Music

Jack Licitra and friends at an outreach program, Inside Song, at SBU’s Staller Center in 2018. Photo from Staller Center

By Jack Licitra

Jack Licitra

Music is something to be enjoyed. It entertains us, excites us, soothes us. 

But is it possible that music can change our bodies and our minds? And what if the physical act of making music – the way we move our hands and our bodies, while we play – transforms consciousness? 

I believe it’s possible to shift the intention of music from just entertainment to something more meaningful. And the way we do this is: not just play music, or hear music, but use the music. Use it for healing. And in using music, you are using your own self as the instrument.

As a Reiki practitioner, I’ve seen how hand movements and symbols generate healing energy. And that poses the question: do musical patterns and rhythms and tempo and duration affect brain waves and heart rate? If these things do affect us in beneficial ways, maybe we can apply them specifically to helping people. 

In 2004 I was working at the Long Island State Veterans Home dementia unit in the evenings, playing music for older folks. It was hard to keep them engaged for long periods of time because of their impairments. Then I began to bring a tambourine. I was astonished to see that when I held a steady rhythm, our sessions went from 15 minutes to sometimes more than an hour. 

I already was aware that songs from their youth would elicit emotional responses, like singing along, dancing or even crying, but I was surprised to discover that rhythm could transform their consciousness. 

Fast forward to a few years ago. I was burned-out, exhausted and worried about generating enough income to support my family. So I was happy to be invited to play at an outdoor arts festival in Ithaca, even though it was many hours from my hometown of Garden City. But when I got there, I found that a rainstorm had damaged the fairgrounds, and attendance was dismal. I was playing to an empty field, basically. 

A drumming group was scheduled to play after me. As they showed up for their set, I invited them to jam with me. By the time their teacher arrived – a master drummer from Ghana – a small crowd had gathered and the rhythms were getting very intense. There was a moment when I noticed my hand was unconsciously strumming a pattern on the guitar. It was something I had never played before. Well, when I left there, I felt like my heart had been opened and refreshed. The music healed me.

To use music in this healing way, we take familiar melodies, rhythms and chord progressions and shift the intention to have a transformative impact. It may sound familiar to one’s ears, but because of the new way you’re cooking the ingredients, the impact is different.

I am fascinated by the kora (a traditional West African stringed instrument) and also Carnatic, or classical Indian, music. How do they affect the systems of the human body? It’s worth exploring.

We can make a shared community consciousness, when we use these musical healing tools together. 

Jack Licitra is a Sayville-based singer/songwriter/keyboardist and guitarist; music educator; founder of the music-teaching studio South Bay Arts in Bayport; and is available for musical programs at schools, libraries and other facilities. Join the musician at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St., Setauket on Aug. 15 for a free outdoor family concert titled World of Stories: Pop Songs from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. No registration required.

the Sound of a Chord barbershop quartet from the 1980s, with Russ Tobin, Al Mastrangelo, Fred Conway and Don Van der Kolk. Photo from Conway

“I’ll be singing for the rest of my life,” said Fred Conway, a longtime barbershop singer and six-time president of the local Harbormen Chorus barbershop group. 

Conway receives a Barbershopper of the Year award at a chorus event. Photo from Conway

Earlier this month, the Miller Place resident was honored by the worldwide Barbershop Harmony Society at an international convention in Salt Lake City for 50 years of talented service. 

“That was definitely a bucket list item for me, getting to 50 years,” Conway said. 

His career began innocently enough. Conway reminisced about that moment. It was the day of the 1969 Super Bowl and his neighbor at the time showed him an ad in the paper looking for barbershop singers. 

“It sounded interesting to me, I hadn’t taken any music lessons at the time, but I knew I had a good voice,” he said. “I went over there the following night and have stuck with it [singing barbershop] ever since.”

Since then, Conway has sung lead in nine quartets in his career, and he is currently a member of the Harbormen, Twin Shores Chorus as well as the Antiquity Quartet. Over the years, he has performed at some notable venues including the St. Petersburg Hall in Russia, Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. The Miller Place resident has also received the Barbershopper of the Year award by the Barbershop Harmony Society. 

As much as Conway dedicates his time to singing barbershop, he also pursued another passion — teaching and counseling. He graduated from St. John’s University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education before attending C.W. Post to get a professional diploma. 

During his education career, Conway served as a guidance counselor and coached various sports team for the Miller Place School District. 

Conway coached women’s cross-country, the men’s golf team and men’s/women’s track and field. He would later become the first commissioner of cross-country and track and field in the Diocese of Rockville Centre for 12 years and has served as the first executive of Section XI for women’s cross-country for 10 years. 

“From about 1975-1986, Miller Place had some great teams,” said the Miller Place resident. 

David Lance, a fellow member of the Harbormen Chorus, can attest to Conway’s dedicated to the craft of barbershopping. 

“He is a real mover and shaker, he gets things done,” he said. 

Lance has known Conway for the past 15 years and first got introduced to the chorus when a member had to leave due to health issues. 

“They were looking for a tenor and they recruited me,” he said. “When I got there his voice [Conway’s] really stuck out to me.”

Conway leads members of the Harbormen Chorus in a sarenade at the TBR News Media offices February, 2018. File Photo

Lance mentioned practically everywhere they go and perform, Conway always seems to run into someone he knows. 

“He’s a great guy and friend,” he said. “His ambition is contagious.”

Lance, along with the other Harbormen members, have also performed at various senior and assisted living homes throughout Long Island and have welcomed returning veterans fighting overseas at MacArthur airport. 

Gary Wilson, a fellow member of the Antiquity Quartet, has known Conway for over 30 years 

“He asked me if I wanted to join quartet and I said yes,” Wilson said. “We found two other guys and we formed Harmony Hotline.”

The quartet performed together for some time but had to disband after two other members moved away. 

“He is a self-taught singer, he has such a unique sound,” Wilson said. 

Currently, Conway lives with his wife of 39 years, Lesley, and they have three children and six grandchildren. He is also a six-year Vestry member of St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church in Shoreham. 

“Through the years he has made a lot of people happy,” Lance said. “He is the personality of the quartet and brings a personal touch to his performances.”

The Miller Place resident said he doesn’t see himself stopping doing what he loves. 

“I’ll be singing forever,” he reiterated.   

The Harbormen Chorus are actively looking for new members and Conway said anyone interested in singing four-part harmony to visit them on Monday nights, except national holidays, at 7:30 p.m. for practice at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall at 380 Nicolls Road, East Setauket, which is north of the firehouse, next to the new synagogue. People can call 631-644-0129 for more information.

Cris Bottari a resident of The Bristal Assisted Living at Lake Grove celebrates his 100th birthday July 3. Photo from Rubenstein Strategic Communications

On the afternoon of July 3, a few employees of The Bristal Assisted Living facility in Lake Grove were spotted wearing New York Mets shirts. They had a particular reason — they were preparing to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of their residents, who happens to be a big New York Mets fan.

Chris Bottari met retired Mets player Frank Catalanotto at his 100th birthday party. Photo from Rubenstein Strategic Communications

As they prepared, Crispin Bottari, the guest of honor, sat in the game room wearing a Mets T-shirt and a decades-old hat that featured the team’s logo and the Mr. Met mascot. The room is where he and his wife regularly work on puzzles that they later laminate for keepsakes.

The party that night wasn’t the first one for the centenarian. Bottari said a few days earlier his family threw one for him at the Blueblinds Mansion in Smithtown, where nearly 150 guests were in attendance.

“It felt like my heart was bursting when I saw all those people,” he said. “I had tears.”

Born July 3, 1919, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he grew up a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers until they moved to Los Angeles in 1957. He said when he first met his wife, they would go to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn every Sunday and watch the team play.

A few years after the Dodgers departure, he discovered the Mets, initially watching them play at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan before Shea Stadium was built in Queens. He remembers taking his daughter to a 1969 World Series game, the year the Mets won.

“They were misfits at the time, but they played, and they won a pennant, and in ’69 they won the World Series,” Bottari said.

A year ago, he had the chance to watch the team play at Citi Field, where he attended a ceremony honoring World War II veterans. Out of a few people that were invited, he said he was the only one able to attend, and the ballplayers presented him with a flag and a baseball.

Bottari said he doesn’t have a favorite player now, but he lists Tom Seaver among his favorites from the 1969 Miracle Mets.

Bottari meeting Frank Sinatra while serving in Greenland during World War II. Photo from the Bottari family

“Talk about gung-ho,” he said. “They did it the way it should be done.”

While Bottari and his family love baseball, there is another love in their lives — music.

“Music in my family precedes everything, because everyone in my family somehow, someway is musically inclined,” he said, adding he owns a 70-year-old guitar that was given to him by his father that he is unable to play nowadays due to arthritis.

He remembered playing that guitar when he first met his wife, Anne. She was in a group called the Mayfair Trio with her sister and friend, and he would accompany them on guitar. The group would entertain injured soldiers in hospitals along the East Coast.

Bottari said he enjoyed seeing the big bands play in the city when he was a young man. One day he went to the Paramount Theatre in New York City to see Benny Goodman and his band, and he noticed that Frank Sinatra was also billed as playing. He said at the time he hadn’t heard of Sinatra and was surprised to see hundreds of teenage girls screaming and yelling.

During World War II, while serving in the Army with the 417th Engineer Company building airstrips in Greenland, Bottari met Sinatra, who he said would have breakfast with the soldiers every morning for the week he was in Greenland. While Bottari enjoyed having the singer around and took a picture with him, his fellow soldiers, who hadn’t heard about the entertainer, didn’t know what the big deal was and asked what his name was.

“Frank Sinatra,” he told them. “When the war is over, you’re going to hear about him,” he said.

While baseball and music have played a big part in Bottari’s life, family is the most important to him. His father, who was a tailor, immigrated to the U.S. from Italy when he was a teenager. He said his parents met through a matchmaker. At first, his mother felt hesitant about her future husband, because he didn’t speak English, but her mother encouraged her to teach him. The two would sit in the parlor and practice the language. Bottari is one of four sons born to the couple.

The centenarian said he never would have imagined celebrating his 100th birthday. While his mother lived to be 97, his father died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 50, while coming out of a subway station.

Crispin Bottari spending time at his daughter’s home. Photo from the Bottari family

“Fifty years old,” he said. “What is wrong with this picture.”

Bottari said another sorrow in his life was the death of his three younger brothers.

Despite the sorrow of losing his brothers, his own family has brought him immense joy. Sixty-nine years ago, he married his wife, Anne, who is now 94 years old.

He said he was at a dance and when the young woman he was dancing with excused herself to talk to someone else, he started talking to Anne. He asked his future wife for her phone number, and when she said she didn’t have a pen, he said, “I can solve that situation,” and lit a match and used the charcoal to write her number on the matchbook.

As for the secret to a long marriage, Bottari said it’s important to talk to each other.

“If you have a problem, resolve it,” he said.

Anne Bottari agreed and described her husband as an easygoing man. Both also said it helped that they had children who always got along and visit them often, because it keeps them going.

The Bottaris raised their five daughters in Jamaica, Queens.

“One smarter than the other,” he said. “They’re smarter than their father.”

With six females in the house, to get a chance to get into the bathroom before going to work as an accumulator of salaries for the Social Security Administration in the city, Bottari said he would wake up an hour earlier than needed.

Nearly 40 years ago, when their daughters began moving out of the house, the Bottaris relocated to Selden to be near their children, who were starting to have children of their own. The couple now has 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Through the years in Selden, the biggest change Bottari said he has seen is the increase of the numbers of condos and stores in the area.

The couple moved into The Bristal in 2015, but Bottari said they get out often to attend family functions. He loves visiting his daughter and son-in-law, Donna and Matty Kaspak, in St. James and seeing their dog, Cooper. His son-in-law said that Bottari is always there when the family needs them, whether it’s to see his nephew playing with a band or his grandson wrestling.

“The TV goes off, and he’s in the car,” Kaspak said.

When it comes to tips for living a long life, Bottari said he’s not sure he can speak about what to eat or not eat, admitting he loves a hot dog and a beer at a baseball game.

“Each individual person has his own genes that he’s acquired from someone else in his family,” Bottari said.

On the night of his 100th birthday, in addition to family and friends, retired Mets player Frank Catalanotto was on hand at The Bristal, and Bottari received a custom-made Mets hat with his name and number 100 on it and a plate signed by Catalanotto from the facility’s employees.

Grounds and Sounds Cafe at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 380 Nicolls Road, E. Setauket welcomes Toby Walker in concert on Friday, July 12 at 8 p.m. Hailed as an award-wining roots guitar virtuoso and songwriter, Walker blends the styles of blues, ragtime, country, bluegrass, old-time jazz and rock in his music. Tickets are $15 at the door or at www.groundsandsounds.org. For further info, call 631-751-0297.

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Mayor Margot Garant shows plans for new stage in Harborfront Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

Village to honor Jill Nees-Russell on anniversary of her death

As the weather changes, and the Island shifts itself from the cold of winter to the warm rains of spring, East Setauket resident and singer Carolyn Benson and village-based landscape engineer Michael Opisso walked along Harborfront Park, trying to find a permanent space that could add musicality to the park in honor of Jill Nees-Russell, who passed away in 2018.

Seeing the green grass starting to come in, the two had an epiphany.

Plans for new stage in Harborfront Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The spot revealed itself to me, and on the spot — call this being connected to the spirit of Jill — the energy of the whole idea, the concept came out of my pen and onto a piece of paper,” Opisso said.

The village is now on its way toward building a new performance stage in Harborfront Park, likely located on the eastern end closest to the Port Jefferson Yacht Club near a tangle of trees.

Designs for the new stage show a 15 by 25 foot half-circle wood stage surrounded by decorative plantings in front and two small staircases to get to the slightly raised stage. Opisso said the wood of the stage will include subtle etching to evoke the nautical theme of the village’s past. The rear will include decorative panels to focus the acoustics into the park itself. 

Above the stage, Opisso said there are plans for a multicolored canvas sail canopy above performers, using material that evokes the sailcloth of the old days when sailing ships dominated Port Jeff harbor. The landscape engineer said those sailcloths above the stage will be designed to be taken down during the winter months or storms.

“You’re looking at this space at the same time you’ll be seeing sailboats in the harbor,” Opisso said.

June will be the anniversary of the death of Jill Nees-Russell, a beloved Port Jeff resident, village public relations representative and lover of all things music. Benson said she had been good friends with Nees-Russell, and they would often talk about bringing something like these designs into Port Jeff.

“I met Jill a few years back during the [Charles] Dickens Festival, and so we used to walk around and say, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be great if there could be a permanent place where people could do Shakespeare in the park or dance recitals,” Benson said. “This was a way of combining Jill’s love of Port Jefferson, her love of music, love of being by the water, and that stage down in Harborfront Park is the epitome of her spirit.”

She added she had approached Mayor Margot Garant about the project, and she had quickly gotten on board.

The music stage has already been approved by the village board as of the village’s April 15 meeting. Garant said the idea has been kicked around since last year, especially with the current stage that bands and members of the Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council have been performing on has not aged well.

“Unfortunately, the arts council is performing on a ridiculous piece of plywood that caves in on it for too long,” Garant said. 

The mayor added this is the near-perfect kind of thing to remember Nees-Russell, who moved to Port Jeff from Los Angeles, where she had worked with a record label. On Long Island, she had involved herself with the Port Jeff arts council, had created a youth program with the School of Rock in Port Jefferson Station and worked in tandem with the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.

The new stage is expected to be on the eastern end of Harborfront Park. Photo by David Luces

On Aug. 10, Garant said plans are in place to host a Port Jeff band day that will give particular attention to local bands and performers. On that day Nees-Russell’s family is expected to come down to Long Island where the stage will be dedicated in Jill’s name.

“Performing arts was always something very important to her,” Garant said. “We think it’s a home run, we see it as something that’s affordable, something that we can pull together the not-for-profits to make that happen.”

Current projections of costs by Opisso show a projected $12,500 for the construction of the stage and steps, $2,500 for the planters and flower boxes, $5,000 for landscaping and another $5,000 for the canvas backdrops and overhead sails. Designs for the project still need to determine the costs of lighting, sound and irrigation.

When presented to the village board at its April 15 meeting, trustees voiced their support for the idea.

“It’s about time we had something like this,” Trustee Larry LaPointe said.

Belle (Emma Watson) comes to realize that underneath the hideous exterior of the Beast (Dan Stevens) there is the kind heart of a Prince in Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio's animated classic directed by Bill Condon. © 2016 Disney Enterprises inc. All Rights Reserved.

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook will host a concert by the Stony Brook Wind Ensemble on the Main Stage on Wednesday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Conducted by Bruce Engel, the program will include Samuel Barber’s “Overture to the School for Scandal,” Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony (1st movement),” “Bolero by Maurice Ravel, “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin, “Beauty and the Beast” by Allan Menken and “Pines of the Appian Way” by Ottorino Respighi/

Tickets are $10 adults, $5 students and seniors. For more information, call 631-632-2787 or visit www.stallercenter.com.

Canta Libre Chamber Ensemble. Tracey Elizabeth Photography

The critically acclaimed Canta Libre Chamber Ensemble will perform a spring equinox concert in the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium on Saturday, March 23, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The spring equinox repertoire includes music for septet: “Angels in Flight” by Marjan Mozetich; “Distant Light” by Joseph Russo; “Cherry Blossoms” by Gary Schocker; the world premiere of Abstract No. 1 by Joel Lambdin; and Maurice Ravel’s pivotal work, Introduction and Allegro. The performance will be accompanied by beautiful imagery on the planetarium dome. Tickets are $20 adults online at www.vanderbiltmuseum.org, $25 at the door; and $15 for children 15 and younger. The museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Call 631-854-5799.

Viviane Kim, winner of the 2018 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition, will be this year’s special guest artist. Photo by Erica Murase

By Melissa Arnold

Classical music has a long-held reputation for being upscale — there’s something about it that feels refined, polished and graceful. The Department of Music at Stony Brook University is passionate about demystifying the genre, making the works of Mozart, Brahms and others enjoyable for everyone.

Each year, the Stony Brook University Orchestra invites the community to join them for their Family Orchestra Concert, an hour-long performance meant for all ages, including young children. This year’s concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 5 at the Staller Center for the Arts’ Main Stage.

Viviane Kim, winner of the 2018 Stony Brook Young Artists Program Concerto Competition, will be this year’s special guest artist. Photo by Erica Murase

“[This event] used to be called the children’s concert, but we didn’t want to give the impression that it’s just for children — the whole family comes along, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy,” said conductor Susan Deaver, who’s led the orchestra since 2000.

The ensemble is comprised of over 70 Stony Brook students, both undergraduate and graduate, as well as a handful of area high schoolers. Many of the students aren’t music majors and come from a variety of disciplines. In fact, the majority are studying biomedical engineering.

“So many of these students have been in music all their lives and don’t want to let it go,” Deaver said. “We have a lot of great players, and it’s a real blend of disciplines, the common denominator being a love of playing orchestral music.”

 This year’s concert theme will highlight dance in orchestral music, with each piece either having “dance” in its title or creating a sense of dance and movement. The repertoire features recognizable pieces including selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Bach’s Minuet in G, along with some that might be unfamiliar, like Strauss’ Thunder and Lightning Polka. 

The program will also feature works by Brahms, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Borodin. Dancers under the direction of SBU’s faculty member Amy Yoop Sullivan will collaboarte with the orchestra.

A highlight of each year’s concert is a solo performance from a grade school musician in Stony Brook’s Young Artist program. Open to grades 6 through 12, the program allows young musicians to enhance their musicianship and ensemble performance skills. Students are encouraged to enter an annual concerto contest, where a panel of impartial judges chooses a student to play at the concert.

This year’s contest winner, 12-year-old pianist Viviane Kim, will play Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major.

“I wasn’t really nervous because I’d practiced a lot. I played the song for my family, my friends, and anyone else who came to our house,” said Viviane, a seventh-grader at Port Jefferson Middle School. “It also helped that only three people were listening,” she joked.

Viviane, who also plays the flute, comes from a musical family — her father, Alan Kim, plays piano as well, and her grandmother is a violinist. “I played piano all the time when Viviane was a baby, and she took a natural interest in it. She started playing around the same time she started reading,” her father said. 

Michael Hershkowitz, executive director of Community Music Programs for the university, sees the annual concert as a chance to expose the audience to something new and wonderful.

“It’s important for classical musicians to be as accessible as possible and to break down barriers for people wanting to try it. A lot of people have an impression that classical music is just old and stuffy,” Hershkowitz said. “I think that dance is one of my favorite themes we’ve done — so much of music is tied to motion and bringing people together. And once you see a classical concert, you want to do it more.”

All seats for the Family Orchestra Concert are $5. For tickets and information, call 631-632-2787 or visit www.stallercenter.com.

For more information about the University Orchestra, contact the Stony Brook Department of Music at 631-632-7330 or visit www.stonybrook.edu/music.

Cuarteto Quiroga

Spain comes to Setauket

The Long Island Symphonic Choral Association (LISCA) will hold its annual gala on Sunday, March 3 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Bates House, 1 Bates Road, East Setauket. Enjoy a concert by the critically acclaimed quartet Cuarteto Quiroga from Madrid from 4 to 5 p.m. Hot and cold hors d’oeuvres by Elegant Eating, wine and craft beer will be served before the concert and a delicious dessert buffet along with a raffle basket auction will follow. Tickets are $75 per person. Reservations required by calling 631-751-3452 or by visiting www.lisca.org.

A Valentine’s Day treat

Harbormen Chorus’s Antiquity Quartet, Fred, Dave, Gary and Vic, visited the Times Beacon Record News Media’s home office in Setauket on Feb. 14 to serenade the staff for Valentine’s Day. The group sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Don’t Be a Baby, Baby” and “Love Me Tender” to a group of adoring fans.

Video by Rita J. Egan

 

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