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.

Winding up for the CHSO Season Finale- Saturday, April 29th

It’s hard to believe that another Claflin Hill Symphony season is nearing it’s conclusion!   It seems as though it was only a few weeks ago that I was writing some “blog” installments talking about the opening concert in November, and “BAM” – we’re about to enter April and present the final concerts of both the CHSO Symphony Series and the CHSO Alternatives Chamber Series.

Matthew Pearl, CHYS concerto competition winner and one of Paul's clarinet students

Matthew Pearl, CHYS concerto competition winner and one of Paul's clarinet students

Just yesterday, we presented our Annual CHSO Family Symphony Matinee concert, which always features our Claflin Hill Youth Symphonies students performing alongside of their CHSO mentors.  It was an inspiring and exciting afternoon!  The biggest audience we’ve ever had for the Sunday Matinee, and a phenomenal program of music by the great composers that was used in movies and cartoons! 

Our CHYS kids were outstanding – and there were times when you couldn’t tell the difference between the professional CHSO and the students!  Really !!!

Coming up on Friday, April 7th, we close out the Fifth season of the CHSO Alternatives Chamber Music Series at the Singh Performance Center in the Alternatives Whitin Mill in Whitinsville.

The program is entitled, “Paul Surapine – Family & Friends” – yes I have a few of each!) – and features my sister, Beth Surapine on Piano, and my son, Zachary on Violin, along with some special “student/friends” from my teaching studio at the Rhode Island Philharmonic School of Music.

Paul Surapine.1 flyer Chamber Series.jpg

Beth and I used to perform together extensively between the mid-1980s and 2005 or so.   She’s really about the best piano accompanist I’ve ever played with – maybe it’s a “sibling thing” but it’s almost as if we don’t need to rehearse – we both know exactly how each of us are going to play a certain phrase and it just comes together like magic.   She performed Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with us in 2005 – that concert still stands out as one of our most memorable evenings!

For this “reunion” concert, we’ve picked out some of our favorite oldies from recitals past – the Finzi “Bagatelles”,  Lutaslowski “Dance Preludes”, and some great arrangements by my revered teacher Kalmen Opperman and my fellow Opperman student Dick Stoltzman of everything from Chopin to jazz to New Age.  

Zachary is going to join his Dad and Auntie to play the Darius Milhaud “Suite for Clarinet, Violin and Piano” – a work we’ve played together once or twice.   Zach is all grown up now – as a little boy, he used to play games in the Town Hall with his brother Josh after they helped load in equipment for the concerts – now he’s playing violin in the halls and is becoming an integral part of the orchestra that grew up alongside of him.  Kind of a nice thing to see happen!  

That program, together with our CHSO Season Finale, “Road Trip!” – which features Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” – one of my very favorite pieces in the world – is going to make for a very emotional end of this – our Seventeenth CHSO Season, and it WAS a Very Good Year.

It WILL BE a very good year!

Yes, I know, it’s been a bit of time since the last installment!  It’s been a real “zoo” here at Claflin Hill since the end of August!   Although we had been working throughout the summer on preparations for the upcoming season, it still all avalanches down on us right after Labor Day – between Season Ticket renewals, Program book ad sales, finalizing the programming, confirming musicians in the orchestra, not to mention that at the same time, the Claflin Hill Youth Symphonies resume operations  – this year we have almost 100 aspiring young music students participating in our CHYS programs!!! 

The piles of work folders and “to-do” lists on my desks and tables here in the office have finally started to clear, and I’m starting to feel like the guy who was drowning in water 3 feet over his head, has finally gotten the water line down to about chest level and can breathe again!!!!

In spite of all of that, and in spite of the late evening hours back in the office after teaching all afternoon, it’s all GOOD.  In fact FUN, because we ARE Building something that is getting stronger, bigger and better.

Planning the launch of another CHSO Symphony year is kind of like planning a gigantic family re-union!

Dimitar Petkov, CHSO principal violist.

The musicians in the orchestra are “champing” at the bit, looking forward to our first rehearsal on Tuesday, November 1st, and I know that evening will be special – full of hugs, kisses, sharing of pictures of our kids, grandkids, special activities from the summer and then the much anticipated moment of finally sitting down together again and making some of the most gorgeous symphony music ever written come to life again in our hall.

Because we’re really a very small “operation” with myself as the main office worker, season ticket renewals have to be done by phone – patrons calling into the office to confirm their reservation of their seats from last year, and others who are calling because they had come to a concert or two last season and now would like to order the entire season.

And I get to have nice, sometimes 5 or 10 minute chats with them, as they share their opinions and excitement over another CHSO season about to unfold.   Really, that’s a pretty neat thing about Claflin Hill.  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could call the Boston Symphony and place your order with the music director, and talk to him about what you like about the orchestra, or even what you would like to hear sometime soon!  So far, everyone I’ve spoken to are as excited as the orchestra musicians are about the upcoming season and programming.

The music for the first CHSO concert arrived via UPS last week and is now out in the mail to the orchestra members to begin their practice and preparations.   That’s almost like “Christmas gift” unwrapping – opening  boxes of orchestral scores and parts for Brahms, Beethoven and Mendelssohn – glancing at it for the first time and imagining the sounds we’ll bring to life.  Yes, life is pretty wonderful sometimes!

Next week, next installment I’m planning to write more about our first program, “In the Shadow of Ludwig van…” featuring Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, the Mendelssohn Symphony No. 5 and Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 4, but today I want to leave you all with another thought.

Our CHSO Alternatives Chamber Concert Series actually resumes on Friday evening, October 21st at 7:30 PM at the Alternative’s Whitin Mill Singh Performance Center in Whitinsville.

The opening concert features “Brass Venture” – which is a brass quintet made up of most of the CHSO Brass Principal players.  They are an enormously energetic, powerful and entertaining bunch and each of them individually is a major virtuoso on their instruments.   Together, they create a gorgeous brass choir sound and explore everything from Renaissance antiphonal music to New Orleans jazz. 

Remember the “Canadian Brass”???   “Brass Venture” is the CHSO version of that popular group.  They are great players, and they’re fun to be in the same room with, as their lively and sometimes comedic banter bouncing back and forth in between pieces is as entertaining as the music!!  I kind of always think of our brass guys as a big bunch of “Football” stars, sitting back there in the orchestra ready to unleash power at the wave of a hand.  Imagine them as “the Gronk” with musical instruments, and you’ll get the idea!!

Chamber music is a totally different experience for the ear and senses – the Singh Performance Center with its “stadium style” seating and small hall make for a quite intimate concert evening – you feel like you’re right there with the musicians as they play – almost like you had come to their living room to visit for an evening and they took out their horns and said, “hey, want to here this?”

If you haven’t tried the CHSO Alternatives Chamber Series yet, I urge you to think about coming over and being in our “living room” on Friday, October 21st.   You won’t be disappointed, I guarantee, and what a way to jump start the Claflin Hill season!

See you all soon, more to talk about next week.  (no more vacations or boating trips, but I guess the upside of the end of summer is the beginning of CHSO again !!! – as Bill Murray would say, “I guess we’ve got that going for us!”

Paul Surapine  

Art transcends time and place...

Blog No. 2  ~   Thursday, August 11, 2016    10:30 AM . . .

Well, the word is out about our upcoming CHSO 2016-17 Season, and a lot of people – both audience members and musicians -- commented after my first blog installment of the season on how excited they are about the upcoming concert programs.

As I mentioned in that first blog, this season I want to turn our attention to some of the great “symphonies” of the orchestral literature.

The “Symphony” as a form of music composition is one of the pinnacles of our repertoire.  Going back to the classical period, it evolved out of the Baroque period – Bach wrote a number of “Suites” for orchestra, but Haydn and Mozart truly developed the form into what we now call a “symphony.”

A symphony is most commonly comprised of four movements – usually a large, energetic first movement; a slow, lulling and beautiful second movement; a brisk third movement, usually in the form of a “minuet” or dance “scherzo” and a big “finale” movement. 

In fact, when we use the term “Symphony Orchestra,” we’re really describing the kind of orchestra we are:  symphony being an “adjective” that describes the type or size of “orchestra” we’re talking about:   an orchestra ensemble of musicians capable of presenting and performing the larger forms of music that are symphonies.  There are also “chamber” orchestras, string orchestras, etc….

As a symphony orchestra, it is our mission, and indeed even our sacred responsibility, to use the fine vehicle of an ensemble that we’ve built to bring these great masterworks to life, and to sustain and perpetuate the great culture of Western Civilization’s music tradition into future generations. 

Many of our audience members never heard a symphony orchestra concert before they ventured into the Claflin Hill concert hall, and many of them probably never explored the long and rich culture that our great composers and artists of the last 300 years have bequeathed to us. 

I’ve always believed that if properly introduced to these works, they can become accessible to every person.   This belief goes back to my college days, when I was required to take a Western Civilization Art course as part my degree curriculum.   I was never really a big “visual art” appreciator, didn’t frequent the local art museums, (both Springfield and Hartford had very reputable museums – The Springfield Museum of Fine Art, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford – both of which are still there).  I would often be there performing concerts in those venues, but the art was lost on me!

In my Western art class – which was three hours long every Wednesday evening – the professor would project slide after slide up on the big screen, and walk us through the entire history of visual art – painting and sculpture – and explain how the forms evolved – the use of light, perspective, color.  It was fascinating to me and I quickly began to understand things about those great masters – Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet and more – that made them great, revered, respected and loved long after their time on earth.


I’ve always thought that we musicians should explain what we do, and what these monumental pieces of music we so love are, to new audiences in the same manner, and that is the “genesis” of the CHSO concert presentation concept for the last sixteen years.  From feedback I receive from our audience members and friends, it is much appreciated and it’s working!  Our audience is growing, and together, we’re really on a trip of exploration and discovery of our cultural heritage.

Music is an essential part of life and our life experience.  I think almost anybody would immediately feel the impact on their daily existence if the world was suddenly silent and void of music around us.  For many, that music is mostly in the “pop” culture vein, but music is music.

I think of music as having two essential elements that touch our souls and draw us to it like moths to a bright light – rhythm and melody.   Rhythm touches the “visceral,” almost primeval part of our being – the driving beat of a dance tune, something we’ve all experienced in a dance club perhaps or at a large “rock” concert.   Beautiful melodies that touch our reflective and evocative nature – that gorgeous song you first heard together with your significant other – “that’s “our” song!”

All of this can be found in so-called “classical” music – the energy and driving force of a Bruce Springsteen show can be felt in a work of Beethoven or Stravinsky; the beauty of a Brahms melody can touch us even more deeply than a melody from Adele.

As musicians, it is our duty to help new audience members make these connections, and open a door into an entire new world of experience – after all, the stuff we play has been around for 300 years!  Somebody must think it’s pretty great!!! We’ll have to wait and see if today’s “pop” artists are still being listened to in the year 2316.   (I will try to check in then!!)

Next week, I’ll talk a bit about our first program -- “In the Shadow of Ludwig Van…” – and we’ll explore more of those monumental “symphonies” that we’re about to share together this season.

Have a great weekend; don’t let the summer pass you by.   I think I’ll head out to Webster Lake now!

Paul Surapine