Two decades and counting...


Sometimes I think one the smartest, most balanced people in the world was “Chauncey Gardener” – the central character in Jerzy Kosinski’s novel “Being There.”  He was a simple-minded person who was a gardener – and he related the entire outside world, of which he had little contact with, save by watching television – to the cycles of life in a garden.

Like many of us, I like to work in our gardens and our yard in the spring – trying to make our little corner of Claflin and Forest Street into a pleasing little moment in our neighbors travels through the neighborhood.   Garden beds of seasonal, flowering perennials in the small front yard, hedges of tiger lilies and hostias as borders along the walks and fences, large sprawling and expanding beds of vegetables and herbs on the side yard, soaking up that great “southern exposure” to the sun that my father-in-law used to exclaim over!  “You’ve got a GREAT Southern Exposure in your yard – your tomatoes, cukes and squash will love it here!!!”

I think we can all agree that we had what seemed like an extremely long winter this year, and spring just never seemed to be coming.  Dismal, raw, rainy day after rainy day throughout mid March and April – never allowing any of us a day or an afternoon when we were available to go out and start the “spring yard clean-up.”  

It seems like just six weeks ago I looked out at my yard and gardens – still littered with piles of leaves and dead plants and branches  -- everything colored in that pale, brown dead grass hue – and thought, “I don’t know HOW we’re ever going to get this yard in shape this year.   It just seems too over-whelming and its so late in the year already.

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It was April 28th – the CHSO had just finished the season – maybe I’d have a few hours of slow-time on certain days in the coming week – if only the weather is bearable on those days – just go out for an hour or two at a time and pick a specific goal for the day.   One day after another day, whenever possible – my son Zach got very interested in helping in the garden this spring – Susan did her garden boxes in the windows, helped weed flower bed, and even mowed the lawn!

Little by little it started to make a come-back – the grass turned green – there were those persistent spots in the lawn where grass doesn’t seem to want to grow – but it grows great several inches over in the flower bed I’m trying to clear!!   We got all of the vegetable beds turned over and weeded and spread four yards – now up to six – of nice mulch from Peter Hawkes farm in Mendon.  Plants are in— its starting to look like one of the best garden and yard years yet!!

Now we can take that moment to stand up on the patio and survey the kingdom – as the sun goes down behind the houses across the street – bathing our yard and its flowering flora in that nice early summer golden light in the early evening.

It’s kind of like what running an orchestra is like!

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Nine months ago we set ourselves some projects and goals to bring to life in the coming year.   As we stood at the edge of the other side of the season, there’s those moments of saying “Wow, that’s an amazing season program!!!   And “Holy Cow! – HOW are we going to do that????” 

There are those moments several weeks out ahead of the next big CHSO concert when I open the scores of the pieces we are going to perform and I think to myself, “OMG, HOW are we going to get through all of this music in three rehearsals?  I hope everyone is looking at their music!!!”   As everyone has become aware of, at CHSO, we do VERY adventurous and daring concert programs – sometimes the equivalent of what another orchestra would do in TWO concerts, we do in ONE!

One of our horns, Neil Godwin, replied to one of my emails confirming his availability for a concert that included the Beethoven Seventh Symphony and Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, saying, “Yes, I’m on for that.  By the way, you know that this is an INSANE program?!!”

And it was insanely amazing!   Those CHSO musicians we’ve all come to know as neighbors always show up ready to crank it out!   I always leave the Tuesday rehearsal and head to the Sorrento for a beer and a few moments to “de-compress” and think, “Wow, that went really well!  What a concert we’re going to have!”  I go home and map out the next two rehearsals – what spots do we need to really focus on in the next rehearsal?   How do we allocate time through the rest of the week so we can bring it all back together by Saturday?   I send emails with notes to the orchestra – “watch for the tempo change in this spot,  winds – tighten up the articulation in this spot, etc”

And on Saturday evenings, around 10:30 PM, a lot of the orchestra are back at the Sorrento, celebrating yet another climatic and exhilarating concert experience together – shared by colleagues and audience members – a lot of them come down to celebrate at the Sorrento with us!

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 We’re all standing together for a moment on our “cultural patio” surveying the wonderful, flowering creation we’ve built to make our little corner of the world more beautiful – and to present it with pride to guests who happen into town.   “Did you know we also have an amazing orchestra here?”

As human beings, we are no more or no less than any other social creature in the organic world.

Watch one ant crawling along laboring to carry some little seed or particle of sand to some destination or project we can only surmise about.   Soon, there’s another ant following him, and pretty quick you see an entire line of them, marching along, joining in – “hey, Andrew Ant is building a new colony over there.   Let’s pitch in and get the job done!”

I can remember the first person I told I was starting an orchestra.  It was Ken Cole, who was the President of The Milford National Bank & Trust, and a fellow Rotarian.  I had just got off the phone that morning with Christi Nigro, the Choral Director at Worcester State College.  I was contracting an orchestra for her to perform Carmina Burana in the spring of 2000,  Suddenly the idea came to me of raising enough money to repeat the concert the following night in Milford.  “Christi, I’m toying with the idea of starting a new orchestra in Milford.   There had been one here in the 80s and early 90s but it went out of business.   Maybe now is a good time to try it again and Carmina Burana would be an amazing “launch concert” for it.”   Christi agreed to the double performance, and I set off to find $10,000! 

I went to my Rotary Lunch that noontime and sat down across from Ken.  Ken said, “and how is the world treating you today, Paul?”   I replied, “Great!  I’m going to start an orchestra!”

I’ll never forget Ken’s reaction – he raised his eyebrows in a “quizzical” pursed expression and said, “Hmm, is there a market for that here?”  I said in a jaunty fashion, “Not yet, but we’re going to create it!!”

 Ken nodded amusedly and turned his attention to the salad.

“Build it and they will come.”  James Earl Jones’ great line at the end of “Field of Dreams” – a movie I still sob all the way through the end.  (Hey, I played catch with my Dad, and later with my sons). 

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That final scene, as Kevin Costner and the ghost of his father play a game of catch under the bright lights of the beautiful baseball diamond, ablaze in the middle of “NoWhere” – the camera rises to take in a growing stream of lights inching their way down back roads – coming to see the realization of a man’s dream that was also their dream.

Today, twenty years after that lunch, many, many concerts since, hundreds of musicians and thousands of individual concert goers and new friends have inched along the roads and by-ways to find their way into town to see the new wonder they heard was happening in Milford.

The Hall is quiet for the summer, but if you stand in the clock tower in the twilight and look to the east, west, north and south, you can see those long arteries of lights lining up, getting ready to make the winding trip to that place where the music now lives!   There is much more to do, but first we can spend a few moments on the patio in the summer evenings to enjoy and relish what we have done, before we get back to work to prepare for our next guests arrival!

“In the garden, we have the seasons.”

“Build it and they will come.”

They are.

Musing on Music... Part 2

Late night thoughts after a great concert –

Privileges given and received . . .

Photo by Jim Calarese

Photo by Jim Calarese

So now it’s Tuesday evening, I’m back from teaching in Providence since noon time, and the Family Symphony Matinee concert with the “Side by Side” performance of the CHSO and CHYS is already way back in the rear view mirror.   As my teacher always said, “on to the next . . .”

Sunday was another great event, good sized crowd, Milford Town Hall “buzzing” with activity all afternoon, between CHSO members coming in at 12 Noon to do our one rehearsal for the 3 PM performance, joined by the youth orchestra students around 1:30 to sit in with their mentors and run through their selections together.   This annual concert event always turns out GREAT, and is inspiring, but the “prequel” leading up to it makes herding cats look like a walk in the park on a sunny day!  So many “moving parts,” so many people to organize and bring together – professional musicians, students, families, the instrument petting zoo folks from Music & Arts – all of whom have to pay attention to the information being emailed them, and show up with military precision – with everything required and prepared at the listed time.   (My next endeavor in the next life will be to organize a moon landing and concert).

Photo by Jim Calarese

Photo by Jim Calarese

Although exhausting, it was euphoric in the end – the students ALWAYS come thru and do their very best when faced with no other option, and the CHSO pros are always so supportive and admiring of the cute little kids suddenly sitting next to them in the orchestra.   (There are actually 3 or 4 pros in the CHSO who were once IN the CHYS!!).   Like I said last week, we always see something of ourselves mirrored in the images of the next generation and just maybe, it makes us feel good about prospects for the future.

And now on to the next, which is – just like the recent jazz concert at the Caffe Sorrento, another opportunity for me to sit back in the audience, and get to watch fellow musician/colleague/dear friends make amazing music for the night. 

I’m speaking of the Season Finale of the CHSO Apple Tree Arts Chamber Music Series in Grafton – this coming Saturday night, April 13, 2019 at 7:30 PM in the Great Hall of the beautifully renovated home of Apple Tree Arts at One Grafton Common, featuring the Valchinov family – all of whom have been key players in the CHSO panorama for the last decade!

Richard Duckett of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette wrote a wonderful feature article on this event which ran on Sunday morning, April 7th, and he really captured the back story behind this concert.

Photo by Dana Wilson

Photo by Dana Wilson

CHSO Concertmaster Angel Valchinov – a Bulgarian native – has been a member of the CHSO since around 2006 or 2007.   He came into the orchestra while doing graduate studies in Violin Performance at Boston University.  Someone recommended him to me as a good possible addition to the CHSO violin section and he seemed to do just fine in the section.  He was kind, considerate to his colleagues, well prepared and appreciative of the opportunity to work and also of the unique personality of the orchestra he found when he came to Milford. 

At the time we had another Bulgarian, Nicola Takov, who was our Concertmaster.  Nicola was a phenomenal player, and he brought along both his then girlfriend Viktoria – a fine violinist – and his childhood friend, Violist Dimitar Petkov, who to this day still serves as CHSO Principal Violist.  It was a nice package deal!  They brought a few other Bulgarian emigres into the orchestra as subs along the way too, and they all seemed to live in the same house in Melrose, or at any rate, I used to mail 5 or 6 packages of music to that address for each concert.  I used to imagine a large sprawling “three decker” with a fleet of beat up, used Toyotas parked on the lawn and music pouring out of the windows on a warm day.   Sometimes they’d show up at Town Hall for a rehearsal, and I’d pull in next their car – one of them would roll down a window, and billows of Marlboro smoke would pour out.   One of them would say, “Hi Boss, we’ll be in in a minute!!”

After about 5 years as Concertmaster, Nicola suddenly received an opportunity to take a full time job as First Violinist in the Simphonia Navarro in Spain, which was a very fine orchestra, and a great gig to get.  He left and I needed to fill the Concertmaster vacancy, preferably with someone in the orchestra – someone who had become familiar with our “corporate” culture, and our concept of making music accessible, understanding and inviting to our growing audience – many of whom had never gone to symphony orchestra concerts before coming to the CHSO.

Angel Valchinov, violin soloist, with The Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, November 10, 2018

Angel Valchinov, violin soloist, with The Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, November 10, 2018

For me, Angel was the obvious choice to promote to Concertmaster.   As a member of the first violin section, he was obviously of a caliber of excellence as a player personally, plus he had demonstrated a true interest in what CHSO was striving to become.   He commented frequently on the innovative programming and the relationship between the orchestra and its community and offered suggestions on how we could improve the orchestra – even while a member of the section, asking about the opportunity to do a concerto with the orchestra, which is something not usually done – featuring a “section” player over the Concertmaster or section leader!   At first I might have thought he was a little “pushy” but then in retrospect, maybe I recognized something of myself in Angel – after all, what’s more pushy than someone starting a symphony orchestra in the middle of the suburbs and insisting that there could be an audience for it?!!!   (Build it, and they will come!!).

In his second or third season as Concertmaster, I invited him to do the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the orchestra, and that performance was an evening that truly made obvious to both the orchestra and our audience that we had an amazing Concertmaster – one to be admired, respected and valued.  

As Concertmaster, he was very “pro-active” in his job – standing up in rehearsals to offer advice and suggestions to the string section on how to play and work together as a team to bring to life the “style” of performance I was seeking to get out of the orchestra.   After all, I’m a wind player, and try to refrain from telling string players how to do their jobs – but coming from a fellow string player who is obviously such a virtuoso, and when offered as Angel does – in a wonderfully kind and nurturing manner – everyone would nod in agreement and work to change their idea of how to play a passage.

Angel would suggest new possible members of the orchestra string section who he had met on other gigs, most of whom became perfect “fits” for our orchestra and many of whom are regular members today.   The “string sound” of the CHSO has become simply gorgeous during his tenure as Concertmaster and is a quality of the orchestra that many have commented upon over the last ten years – a beautiful and lustrous string sound that matches the power and energy of our virtuoso wind section.

As I got to know Angel better, he told me of his sister Deyana, who had come to America to study piano, and then his parents emigrated here also – following their children to the New World, and seeking musical performance opportunities in their new home.

Angel’s parents – Iliya and Margaritka – had been members of one of the premiere orchestras in Bulgaria, but after the collapse of the communist state, the arts had fallen on hard times in their homeland.   Margaritka was an extremely accomplished violinist and I invited her into the CHSO violin section at the first opportunity that we had an opening.   Iliya is a bassoonist, and frequently performs with the orchestra when one of our other regular bassoon section members is unavailable.

“Mama” Valchinova, as I call her, is obviously very proud of her children, and like Angel, very much appreciative of the uniqueness of CHSO.   She is a very strong player, and when our longtime Principal Second Violinist decided to leave the orchestra last season to have more time for teaching and family, I asked her to become Principal Second.   It’s been an excellent fit, and together with the leadership of her son, and in concert with the other string principals, I never have to worry about how our string section will play!

Mama never fails to send me an email after each concert, thanking me for the opportunity to perform, and commenting on how great the performance of the orchestra was, and how we truly reached and touched our audience. 

This season, Angel was the featuring soloist again with his orchestra, performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto – one of the hardest Violin concertos ever written.  (Story is, Sibelius was an unsuccessful violinist, and decided to take it out on the rest of them by writing something considered almost impossible to play!).   It didn’t sound difficult in Angel’s hands that night!

His sister Deyana had recently completed her Doctoral studies and was now living in the Boston area with her new husband and baby, and I had promised them a concerto with her – her choice, and one of my favorites was the Prokofiev Third Concerto – again one of the hardest works of the genre.   Witness yet another memorable night at CHSO this past February 2nd.

Last summer, I was planning the second season of our new CHSO Apple Tree Arts Chamber Series, and I wanted to involve Angel in it – he hadn’t done anything with us on the Inaugural Season, although he had performed frequently on the series when it was in Whitinsville in previous years.   Knowing that both he and his sister would be major features of the CHSO Symphony Season this year, I thought it would be a great idea to complete the chamber series with them as a family performing unit – “you heard them as star soloists, now hear them in a more intimate, personal  setting, displaying their artistry together. “ 

It works and it a major part of the CHSO “culture” – we’ve always had a number of “family units” performing together in the orchestra, and sometimes even some divorced couples who still play together in the orchestra!  And of course, as Founder, I’ve taken the advantage of nepotism from time to time to invite my own siblings to perform as featured artists with us.  Music IS family and community in the end – playing together makes a family out of people who didn’t know each other beforehand.

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So there it is – this coming Saturday, I’ll get to sit in the audience again and be privileged to hear the world-class artistry of colleagues whom I’ve come to regard as dear friends and even extended family.  It IS a privilege for us all – that musicians like the Valchinovs have decided to make Claflin Hill their home and principal performance venue and career – instead of chasing all over hell’s half acre in search of fleeting co called “fame” and glory!

Angel came to a realization somewhere along the way as a member of CHSO that perhaps it is more important to find a place where you can create music and art at the highest level you strive for, for people who are truly your neighbors and friends, and in doing so, you make your little corner of the world a little better than when you arrived.   I use to worry that someday we’d lose Angel to a bigger orchestra far from Milford, but I know now that he values CHSO above all other gigs, and although he does perform frequently throughout the region with many other ensembles who might be more “famous” CHSO is HIS orchestra.

It’s pretty much the motivation I had for starting CHSO after all – together with my wife Susan we were starting a family in our new home in Milford, and I was growing tired of driving all over New England and New York for playing jobs – better to stay home and play for my neighbors and kids, and I was meeting a lot of other world class players who needed the same opportunity!

It’s a joy and a privilege to see them perform, and one that I hope our audience and growing CHSO Family will value and take advantage of this Saturday – the gift of music and community – given to us by new Americans who have come here to fulfill the age-old “American Dream” and who in doing so have become an integral part of this new shining, cultural city on the hill – Claflin Hill.

See you Saturday night in Grafton!

Paul Surapine


Musing on Music...

Musing on Music, late night thoughts after a great concert, and the past meets the future or vice versa!

Last Saturday evening, I sat upstairs at the Caffé Sorrento as part of the sold out audience to enjoy the final concert of this year’s new CHSO Jazz at the Caffé Sorrento series.

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We were privileged to hear local native, and Boston jazz scene legend, drummer Bobby Tamagni and his quintet that he put together just for this concert – Greg Hopkins on trumpet, Mark Shilansky on piano, Alan Chase on saxophone and bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa.   It was an extraordinary evening – the atmosphere in the room was electric, and the whole restaurant was buzzing – upstairs and downstairs with the thrill the rebirth of live jazz at the Sorrento.

It is truly one of the best “perks” of my job as Founding Executive & Artistic Director of Claflin Hill – the chance to sometimes just sit back and watch amazing musicians at work, plying their craft honed over decades of practice and gigging with each other – and to savor the realization that this thing we have built together over the past almost twenty years – Claflin Hill – is making it possible for this happen more and more frequently every season.   I get to do that standing on the podium leading the CHSO all the time, but now and then, it’s really nice to just sit back as a “civilian” and watch them make their magic on their own. 

A big part of the evening was an “homage” to Milford native son, Henry “Boots” Mussilli – who went forth from his hometown in the 1950s to become a renowned saxophone artist and lead alto solo sax of the Stan Kenton orchestra.  Boots performed and toured with the Kenton band for years, and often brought them home to Milford for performances when the band was on tour in the region.   When he left the band to come home and settle back into being a Milfordian, he opened a teaching studio and started the Milford Area Youth Orchestra.  It immediately sprang into life with over 60 kids joining and become a focal point of pride for the town – much the same as many towns had “youth oriented” organizations that brought a community together in support, such as the St. Joseph’s CYO Band in Medway in the same timeframe.  

Bobby Tamagni on Drums

Bobby Tamagni on Drums

Bobby Tamagni was a young drum student and a member of the Milford Area Youth Orchestra, and he had some funny stories to tell from that short time the band was in existence, including their fabled performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, invited there by none other than Duke Ellington himself! 

Unfortunately, Boots died the next year, and the youth orchestra died soon after he did, and the music went silent in Milford for a few decades.

I was thinking this week that if Boots had lived, and if he had continued building the cultural entity he had in mind, then there probably wouldn’t be a CHSO today!   Instead of coming to town and starting an orchestra, I might have come to town and tried to get a job working for Boots!!

But, life is full of “serendipitous” detours in the road, and in the end, it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the scenery as you travel along towards your yet to be revealed destination.

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This Sunday afternoon, we get a chance to witness the future and the ongoing re-birth of great culture continuing in Boot’s hometown, as Claflin Hill presents our annual Family Symphony Matinee concert at 3 PM in the Milford Town Hall Grand Ballroom – the scene of so many great evenings of music for over 100 years.

We’ll be performing Benjamin Britten’s popular “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” and the Claflin Hill Youth Symphonies will join together with their CHSO professional mentors at this concert for a “Side by Side” performances of some of the great classic orchestral literature.  Several of the students will also be featured in “starring” roles as soloists with the CHSO.

I spend every Sunday afternoon, from 11 to 6 PM together with some of my CHSO colleagues working with these bright and eager young musicians, and it’s always one of the best days of the week, for them AND us.  Teaching young students is a constant re-juvenation for us as professional musicians – it’s inspiring to see them start down the same road as we did when we were their age, to watch them struggle with the frustrations of learning to play better, to set higher goals, to come back every week and try harder again and again.  I sometimes actually chuckle out loud when I’m teaching my private students – “yeah, I remember when I thought that was so difficult, but now it seems effortless and you’ll get to that point someday too!”  (I actually broke my clarinet in half when I was ten, because I was squeaking so much!!) 

In teaching, you rediscover every single day the reason you had for doing what you do and why you love it so much.  And yes, it’s also a great thing to nurture the future and help kids achieve.

Come join us on Sunday for a great afternoon of amazing music and an inspiring and hope-filled view into the future – a future that Boots probably had in mind – though I think that he, like me, didn’t really have a “business plan” but just started out to do something he had an urge to do and it would take on its own life and lead him to the next step.  It’s been how CHSO has grown, and I hope Boots approves of what we’re doing in his old stomping grounds!

Margaritka, Deyana & Angel Valchinov will be featured on Saturday, April 12 at the Claflin HIll Apple Tree Arts Chamber Music Series in Grafton

Margaritka, Deyana & Angel Valchinov will be featured on Saturday, April 12 at the Claflin HIll Apple Tree Arts Chamber Music Series in Grafton

Even if you don’t have “kids” or want to try out an instrument at the instrument petting zoo, it’s another opportunity to get together with your friends for a nice afternoon out, sit by one of the big windows in the hall and let the sunlight and the music bath you into euphoria!

And next week, Saturday, April 13th, I get to sit in the audience yet again and watch more colleagues – the Family Valchinov – display their amazing artistry at our season finale of the CHSO Apple Tree Arts Chamber series.  More about that next week, but watch for Richard Duckett’s feature article this Sunday in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette!

See you at the concerts!

Paul Surapine

Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2!

I’m getting ready to leave for Connecticut this morning, to meet with my sister Beth again, to go over the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto that she’ll be performing with us next week.

Beth Surapine performing George Gershwin’s popular “Rhapsody in Blue” in April 2005 with The Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra at Milford Town Hall.

Beth Surapine performing George Gershwin’s popular “Rhapsody in Blue” in April 2005 with The Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra at Milford Town Hall.

Beth performed with the CHSO back in April of 2005, when she did George Gershwin’s popular “Rhapsody in Blue” with us.  I still remember that evening, she was wearing a beautiful blue dress, I was playing clarinet in the orchestra on that concert, (so I could get to play the famous clarinet solo at the beginning!), my friend Tom Hojnacki was on the podium, guest conducting.

I can still picture her as we finished the piece, the audience rose to its feet, and she practically leaped into Tom’s arms in a big triumphant hug, like, “Wow, I really did that!!!”  Cute!

Beth has been a collaborator with me for decades, all the way back to my senior recital at the Hartt School in 1981 – accompanying and performing with me on recitals all over New England, and together, we’ve performed most of the clarinet/piano repertoire that there is to play.   She’s always been the best accompanist that I’ve played with – sensitive to any phrasing that I might want to do, and she totally possesses all of the “chops” needed to play the hardest works out there.

Last spring she played with me on a chamber concert in Whitinsville, at our CHSO Alternatives Chamber Series at the Whitin Mill.   Our Dad was in the final weeks of his fight with congestive heart disease, (he passed two weeks later), and it was nice to play music with family at that time.  My son Zach played violin on the program with us and it was a special evening.

That night I asked her if she might want to consider doing the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto with the orchestra in the 2017-18 season.  Her first reaction, was “Oh My God, I love that piece it’s my favorite!”  Her second reaction was “Oh My God, let me think it over, I have to see if I can work it up and play it in time!”

After our Dad’s funeral, she came up to me and said, “Yes, let’s do this.   I want to do this for Dad.”

So began months of preparation on her part, beginning to work out the intricacies of this amazingly complex and technical piano piece.  She lives the life of a typical musician/music teacher – like all of our CHSO musicians, she teaches dozens of private students every week, teaches music in a Parochial school, and is organist and choir master for a Catholic church in Enfield CT where we grew up.  Pretty much the equivalent of at least two full time jobs, and then home to play Rachmaninoff for two or three hours every night until 11 PM for the last nine months!  Her plan was to have the piece largely “fleshed out” by Labor Day, and then use the next months to perfect it and live with it until it became second nature to her.

Last Thursday, we arranged to meet at her house in Stafford so she could play it through while I read the conductor’s score and practiced “waving the stick” at the orchestra, so I would have a good idea of what she was going to do with it, and make sure I would know how to lead the orchestra behind her.

I arrived promptly at Noontime, and could hear the piano pounding away inside the house from the driveway!   I walked in and she said, “oh boy!  I’m really a little nervous to play this in front of you!”  I said, “relax, I’m just here to follow you on anything you do with it!”  (She’s always said that she gets nervous playing with or for me, must be some kind of “big brother/little sister” thing!)

And so she started.   The big, deliberate opening piano chords, getting bigger and louder at the opening and then introducing the orchestra’s entrance with one of the most familiar and popular melodies of the Romantic period.   I was singing the orchestra melodies along with her, as her fingers were flying at Mach speed up and down the keyboard in an opening display of technical virtuosity until the piece arrives at its first calm moment where the piano goes into an extended solo exposition of the main themes. 

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As I’m waving a pencil, (pretend baton!), I’m listening in amazement as the Concerto comes to life from her hands, sounding exactly like any recording of Horowitz, Rubenstein, Gary Graffman or any other great piano icon of the past 50 years.  It was a moment of uncontrollable emotion, as I thought on how together, a brother and sister would work together to bring this monumental musical masterpiece to life for our audience, and in a sense pay tribute to our parents who supported all of us kids throughout our lives no matter what we chose for a career path.  (Three of us are professional musicians, and our other two brothers both studied clarinet also.  One is a house builder in Connecticut and plays clarinet in the Governor’s Foot Guard Band, the other is an airline pilot, and spends his time cheering for the Red Sox and Patriots from his Atlanta home!)

We came to the end of the first movement and we were both a mess, with tears streaming out of our eyes!  (I know, a little sappy).  I said, “Wow, you have got this!   You’ve really mastered it!   Our audience is going to be blown away by this concert.”

After working through the second and third movements, we ended with such a sense of “relief” and security, and achievement.  (More hers than mine!   All I have to do is wave a stick, after all.)  

It’s going to be a big week next week.   Rehearsals with the orchestra begin on Tuesday night, with a visit to Franklin for an “Open Rehearsal at Franklin High School.”  Thursday morning the piano will be moved into Milford Town Hall and tuned for the evening rehearsal in our own hall.  Dress rehearsal on Friday, and concert on Saturday.   

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And by the way, that’s just one half of our concert next week.   The first half features an equally monumental work, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral tone poem fantasy, “Scheherazade”, which is based on tales from “1001 Arabian Nights.”   That work features extensive solo violin passages, which will be performed by our truly amazing CHSO Concertmaster, Angel Valchinov.   I’ll write more about that early next week, but for now, I’ll just say that all of us at CHSO and all of our audience and community are SO lucky to have Angel as our Concertmaster for these past ten years.  He is truly a “world-class” violinist and a terrific colleague and leader of our gorgeous sounding string section.

Oh, and by the way, they are both teachers!

Chamber Music with Friends

Well, the Holidays are REALLY over, and it’s been a few weeks of getting back into the daily routine and onto the next Claflin Hill event.

Glenn Zaleski, piano, with Rick Rosato, bass and Colin Stranahan on percussion.

Glenn Zaleski, piano, with Rick Rosato, bass and Colin Stranahan on percussion.

We just resumed our season last weekend with a phenomenal performance given by the Stranahan/Zaleski/Rosato Jazz Trio at our new Milford Federal Jazz at the Mill series in the Alternatives Whitin Mill Singh Performance center on Friday, January 12th.

We had a large audience, ready to continue on with the year and the season of musical exploration and community, and the trio was a real treat.   Pianist Glenn Zaleski grew up in Boyston, and went to New York City for his music study, where he met up with Drummer Colin Stranahan and Bassist Rick Rosato.   The three have been working and performing together now for over 8 years in venues from NYC to Montreal Jazz Festival to the West Coast, and their chemistry flowed out into the audience.  

As a “classical” musician, I’m always astounded to sit and experience great jazz musicians – their technique on their instruments is no more astounding than our CHSO orchestral players, but how do they play these entire evenings of music without music and being totally in “cinque” with each other, and making it sound totally spontaneous and improvised right in the moment?  Maybe they wonder about how we orchestral people put things together, but I’m always in awe!

Next up on the CHSO season is the second performance of our new Claflin Hill – Apple Tree Arts Chamber Series on Saturday, January 27th in the Great Hall of Apple Tree Arts newly refurbished home in One Grafton Common.  

Johann Soults, Cello, has played with the CHSO since its beginning. Come here him in the more intimate setting of a chamber music concert on Saturday, January 27th at Apple Tree Arts, Grafton, MA

Johann Soults, Cello, has played with the CHSO since its beginning. Come here him in the more intimate setting of a chamber music concert on Saturday, January 27th at Apple Tree Arts, Grafton, MA

This concert features the Claflin Hill Symphony String Quartet, with a talented group of CHSO string “principals” – CHSO First Violinists Lidija Peno and Dimitar Krastev, with CHSO Principal Violist Dimitar Petkov and CHSO Principal Cellist Johann Soults.

The centerpiece of their program is the Brahms String Quartet No 3, along with the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, which I’ll be playing with them.

It’s actually the exact date of Mozart’s birthday on January 27th, and we’re premiering a new work – “Birthday Suite” by Rhode Island composer Vern Graham – which he wrote as an “homage” to the boy genius.   I’m looking forward to hearing Vern’s new work, which intertwines quotes from many of Mozart’s most popular and well known masterpieces into a tapestry of “neo classic” experience, and we all get to sing “Happy Birthday Dear Wolfgang” at the end!!

Although I’ve played the Mozart Clarinet Quintet at least four or five times over the last 18 years for our audiences, it’s always something to look forward to again, and to discover new and amazing aspects of it as we rehearse it together again.   How many of you – like me – have watched “Casablanca” or “Gone With the Wind” again and again, and still savor every moment and line of them as if for the first time?

Mozart child.jpg

The Mozart Quintet is perhaps one his greatest chamber music achievements, inspired by his good friend and fellow “carouser” Anton Stadler.  It’s been used in movies, TV commercials and was especially effective in the final episode of the great 1970s television series,  M.A.S.H.

In that final episode, as the Korean War is winding down, the MASH unit becomes home for a short time to some captured North Korean soldiers, who happen to have some of their own “ethnic” Korean instruments with them.   Major Charles Emerson Winchester, (from Boston!), takes them under his wing, and begins to try to teach them how to play the Mozart Clarinet Quintet during their wait for repatriation home.   It was almost impossible for them to understand the Major, and also to grasp the language of Western Classical music, and yet in their almost “wordless” meetings day after day, they kept at it.

In the final scene of the series, the prisoners are loaded on a truck for transportation to their next destination, hopefully home, amid tearful good-byes, they begin playing the Mozart from the back of the truck as it rolled down the road away from Major Winchester.   IN that one moment, this monumental masterpiece of human artistic endeavor, performed in totally foreign voices and sounds, shines forth it’s divine inspired beauty – sounds that can cross all boundaries, all ethnicities, and all ideologues to bring people together.

I’ve always thought that the most telling test of whether a work of art is truly great or not is whether it’s divine inspiration can be felt and heard in any kind of setting or instrumentation – Bach is one of those truly great composers.

Getting to play with my colleagues from the CHSO on this program, as opposed to standing in front of them with a stick, is really a wonderful treat for me, (and maybe it reassures them that I can actually play an instrument with them, as opposed to just being some hard-ass taskmaster!!!).

I’m really looking forward to the Mozart, to hearing Vern’s new and fun work, and especially to hearing my colleagues play the Brahms – who ranks up there as another of my truly favorite composers!  

Beth Surapine, piano, will join the CHSO on Saturday, February 3rd for 'Russian Romance.'

Beth Surapine, piano, will join the CHSO on Saturday, February 3rd for 'Russian Romance.'

And for us, the true test of our musicianship – is whether or not we can bring these works to life yet again, after so many thousands or maybe even millions of performances in the world since their first sounding – and make them sound so spontaneous and fresh – as if we were “jazz” musicians just making these pieces up out of our heads for the first time ever.   Great music, new every time you play it or hear it.

Next UP:   one of the most monumental and historic performances yet – The Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 with my sister Beth Surapine, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” featuring our phenomenal CHSO Concertmaster, Angel Valchinov.  Watch for more!

The year of the teacher.


I first wrote this little missive about the music teachers who started ME out on clarinet several years ago.

Mr. John C. Salamone gave me the start on a lifetime of music and study on September 30, 1968.  After I started out in elementary school with him, I then began private lessons with another Enfield CT public school teacher, Mr. Lawrence J. Climan, who was also my Junior High Band Director between 1972 and 1974.

Mr. Salamone passed away in 2015, Mr. Climan died in 2006.

Just after Mr. Salamone passed, his daughter Maria Salamone VanNostrand, (a fellow clarinet student in the Enfield Public School Music Department – she was two years behind me) – wrote to me that she had somehow stumbled across this little blog out there in the Internet ether, and had read it to her father just before he died.   Although he was suffering from some dementia, she said he remembered me and I’d like to think that in his last days, he received thanks and recognition for a lifetime of dedication to teaching music to young people.

As we launch our Eighteenth Season, and celebrate “The Year of the Music Teacher” at Claflin Hill Symphony, I’d like to bring this humble note out of our archives as the beginning of a year of dedication, thanks and support for all of those “Mr. Salamone’s and Mr. Climan’s” who toil in the vineyard of our education system.

Thank you Mr. Salamone and Mr. Climan, I think of you both almost every day, and tell YOUR stories to my own students now.

Paul Surapine

With Extreme Gratitude . . . .

John C. Salamone and Lawrence J. Climan – two names that will mean absolutely nothing to anyone reading this, and they have most likely already been long forgotten in my hometown of Enfield, CT, but they were “laborers in the cultural vineyard,” working for a public school teacher’s salary in the 1960s and 70s, and teaching thousands of kids like me.

Like most students in our region’s schools, I began clarinet studies in the public school system of Enfield, Connecticut at the age of nine.  I can still remember my first day – September 30, 1968 – we were called down to the “health room” – our small elementary school didn’t have a dedicated music room – and there we waited in the hall – 6 or 7 nervous fourth graders – to receive our brand new clarinets.  The door opened, and Mr. Salamone stood in front of us, regarding us sternly – a gentleman born of Italian immigrants, with a dark mustache – and he waved us into the room.  (I now tell young students that with that wave, he waved me into the rest of my life – a continuing journey and exploration of study that still has many miles to go).

Teri, Paul and Kal.jpg

I was the worst one in the class that day – while everyone else was walking around the room tooting and squeaking their first notes, I couldn’t even get a sound to come out of the alien object.  I was trying to hum through it like a kazoo, while Mr. Salamone patiently tried to get me to calm down and actually blow air through the thing.  I rode my bike home for lunch with my new clarinet proudly riding in the bike basket, and promptly forgot how to put it together the right way at home.  However, I was a very determined little boy, and by February, Mr. Salamone looked at me in my group lesson and said, “young man, someday you will be a fine clarinet player.” 

After my first year, my parents sought out and engaged private lessons for me, with Mr. Climan, who was the Director of Bands at the junior high school.  Mr. Climan was a Hartford boy, from the tenements and educated in the Connecticut state schools.  He built a band program at our John F. Kennedy Junior High School through the 70s that would put most of today’s high school programs to shame.  He had the nobility to send me onto the Hartt School of Music for lessons by eighth grade, recognizing that I needed even more advanced instruction.

Paul played with the Emerson String Quartet in 1981.

Paul played with the Emerson String Quartet in 1981.

There began my musical journey, the first steps of which were nurtured by two men whose job positions don’t even exist today in many of our public school systems – two men who I never got to thank properly for what they gave me and so many others – two men whose names will fade into oblivion, probably like my own – but here in the annunciation of their names one more time, they live forever – two heroes who lived meagerly amongst their neighbors and labored for the cause of culture.

Today, many communities in our region look immediately at their arts budgets for cuts in the quest to grapple with this economic crisis – they cut here and there, snipping away at the underpinnings and foundations of our culture, without the foresight to look upon the future cultural and societal desolation they will leave for their grandchildren.

Art is For Man’s Sake.

Paul Surapine
Executive & Artistic Director
The Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra

Paul Surapine can be reached at



Claflin Hill Salutes Our Nation’s Veterans

Claflin Hill, in its entirety, is, and always has been, very patriotic. We are deeply appreciative of the service and sacrifice of both our nation’s men and women who currently serve, and our Veterans.   At every concert throughout the summer, we dedicate a segment of our programming to recognize our Veterans – performing “Armed Forces Salute” on every program we do, and usually several other selections, such as John Williams “Midway March” and his “Hymn to the Fallen” from “Saving Private Ryan.”  Several years ago, we devoted an entire Symphony concert at Milford Town Hall to those who serve us. It was called “Let Freedom Ring” and we are probably one of the few symphony orchestras that have ever done that outside of a national holiday event.

Maybe that comes from my upbringing – my late father was an extremely proud Veteran of the United States Air Force – he used to bring us kids to air shows at Air Force bases throughout New England – Hanscom, Pease, Westover, Bradley Field in Connecticut – and we NEVER missed a Memorial or Veterans Day parade, and until his last year, he never did either.  In his day, EVERYONE served, and it was for many, “the best days of their lives.”  The lasting brotherhood that transcends family.

As someone who did not serve in our Armed Forces, I often think of the soliloquy from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” which roughly paraphrased says, “ . . .  and men now abed in England will feel their manhood cheapened because they were not here with us at Agincourt on St. Crispin’s Day.”

I grew up in the immediate Post-Vietnam Era – the draft was over, there was no looming threat to America, and I was going into music.   I hope to serve my community and my country as best I can, using the talents God has given me, but I can never equate my meager contributions against the sacrifice and calling that is answered every day by fellow citizens who enter into our Armed Forces, and of those that don’t return home – having given as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it, “the last full measure of devotion.”

On Tuesday, July 18, 2017, The Claflin Hill Symphony Summer Winds take the stage at the Milford Musicians Pavilion in Milford Town Park for the third concert of the 22nd Season of Family Night at the Bandstand.  On that evening, we will devote an entire evening of music to recognizing our Nation’s Veterans, and especially those who served during the Vietnam War Era.

This year marks roughly the 50th Anniversary of men and women in our Armed Forces starting to return home from that conflict – beginning from 1965 after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, when we began the military buildup in that tragic country – in 1967 troops began “rotating” home after tours of duty there.

They came home to a country descending into societal chaos – between the growing Civil Rights Movement and the growing Anti-War Movement – we were a nation at war with ourselves, and the young men and women who had done what their Nation asked of them, came home to protests, diatribes, rocks, and taunts.   They received no thanks, no parades, no concerts, and many were, in fact, embarrassed or even fearful, to wear the uniforms in which they served so nobly out in public. 

A shame on our society, a stain which will never really be bleached out.

I once read that the ultimate sign of a declining and decadent society is when it asks their soldiers to serve and then ignores their plight when they return home.   Our country veered dangerously close to that in those years.   Perhaps we’ve learned something, but it is a lesson that must be reinforced every day and taught to every next generation. 

The political dialogue that transpires before a nation goes to war is important and necessary, but once it reaches a decision, it is up to the citizenry of that nation to then support the members of their society that are sent forth to carry out the task that the politicians have directed them to.

Perhaps it should be a requirement that political leaders serve in the military before they make those decisions, but as citizens, it is our duty to support them, to thank them, and to provide any and all manner of care that is needed when they return.

Would that we lived in a world where that profession was not needed, but the human race has not yet evolved to that state.   There are and will probably always be people and ideologies out there that wish us harm, or do not believe in a society of free thought and free choice.

                                     Michael Mobilia in vietnam

                                     Michael Mobilia in vietnam

My wife Susan’s uncle, Michael Mobilia served in Vietnam as a member of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade – “The Redcatchers.**”  He was an MIT engineering major, volunteered for the Army and requested Vietnam.   He was the bright shining star of a small family, and he did his duty as he saw it.  

Two U.S. Army officers paid that tragic visit to his parent’s front door in Medford, MA on Father’s Day in 1969 to inform them of his death.  It was a blow that changed and resonated through that family to this day.

I know that my wife’s family thinks of Michael every single day-- of all that could have been, the accomplishments he never lived to fulfill, the cousins they never had because he never came home to marry and have a family of his own, set against the ultimate result of that war and it’s 58,000 casualties.

Vietnam reunion

Michael – and every Veteran of that period was a hero – who all deserve a seat at the table with the great American heroes throughout our history into the present day.

It is ideal to hope for a better world, and the “better angels of our nature” – to quote Abraham Lincoln again – but at the same time, we must always be vigilant and ready to protect the freedoms and ideologies that have been handed to us outright in the cradle.

Join us on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 at 6:30 PM in Milford Town Park, for an evening of remembrance and thanks.

Paul Surapine

**The Brigade is Born

The Beginning

Formally activated June 1st, 1966 the Brigade began small unit training June 27th at Fort Benning, Georgia to be followed by eight weeks of field training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Fulfilling the concept of a modern Light Infantry Brigade ("Light Swift & Accurate” is the 199th’s motto) and its role in counterinsurgency warfare the Brigade was designed as a hitchhiker unit with heavy equipment kept to a minimum.

Following intensive preparations, a 280-man advance party left at the end of November 1966. After final review the majority of Redcatchers were flown to Oakland, California where they boarded the USS Sultan and the USS Pope for the more than a two week trip across the Pacific Ocean. The USS Sultan docked at Vung Tau and two days later the USS Pope docked and everyone moved to meet the advanced party at a tent encampment north of Long Binh that was to become the Brigade Main Base, Camp Frenzell-Jones.

Welcome Home

The Return

The 199th Light Infantry Brigade returned from distinguished service in Vietnam and Cambodia against a determined and aggressive enemy, and was inactivated in a ceremony October 15, 1970 on York Field at Fort Benning. The Redcatchers hence etched their name in eleven hard-won campaigns with over 750 Killed in Action in the last sustained Infantry combat of the twentieth century. Brigade units earned the Presidential Unit Citation, Valorous Unit Award, Meritorious Unit Commendation, two awards of the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, and the Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Honor Medal First Class.

It really WAS a very good year...


Well, it’s June 1st, and actually it’s sunny out and almost warm this morning!   It’s been a funny spring –mostly dismally damp and chilly with a few “interspersed” days of sudden summer heat wave!!

The 2016-17 Claflin Hill Symphony season has been finished for a little over a month now – it’s hard to believe how fast it flew by!