Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer
Now that they’ve been together for several years, the musicians of Thursday Morning Brass are like family, said French horn player Nancy Waasdorp.
“You get to know everybody’s little whatevers; who’s going to crack the joke, and who’s going to make a correction,” she said. “It’s just special, in that respect.”
Chautauqua’s upbeat, amateur brass band will play its final concert of the season at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. The one-hour, open concert features Civil War-era music, Broadway medleys, patriotic tunes and a special guest appearance by the Junior Guilders, a Jamestown, N.Y., group of young singers and dancers. Donations collected will help fund scholarships for 2012 School of Music students.
Musicians from the Chautauqua Community Band formed Thursday Morning Brass in 1998 as a way to play more music. The ensemble’s musicians are retired music educators, professionals, community members and School of Music students. Many of the founding members are still in the group, and they love not only playing but also the camaraderie of playing music together every summer.
Joe Prezio, a founding member, played tuba through high school and college but stopped when he became a physician.
“I didn’t pick up a tuba for 47 years,” he said. “I didn’t have a chance to do anything but study and work, but I always wanted to go back, and that’s what I did.”
Prezio and others grew Thursday Morning Brass by encouraging their friends to join and play.
Waasdorp lives near Prezio’s home, and when he found out she used to play the French horn, he would ask her to join the group whenever he saw her walking by. Encouraged by her husband, Wassdorp said, she bought a French horn from eBay, “sight unseen,” and joined the group.
It hasn’t been easy to get back into playing French horn — baritone horn was always her primary instrument — but Waasdorp, a retired Rochester, N.Y., music educator, now enjoys the endorphin rush and musical challenge of playing.
“At night, I lie in bed, and in my mind, I’m playing all the rhythms and so on that have been challenging,” she said. “I feel very fortunate that Joe (Prezio) kept nudging me.”
Prezio also introduced Dan Sullivan to the group, after the two met at a Chautauqua reception and Prezio learned that Sullivan used to play the euphonium.
“(Prezio) said, ‘Just a minute, I’m going to get the music. We have a rehearsal tomorrow,’” Sullivan said.
Sullivan, a retired university president, played the euphonium from age 8 through college but only started playing again in 2000 for community groups near Colton, N.Y. Sullivan said he always puts money in Thursday Morning Brass’ scholarship fund basket to pay for his mistakes ahead of time.
“(On our Aug. 14 concert), I was feeling especially generous, and I upset Paul (Weber, music director) because he thought I was planning to make many more mistakes,” he said.
Sullivan, Prezio and other musicians of Thursday Morning Brass were recently inducted into the Liver and Onions Society.
“Others can qualify by declaring an enjoyment of liver and onions,” Sullivan said.
Thursday Morning Brass has many other running jokes.
Three of the trombonists in this year’s group — Corey Sansolo, Leland Evans and Greg Hammond — were students from the Music School Festival Orchestra and frequently arrived late due to overlapping rehearsal and concert schedules. The group would always shout, “Here comes the cavalry!” whenever they arrived.
It may sound like a lot of fun and games, but the group often rehearses more than just on Thursday mornings, performs around once a week and constantly is adding new pieces to the repertoire.
“It is a lot of hard work, and yet, we’ve had a great time doing it,” Weber said.
Many of the musicians of the group also are part of other amateur bands, including the Summer Strummers, the Dixie Lakesiders and Chautauqua Brass Ensemble. The groups started in order to include everyone who wants to play. Prezio said every musician improves just by playing with other people.
“It’s always been my belief that you can practice all you want at home, but you’ll get to learn things quicker by playing with other people,” he said.
Thursday Morning Brass also fits into the Chautauqua ideal of lifelong learning, Sullivan said.
“You’ve got to wake up every day and keep trying to learn things,” he said. “You can do the same thing with music or something else here at Chautauqua.”
The musicians of Thursday Morning Brass don’t play just for themselves — they’re Chautauqua favorites, because they employ the John Philip Sousa philosophy, Prezio said.
“As John Philip Sousa said: ‘I don’t play to hear myself play; I play because I want to play for the audience,’” he said. “And that’s what John Philip Sousa’s great talent was: Put the music out that they want to hear, not just something you want to hear.”
That philosophy is evident in today’s concert, which will feature medleys from “My Fair Lady” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” a Stephen Foster medley and tunes from George Gershwin and John Philip Sousa.
“It’s really the high point of our program,” Weber said. “We’ve been working, from day one, to this.”
Thursday Morning Brass also will play the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” dedicated to founding member and tuba player Robert Vitkowsky, who died last December.
“He was a fun-loving guy,” Prezio said. “He always enjoyed playing the music. We also had great fun going back and forth; sometimes it was like “The Laurel and Hardy Show” between him and I. Bob was a very conscientious, wonderful guy who would do anything for anybody. He was a great, great friend.”
The final summer concert also is an opportunity for music lovers to help fund scholarships for next summer’s School of Music scholarships. Recipients of scholarships funded by Thursday Morning Brass will play in the group next year — an experience that has been rewarding for everyone involved.
“It’s making sure that young people who have a passion to be musicians or teachers of music get a chance to continue to grow here in the summer,” Sullivan said. “It’s important to all of us.”
After today’s concert, friends and colleagues from Thursday Morning Brass will say goodbye until next year. They keep in touch and will start rehearsing again next June, but Waasdorp said she’s always a little sad when the summer is over.
“I find it a joy,” she said. “I feel that they’re part of my family now.”
Prezio said he enjoys every minute of playing in Thursday Morning Brass.
“I’m looking forward to the final concert,” he said. “I hope it goes as well as we think it will, but I’m sure it will, and I know people will enjoy it … even if we do hit a sour note here and there.”