There was no question that the informal holiday concert presented by eight Great Neck North High School students and their teacher, Joe Rutkowski, at the Atria Senior Living residence on Great Neck Road was enjoyable. The only question was who enjoyed themselves more, the 40 or so residents in the audience or the young performers themselves.
“Why don’t we do this every month?” asked Solomon Elyaho, a sophomore who soloed on the bass clarinet and later joined saxophonist Zhikai Zhou, also a sophomore, on Dave Brubeck’s classic, Take Five. “I like to perform whenever I get the chance and it really makes older people happy. It’s great. I like to play for people who appreciate us.”
Echoing Solomon’s sentiments was Man Yung Hon, another sophomore who played the saxophone. “I’m so glad I was here,” she said. “It reminds me of my grandmother and grandfather who are in China. I haven’t seen them in more than a year.”
Kejia Wang, who especially delighted the audience with her performance of Debussy’s Clair de Lune on the piano, had previously visited the residence in the summer. “It’s great to bring joy to older people,” she said. “We all enjoyed playing.”
Rutkowski, who obviously enjoys performing as much as his students do, began the show with a piano medley of holiday songs. After the final student solo, the group played Jingle Bells together and encouraged the audience to join in.
Also performing at the show, organized by Rutkowski as a function of the school’s Tri-M Music Honor Society chapter, were senior Melanie Xu (guitar), first year students Aviva Shamian (clarinet), Isabel Lesser (flute) and Zachary Lee (piano and flute). Tri-M is part of the National Association for Music Education organization that recognizes students in middle and high schools for both their academic and musical accomplishments.
Rutkowski, who has been the director of instrumental music at North since 1991, has been bringing students to perform at the Atria almost every year. “When I first came to Great Neck I was closer in age to my students,” he said. “Now,” he added philosophically,” I’m closer in age to our senior residents.”
“I enjoy doing this tremendously and so do the students who manage to get away from their studies to do this,” he said. “ I try to play at the Atria every year. Socializing through our music with these older persons makes life more meaningful to all of us. The contribution of live music to them is more of a gift back to ourselves.”