “Ten minutes. Second floor. White van……” “White van what?” I asked. “White van……” “OK,” I said. So I had to go back upstairs but damned if I was going to carry my suitcase up the stairs and try to get past those Asian ladies. However, there was no elevator in sight, but I found someone who could show me where it was hidden in a corner with no signage at all. Typical JFK forethought.

I made it up to the second floor and waited for the agreed-upon 10 minutes. Nuthin’. So I called them again. No one answered so I had to leave a message. Someone actually called back five minutes later. I was in luck! “Where are you?” I asked. “Where are YOU?” they asked. “I don’t know. Let me ask.” So I did. “I’m in Terminal 2 departures.” “Oh, we went to Terminal 4. Ten minutes. White van…..” “Fine,” I said.

The van driver was a combination of Columbo and my fictional character, Daniel Jacobus. Fortunately, unlike Jacobus, he was not blind. But he was just as unkempt–unshaven and wearing a shabby wool sport jacket–and had the right voice and personality. The van smelled of many a cigarette, and there were three empty paper coffee cups on his dashboard. (I assume they were empty.) He also had an ancient leather satchel next to him filled with dogeared map books that looked older than the Dead Sea Scrolls. He was Greek, and a very nice guy. At least I think so, because with his accent, his nicotine-stained voice, and the racket inside the long-in-the-tooth van, I only understood about 10% of what he said. But it was a pleasant conversation.

When we got to my hotel in Westbury, I asked if accepted credit cards. He said no. Problem. I only had five bucks. So I went inside where there was an ATM machine. Unfortunately, it declined my card. So I went to the desk. “Sorry, we have no cash.” So the driver drove me to a restaurant that had an ATM, and then back to hotel.

That was yesterday.

Today was much better. Scott Dunn, music director of the Long Island Youth Orchestra, picked me up at 8:00. To get to the rehearsal we went by Post Avenue, Westbury’s main street, where I grew up. (Assuming I have grown up.) I’ve hardly been back since I left to go to college 46 years ago, and I understand Post Avenue has gone the gamut. That until fairly recently it had been down in the dumps but has been undergoing something of a renaissance in the last few years. That certainly seemed to be the case, because although there aren’t too many reminders of bygone times, everything looked pretty tidy and thriving. Go, Westbury!

We drove through the much more affluent Old Westbury, home of some of LI’s grandest mansions, on our way to CW Post College for the rehearsal. I hadn’t heard the LIYO since I last played with them in 1976 so I had no idea if they would still be as good. Before the rehearsal began I had a brief reunion with Martin Dreiwitz, the first music director of the orchestra who conducted it for about 50 years! As a professional travel agent, he also took the orchestra on about 40 international summer tours, for which I played in the first three or four. Quite a remarkable achievement, both musically and logistically. The amazing man is still going strong, and I owe him a great debt of gratitude.

First thing on the rehearsal was a piece I had composed: “Overture in the Classical Style.” A very Mozartean kind of thing–some might even say derivative. (But of course they’d be wrong.) Scott told me the orchestra hadn’t had much time to rehearse it, and with only one more rehearsal before the concert, I was a bit apprehensive. But I was pleasantly surprised! The first time through was a little rough, but after some diligent rehearsing, it sounded very good, especially for a bunch of high school kids.

Then we rehearsed Saint-Saens “Havanaise,” which is not a particularly difficult accompaniment as far as learning the notes, but it does take an awareness of the 19th century French sound to make it work and get the balances right. Again, by the time we finished rehearsing, the orchestra was following like pros.

After intermission, they rehearsed the Vaughan Williams “London” Symphony and did a very creditable job. After the rehearsal ended, I gave a master class graciously arranged by Susan Deaver, LIYO’s Principal Guest Conductor and Music Director of North Shore Symphony. Four students played: Mendelssohn and Bruch concertos on violin, Shostakovich 1st cello concerto, and Prokofiev flute sonata. All very impressive performances and they accepted my 2-cents with grace and positivity.

Lunch time! Scott allowed me to be nostalgic and we went to a restaurant on Post Avenue. Of course, it wasn’t there when I was a kid, but more importantly it was good. Modestly named “Shish Kebab,” it was quite a fine middle eastern restaurant. We had good food and a very productive conversation about music and youth orchestras and what can be done to make the future of LIYO as bright as possible, until a little kid at the next table started screaming and the parents did nothing to put an end to it. To be continued.

I spent the rest of the day doing some writing and catching up on correspondence. Until tomorrow.

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