JERSEY; Defying Time and Space, the Band Plays On

Posted on by on January 6th, 2011 | 0 Comments »

NY Times Article

How’s this for a picture of incongruity: A village band plays 19th-century concert music from a bandstand on a shady town green, in a place where a child could climb the Presbyterian church steeple and see the Empire State Building.

But there you have it. On a number of summer nights, Bloomfield, an old post-industrial town of 45,000 in the Newark suburbs, actually resembles a Victorian lithograph of small-town America.

“It isn’t like we’re the only town in Jersey that still has a band,” mused Dominick Ferrara 3d, the conductor of the Bloomfield Civic Band.

At a weekly rehearsal the other night, Mr. Ferrara thought for a minute and said, “They have community bands in, what, Ridgewood, Westfield, Saddle Brook, Raritan, Hanover . . . .”

“Ocean City,” a horn player put in helpfully.

Besides the town band, which has 65 players, Bloomfield also supports its own symphony orchestra and chorus. For the civic band, “the start really came from fellows who got out of the service bands after the Second World War and came back home hoping to continue playing music,” said Mr. Ferrara, who has conducted the ensemble for the past 22 of its 50 years.

“I try to give them challenging music,” he said. Rehearsing for the next concert, which is June 26, the band went through some rousing classical marches, as well as a medley of Gilbert and Sullivan, a selection of Sammy Cahn tunes and the Overture from Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

In many places, community bands tend to be composed largely of older people. For example, Rochester, N.Y., has a civic band called the Grateful Alive, all members well up there in age.

The Bloomfield band, on the other hand, is a remarkable demographic stew. As many of its members are under 40 as over. These days, outside of a shopping mall, how often do you see Americans of such a wide age range engaged in any mutual pursuit? They also have a wide range of day jobs.

At rehearsal, Mr. Ferrara asked the players to call out their occupations. There were computer technicians, real estate agents, construction workers and music teachers. There was a chemist, a lawyer, a florist, a lab technician, a dental receptionist, a retired French literature professor. “Former TV repairman,” one man reported.
“Shepherd!” hollered another guy. Mr. Ferrara knew exactly where to aim his glare. The drum section, of course.

There also was Arlene Weintraub, recently transported to Jersey from Arizona to take a job at a Manhattan investment publication. “Wherever I go, I look for someplace to play my oboe,” she said. To her amazement, she found it in Bloomfield.
And Joseph Franciscone, a 25-year-old percussionist who recently won the Democratic primary for Bloomfield City Council. Besides being an accomplished musician, Mr. Franciscone is also a natural politician. “He’s performed with all of our organizations,” said Paul Alongi, the president of the Bloomfield Federation of Music. “The civic band, the symphony orchestra, the civic chorus, the youth band . . . .”

“Don’t forget the Bloomfield Mandolin Orchestra,” Mr. Franciscone pointed out.

Some members loved music as kids and reclaimed it as adults. Aaron Messing, a computer consultant from West Orange, explained that he always regretted selling his clarinet after college. “Ten years ago, when I was in my late forties, my son took up the clarinet in grade school,” he said. The old urge returned. “I decided to come back and play along with him.” He was good enough to make the town band a few years later.

At the other end of the scale is 17-year-old Monica Franz, a high school senior who sat quietly in the last chair of the brass section beside a row of men who were at least old enough to be her father. She plays lowly third trumpet, the bottom rung of the brass line, where the big fat melodies never come.

“Playing here helps me with my sight reading,” Ms. Franz said, quite meekly.

But the next night, in a park in the nearby town of Glen Ridge, I happened to stop by an outdoor concert by the Glen Ridge High School band and heard the lilting high notes of the first movement of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, a work that journeymen trumpeters regard as their virtuoso Matterhorn. And who was playing that big fat melody so beautifully? Monica Franz, one of the most indomitable of spirits, a young woman with a horn.


Rehearsals are held at the Bloomfield Middle School on Huck Road from mid-September through mid-June (location may vary). Rehearsals start promptly at 7:30 PM and end at 9:30 PM