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'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