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?

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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 psurapine@claflinhill.org



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!