For the 18th year in a row, the Rotary Summer Community Band prepared to fill the Great Neck Park District’s Village Green with music for a full hour on four consecutive Wednesdays from July 11 through Aug. 1.
“The fun of being at a Rotary concert is that you feel like we did last night at the Village Green,” said local artist Marvin Anchin of the Aug. 1 performance. “You’re transported back to the 1890s. There’s a gazebo and a little stage, the band is playing, children are running around having a good time and people are sitting on lawn chairs or lying on blankets with their families as the sun is setting and the stars are coming out. You get the feeling that time has stopped and it’s a simpler time.”
The artist was so moved by the concerts that he shared many photos and videos of the events.
“My joy in photographing everything that’s going on and the happiness that these talented musicians have playing for the community out of the goodness of their hearts makes you feel what America is really all about,” Anchin continued. “Giving to your neighbors is what Rotary is all about.”
Originally founded by Michael Flamhaft, the Rotary Summer Band is now under the direction of Anthony Bavota, who has conducted for the past three years, but is running the show this season as the founder has retired.
The conductor coordinates more than 40 members, who play instruments including flute, trumpet, oboe, clarinet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, bass clarinet, piccolo, percussion, as well as alto, tenor and baritone sax.
At the last performance, one musician even played the typewriter. Drummer Michael Elias, who has only been with the band for a couple of years, illustrated the old saying “The show must go on” at the season’s finale. During a rendition of “The Typewriter” by Leroy Anderson, Elias did not let a few mishaps stop him. In an entertaining, somewhat slapstick, performance, the typewriter fell off its stand, but, without missing a beat, the musician continued playing crouched on the floor. In a comedy of errors, the music stand came toppling down, yet Elias kept playing, as you can see in the video.
“He’s so entertaining,” said Ava Steiner, who plays the flute and sings with the group. The retired teacher, who subbed in Great Neck when her children were young, has been with the Rotary band for about three years.
“What started as a community band has grown into musicianship,” noted Steiner, who explained that the group is comprised of players from high school age to those in their 90s and that they rehearsed on Tuesdays and played on Wednesdays during the four weeks.
One of the constants is Steiner opening each concert by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the group closing with “Stars and Stripes.” Sandwiched between those staples are a variety of Broadway and classical melodies, along with some marches. The last concert took attendees down memory lane with “The Symphony of Sitcoms,” an upbeat medley of 20 TV-show tunes.
“It was so much fun, and it feels wonderful to give back to the community,” noted Steiner. “It’s a beautiful venue and the audience looks forward to it and comes back every year.”
Playing in this band has also helped her transition into a professional musician.
“Now that I’m retired from full-time teaching, I can pursue my music full time,” said Steiner, who also performs in a trio called MAD About Music, which stands for its members Margaret, Ava and Doreen, that can be seen at local venues throughout Long Island, including the Atria on Aug. 26, as well as with the new Shireinu Choir and the Queens Symphonic Band.
In addition to the enjoyable music, each week at the concerts a Rotary member spoke about community service work that the organization performs.
The most recent emcee was Charles Sams, one of the newer Rotary members, who had worked at the Chase Bank branch in the plaza since 2012 and has since become a financial consultant in nearby East Hills.
“I started going to the meetings to network, but became impressed by the work they did and got to know a lot of people in Great Neck,” said Sams, who discussed the Gift of Life program for which Rotary International has donated more than 10,000 surgeries to people in need of heart operations that they couldn’t afford.
“Rotary’s mission is ‘Service above self,’” explained Sams, who said that Rotary aims to give back to the communities in which the club is located.
In fact, the local group donated the ingredients for more that 1,000 turkey dinners for local Thanksgiving celebrations last year and will kick off this year’s efforts at a fundraising comedy night on Aug. 16. (Learn more on the Calendar listing.)
Sams encourages people of all ages to come to the Rotary meetings at TD Bank the first, third and last Wednesday of each month at 8 a.m. On the second Wednesday, a dinner meeting is typically held.
“It feels great to help the community,” beamed Sams. “Even though I didn’t grow up in the community, they treat me as someone who lives here. It’s really great. They’re very welcoming. So many people are part of generations who have lived there for so long. The people are so passionate about giving back. Some don’t even live here anymore, but they come back to give back. It feels good to be a part of that.”
And it feels good to be part of the band, too.
“It’s magical to be out in the nice weather,” said Steiner. “It’s great being able to bring my passion for music to the community and my friends and family. It’s transformative. The music we play is very joyful. You get lost in it. It takes you away and makes you happy. You can not play and think about something else, you forget about aches and pains, doing the laundry or any problems.”
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