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!

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.

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.

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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



It WILL Be A VERY Good Year!!

Thursday, July 28, 2016    10:30 AM . . .

Well, back to the blog undertaking!   I hope everyone has been having a great summer so far – I’m in the office for a few minutes today, just before heading up to Bridgton, Maine and our Aunt Eva’s house on Long Lake for an extended weekend stay, hopefully full of sun filled days out on the water, early mornings sitting on the dock by the water’s edge, watching the morning mist lift off the lake, and hearing the calling of the loons as they float up and down the eleven miles plus expanse of gorgeous Maine vista.

It’s been a good summer so far here at Claflin Hill – Family Night at the Bandstand is in full “swing” (actually the Fantasy Big Band is coming next week for an evening of Swing Era classics!) – and believe or not, we’ve already completed the season programming for this coming season of CHSO concerts!

Fantasy Big Band at Family Night at the Bandstand

As I related in my springtime missives, planning a symphony season is a sometimes long process of waiting for ideas and inspirations to occur – I may start with one idea and as weeks of contemplation over that idea cook away in my head, it may take us in a different direction altogether.

The “Muses” struck early this year – and I’m TOTALLY excited by the menu of great music we’ve laid out for our communal sharing and exploration.   You can already view the roster of concerts on the website, and season tickets will go on sale in mid-August.  Watch for more details in those email blasts from Bernadette soon.

I even love our season “tag-line” – “It WILL Be A VERY Good Year”   which in a sense, pays tribute to the great ending of last year’s season, referencing the Sinatra classic which was so perfectly performed by the orchestra and Tommy Gatturna on our April season finale, and after all – this is our Seventeenth Season.   “When I was seventeen . . ."

I started out hoping to program a number of great Symphonies of the repertoire – I had Brahms in mind, and Jean Sibelius, the Finnish composer, and a few others.  I wanted to make this season an “exploration” of the “Symphony” form – performing those great “chestnuts” of our repertoire that we’ve yet to present, but also keeping true to our Claflin Hill concept of “fusion cuisine” for music – presenting great classics AND music that may be more familiar to audience members.

The tricky aspect of doing that when you’re playing something like a Brahms symphony is – what do you pair that with on the same night that will seem appropriate to the beauty and exquisiteness of his music – or any of the other amazing and stellar composers of our culture.   You don’t want to serve a “filet mignon” alongside of a Twinkie, for instance!!!

But, as I said, the “Muses” awoke early, and all sorts of ideas came into play and quickly it evolved into a lineup of works that excite me and also all of the musicians of the orchestra, who – as they sent in their confirmations for work during the season, all commented on what a terrific program we have to look forward to.

I’ll write more about upcoming concerts when I return from Maine, starting with our season opener, “In the Shadow of Ludwig Van . . “ and going through the season with you.

I know you’re all going to LOVE this season’s offerings – and I guarantee it will be a fitting continuation of the Claflin Hill “mystique” that has become our trademark as an orchestra.

Watch for more news soon, and by the way, if you haven’t been to Family Night at the Bandstand, be sure to put that on your calendar –every Tuesday night at Milford Town Park through August 23rd.   And Claflin Hill will be visiting Grafton, Whitinsville and Blackstone coming up this summer too!

Off to Maine.  I have to go pack the boat now.

Paul Surapine

American Dreamscapes- Epilogue

So now it’s Monday after the CHSO Season Finale, and I’m closing the books on another year – our sixteenth consecutive season.

Over the past month we’ve been talking about the program for the season finale– building excitement and anticipation amongst both our audience and orchestra members– and then it was concert week.   We immersed in intense rehearsals to put together this complex program in three nights of practice – coordinating new vocal charts, narrators, navigating through the intricacies of Leonard Bernstein’s masterful West Side Story, and then it was concert night and I was so intensely focused on getting through each part of the program, that I wasn’t aware of it as a whole.

After the concert, I was almost in a fog.  All that was running through my mind at the time was, “It’s over, I think it was good.”   People were coming up to myself and orchestra members exclaiming praise on the event that night.   I know the “America the Beautiful” was an effective encore after the evening’s flow – everyone in the hall was on their feet singing strongly – it was like a sudden “Flash Mob” – and for a moment, I was brought to tears.

We all adjourned to the Caffe Sorrento to unwind, have some great food, and share stories.   I was still kind of in a stupor.   It’s over, the season is done.   Was it as good a finale as the season deserved?  Was I at my best?   I think it was a similar feeling to “post partem!”

Below is the message I sent out today to the orchestra. It pretty much sums up my feeling today about the night, our orchestra, and our audience.

“I just want to thank you all and congratulate you on a phenomenal Season Finale on Saturday night – a truly appropriate climax to an already amazing and stellar season.

It was a complex and varied program, with all the new charts, and the constantly changing instrument set up, and dealing with a singer and narrators to boot.  (Imagine, we were thinking of also doing a projected image package on the screen along with it, and the TV station had wanted to bring a new 30-foot camera boom to extend over the orchestra to get some better individual camera angles on you!!!!!)

After the concert, I was so mentally exhausted, I wasn’t even sure how happy I was with the concert!  I thought we had done a pretty good job with everything, but I wasn’t sure it was as great as I hoped or that I was as perfect as I wanted to be.   I know the audience seemed pretty ecstatic over it.

I just finished watching a video clip of the entire Bernstein, shot by Bernadette up in the side balcony.   Watch this clip and relive this stellar moment!

I was astounded.    Astonished, humbled, moved, proud, and grateful for the privilege of working with you all as fellow musicians and community advocates.

The performance was worthy of national broadcast, and going viral so we can share your great artistry with the world.

The GORGEOUS orchestra sound, and especially of the strings in the elegiac slow moments in the Bernstein – reminiscent of the Intermezzo from Cavaleria Rusticana --  the perfect intonation in the woodwinds in those moments, the power and percussive force of our brass and percussionists – and the total emotion, intensity and energy of all you brought our audience a profound rendering of Lenny’s masterwork – creating a moving narrative and morality play for our community – a fitting centerpiece to the theme of the evening.

And I know that our Claflin Hill audience and supporters feel the same way about THEIR orchestra.

It is INDEED quite a feat we’ve all accomplished together – the creation of a vibrant, musical culture and a community – sharing great music, educating young people, a workplace for great musicians to create together and be a family, and an audience that participates in a true communal sense – supporting, engaging in dialogue and sharing with friends and enlarging the circle.

Thank you again to all – orchestra members, audience members, board members, donors and corporate sponsors.   And CONGRATULATION to ALL of YOU.   You have made this happen.

Stay tuned, for there’s more to come. . . . .

Paul Surapine


The Dream Lives On: The Kennedy Brothers

I was really too young to remember the years of “Camelot” and “The New Frontier, ” but I’ve often told people that I have three mental images from childhood that I can turn to as my “earliest memories.”  All of them have linkage to our upcoming season finale next Saturday, “American Dreamscapes.”

I was probably three years old, (I was born in July of 1959), and I can remember an afternoon, perhaps in the winter, when my mother was watching over me and my baby brother.   She was ironing my father’s shirts and handkerchiefs in the den, while watching afternoon television, and I was playing on the floor.

There was a man on the television screen, in pretty much a “full face camera angle” talking.  I asked my mother who this guy was, and she answered, “That’s the President of our country, and he’s talking to the people.”  Well, to my three year old mind, he seemed a bit boring, and I wished he would talk faster and get done, so we could return to watching the afternoon cartoons!

I can, however, remember the image of that face, imprinted indelibly in my memory – the square, handsome face, the eyes as they danced and his smile as he quipped and bantered with the reporters in the witty way for which he was known.

That image will remain forever in the memories of many Americans, as we didn’t get to watch him age He will be forever young, handsome and vital – an image that transferred over into the outlook and spirit of the country in that short time. 

It was a time of optimism, of absolute “can do” spirit – the generation that had gone to war and saved the world from tyranny and horror was back home, raising families, moving out of the “triple-deckers” in the cities and buying new homes in the suburbs – each of them taking hold of their piece of the American Dream, and building their own little castle and estate.

We had a President who was of that generation, and he had a stunning and cultured wife, and his beautiful children ran and played in the White House – bringing youth and new energy to its staid halls.

And his words inspired us – whether you voted for him or not – his words rang and resonated in every American’s psyche – not the tired old adages of old men politicians – but words that inspired a new sense of patriotism, of community, of working together and especially of a world that could and must be a better place for all.

After the tragedy of his assassination, the torch passed to his brother Bobby, and then to Teddy – as a nation struggled to hang onto that moment of shining optimism – to keep the fragile flame alive for a moment longer – to bring back that brief moment of Camelot.  

Their collective words and ideals remain today, hopefully still inspiring new generations of Americans and world citizens to the “better angels of our nature” to borrow from Abraham Lincoln. 

As we bring our 2015-16 Claflin Hill Season to a close, we will be performing Grammy nominated composer Peter Boyer’sThe Dream Lives On – A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers.” I believe it would be good for every citizen to revisit the words of Jack, Bobby and Teddy – even as we continue through another Presidential election campaign that has been less than inspiring to any of us.   Perhaps a better remembrance of their words and of the time we came from can better temper and inform our outlooks on the future we need to build for our children.  The “Dream of America” still exists in our hearts and minds and it is our responsibility to curate it, nurture and hold its flame up high for an entire world who is also still searching for that dream.

Oh, and the other two memories I still hold in my head from when I was three years old were also both on TV.  The first was seeing John Glenn step out of his space capsule onto the deck of an aircraft carrier after his historic orbital flight, returning from a journey that was started by that young American President, John F. Kennedy. The second was of Leonard Bernstein, conducting one of his Sunday afternoon “Young Peoples Symphony” broadcasts on CBS. 

What a time that was.  I look forward to seeing you Saturday to share the dream!

Paul Surapine

"It's Frank's World- We just live in it."

Part 3

I think everyone has a fascination with Frank Sinatra.  I was too young to see him in his prime – especially during the time of the resurgence of his career after his great role in “From Here to Eternity” but he was a presence in everyone’s cultural awareness even when I was growing up.  (My late Uncle Joe Romano always wore a pin that said – “IT’S FRANK’S WORLD – we just live in it!”

Frank was the “Elvis” or “Beatles” of his generation – driving millions of teen age “bobby-sockers” to scream and swoon – as he began his career as a singer with Tommy Dorsey’s Big Band.  Frank was more than a “band singer;” he wanted to learn from the musicians how to use his magnificent gift of a voice like a musician. 

One of my earliest memories of Frank – aside from hearing my Dad say that “It Was a Very Good Year” was his favorite song – was seeing him in a movie with Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine called “Some Came Running.”  I don’t think it gained him any raves or notice, but I really liked the movie and was sympathetic to Sinatra’s character. It was one of a string of movies in his “down” period, when people wondered if he was fading. 

And then came “From Here to Eternity.”  Following that, more roles, such as Nathan Detroit in “Luck Be a Lady” began a new beginning of his singing career. 

There was the added “cachet” of his private but very public life – the friendships and marriages with the “glitterati” of the time – Ava Gardner, the Rat Pack – Dino, Sammyand Peter Lawford – and his friendship with the Kennedy boys.  He was an icon of that time, and a very well-polished and well-matured idol!

My wife Susan and I have been going to the Caffé Sorrento for as long as we’ve lived on Claflin Hill – going on 25 years now.   On Saturdays, there has always been music – sometimes live and sometimes with a DJ and Karaoke.   For over 10 years, we’ve been listening to a young man sing Sinatra, and from the first times I’d hear him, I was always astounded at the musicianship and art that he brought to his re-creations of Frank’s favorite hits.  I’ve always told people, “close your eyes and you’ll think Frank Sinatra from 1963 had just walked in the room!”

That vocalist – Tommy Gatturna – is actually a union plumber by day and trade, and he’s never had a formal voice lesson in his life.  He has always been fascinated by the work of Frank Sinatra, and studied and listened to all of his phrasing and nuances – he is pretty much a “self-taught” singer.   I think he received some valuable tips, advice and support from Franco the D.J. – along-time fixture at the Sorrento and a former Berklee professor. Tommy has only gotten better as the years have gone by -- just like the last verse from “It Was a Very Good Year” – ”And now I think of my life as a vintage wine from fine old kegs.”

Tommy Gatturna, Vocalist

Tommy Gatturna, Vocalist

I always wanted to perform many of the classic Sinatra tunes from his early Sixties “Reprise” album – great songs with great orchestrations arranged and conducted by Nelson Riddle, and Tommy and I would often talk about how we could do that.  Several years ago, we presented a special “Gala Benefit Event” for Claflin Hill, and with Milford’s own legendary Jerry Seeco, brought the idea to reality.  Jerry worked for months – listening to those old recordings and re-creating his own arrangements of those great songs and ballads for us to perform with Tommy. 

As a matter of fact, I also met Jerry Seeco at the Caffé Sorrento, many years ago – it’s always been a hot spot and a “hang” for musicians and lovers of great music.

On April 30th, Tommy and Jerry join us at Claflin Hill Symphony for our Season Finale – “American Dreamscapes.”   We’re looking forward to bringing these great musical charts back to life, presenting Tommy’s great artistry and heart to our CHSO Subscription audience, and paying tribute to a time in our past, when all seemed right with the world and the American Dream was thriving.

How the arts open our minds and our hearts.

It seems altogether fitting that we close out this season with a performance of the Symphonic Dances from Leonard Bernstein’s fabled “West Side Story” – our own “American” version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” – fresh on the heels of our performances in February of both Sergei Prokofiev and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s music based on the same story.

West Side Story was indeed a groundbreaking Broadway production that included a “Dream Team” of creative talent: music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, choreography by Jerome Robbins, and produced by Hal Prince.

Bernstein integrated ethnic Puerto Rican dance rhythms and motifs into his score which, up to that point, was probably one of the most difficult Broadway shows to play as a musician. 

Taking the story of the Montagues and the Capulets, and setting it down in West Side New York City – changing the antagonists from patrician and wealthy feuding families to blue collar Irish Catholics at odds with the most recent “immigrants” into their turf, the Puerto Ricans made the story come alive for a new generation of audience who could actually identify with the characters being portrayed on the stage.

West Side Story became a “Morality” play for a generation – speaking of social issues such as acceptance, tolerance, and the “Dream of America” – whether it should be for everyone, or just those who were already here.

But then, Broadway has always used the stage as a “bully pulpit” – the numerous shows of Rodgers and Hammerstein illuminated many social issues, such as date rape, (Oklahoma), wife beating, (Carousel), inter-racial relationships, (South Pacific), and even Nazis, (The Sound of Music).

Kalmen Opperman

Kalmen Opperman

I was only one or two years old when West Side Story was running on Broadway.  My future clarinet teacher, Kalmen Opperman played in the original orchestra!   I remember my Mother saying that she and my Dad went on a trip to New York City and saw West Side Story on Broadway.   In fact, I remember her saying they didn’t really like it at the time!

It was after all, a very different and “gritty” Broadway show – a polar opposite from the Rodgers and Hammerstein productions that people were used to.   Its depiction of life in the tenements and slums of the lower West Side, together with the sometimes loud and dissonant music depicting gang fights was a culture shock to many people from the nice suburbs in the countryside.

In fact, although West Side Story was nominated for a number of Tony awards in its first year on Broadway, the award for Best Show went to “The Music Man” that year.   Moreover, Columbia Records initially declined to produce the original cast recording, saying it was “too depressing and difficult!”

In the end, both my parents, and countless millions in succeeding generations now love West Side Story, and it will stand forever as one of the greatest and most innovative shows in the musical theater – and yes, it remains for us as a “morality” play and musical civic lesson as we still continue the dialogue on the “American Dream” and the “melting pot” that has made America great.

At Claflin Hill, we’re all relishing the opportunity to “dig into” Lenny Bernstein’s masterful score and share it with you, as we continue our musical journey and exploration, bringing to culmination another amazing season right here in Our Town.

Paul Surapine