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Three Mount Sinai children began making music on the piano at a young age. Now their youth ensemble is making memories with residents across the North Shore.

Playing at veteran homes and senior centers, the North Shore Youth Music Ensemble, created by brother and sister Claire and Joshua Cai, focuses on giving back to the community through the arts.

“I know many people who do volunteer work, and I thought music would be a different thing to do,” Claire Cai said. “I feel happy when I play. It’s really nice to know that they appreciate our music and that they give us their time to play for them.”

The 17-year-old learned the violin and the piano at the same time from her mother Dana, who teaches the violin and viola to young students at her home. Claire Cai said she switched her focus to solely the violin almost 10 years ago because she thought there would be more opportunities.

The North Shore Youth Music Ensemble’s, from left, Daniel Ma, Joshua Cai, Claire Cai and Claire Xu performed at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. Photo by Rebecca Anzel
The North Shore Youth Music Ensemble’s, from left, Daniel Ma, Joshua Cai, Claire Cai and Claire Xu performed at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. Photo by Rebecca Anzel

One came knocking when she was accepted into the Juilliard Pre-College Division, which is for elementary through high school students who exhibit the talent, potential, and accomplishments to pursue a career in music. It’s a competitive program, yet the young talent only had to audition once. This month marks her fifth year in the program. She will graduate next year.

“It’s really inspirational,” she said. “I get to meet a lot of people there and I learn a lot from the teachers. It’s a good thing to surround yourself with other people who come from all around the world with different talents.”

Joshua Cai, 14, first learned the piano and violin, but after being rejected by the Juilliard program, switched to playing the viola. He was accepted into the school the following year.

“My sister was always the one that was better than me so it was satisfying to do the same thing as her,” he said.

Their father, Yong Cai, used to play the violin years ago and is currently a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory. While his oldest daughter Mattea no longer plays, she is attending The University of Texas at Austin, majoring in architecture, and she and her younger sister both draw. The father said he believes music was important for his children to learn.

“We just thought that they should learn to play music — it’s always a good thing for young kids to not only enhance them talent-wise, but it can help develop their personality and it’s a form of training your brain in some sense,” he said.

Claire Cai performs in 2014. Photo from Yong Cai
Claire Cai performs in 2014. Photo from Yong Cai

When he heard his children were creating an ensemble he was thrilled.

“It’s a way for them to appreciate how music can help others,” he said.

The two teamed up to create the core trio with friend Daniel Ma, who plays the cello.

“It’s fun playing with my friends,” the 14-year-old said. “It feels like any other performance, but you know you’re performing for seniors, and that makes you feel good about yourself.”

The trio sometimes performs with Claire Xu on violin and Xavier Tutiven on viola. Most recently, at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai, Xu played classical songs with the trio. Duet Katherine Ma and Rachel Zhang also performed for the crowd.

“It’s really nice because we’re able to spread our enjoyment of music to other people,” Joshua Cai said. “It shows up on their faces.”

Claire Cai’s favorite piece to play is Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Opus 96, “American,” because of its spirited vibe, while Daniel Ma enjoys Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik for its classical elements, she said. At the most recent event, the ensemble also performed a more contemporary piece to close out the performance — “You Raise Me Up,” which was made popular by Josh Groban.

From left, Yong Cai, Joshua Cai and Xavier Tutiven perform over the holiday at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. Photo from Yong Cai
From left, Yong Cai, Joshua Cai and Xavier Tutiven perform over the holiday at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. Photo from Yong Cai

Michele Posillico, the manager for the senior center, said she loves when the ensemble comes to perform.

Their playing was “magnificent, over the top,” she said. “The parents’ hearts must be so full of joy to see their children play like that. It’s just remarkable. The seniors enjoy it. What this group of players from the younger generation is doing, their accomplishments, it fills their heart with happiness and love and pride. I just loved it — it brings tears to my eyes how they play.”

Yong Cai agreed, and added that he gets overly excited watching his children play.

“I take videos all the time,” he said with a laugh. “I go to all of their concerts when I can make it. They come to my house to practice and they really enjoy playing music. I have a huge collection of their performances. Some of which I post on YouTube.”

Although their parents instilled an appreciation for music in them, the musicians couldn’t imagine a life without it.

“It’s always been a part of my life and I don’t know what I’d do if I ever gave it up,” Joshua Cai said. “It’s the foundation of my everyday life. I’ve never experienced my life without music.”

To book the North Shore Youth Music Ensemble, email Yong Cai at [email protected], or call 631-403-4055.

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Stony Brook University’s 2015 Pre-College Concerto winner Samuel Wallach will perform a piano solo at the concert. Photo from Susan Deaver

By Rita J. Egan

The University Orchestra at Stony Brook University is busy rehearsing a fun night of music for family members of all ages. On Tuesday, March 1, they will present their Annual Family Concert, this year titled Musical Humor, on the Staller Center for the Arts Main Stage at 7:30 p.m.

Susan Deaver, conductor of the university orchestra and faculty member at Stony Brook, said the annual concert was already taking place when she began working at the university in 2000; however, up until 2013, it was called the Annual Children’s Concert. 

“We just discovered that the students and parents and grandparents and friends that they came with, everyone had a really good time, so we decided to rename it,” Deaver said.

The conductor said every year there’s a different theme such as magic, outer space, movies, and masquerade. “Every year I try to think of something that we can tie in some classical musical,” she said.

This year Deaver said the 70-member, all-student ensemble will celebrate musical humor, explaining that orchestral music isn’t as stuffy or complicated as many think and often is used in cartoons.

The conductor said attendees can expect to hear pieces such as the “William Tell Overture,” which was used as the “Lone Ranger” theme song, and excerpts from Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of Animals,” where instruments imitate the sounds of creatures such as chickens or kangaroos jumping. The show will also include music from American composer LeRoy Anderson who has written short tongue-in-cheek pieces. Deaver said they are performing one of his pieces titled “Typewriter Concerto,” which replicates the sounds of an old typewriter.

A tradition during the concert is a solo by the winner of the Stony Brook University Pre-College Concerto Competition. “It’s a really great way to feature young talent. We’ve had really good soloists,” Deaver said.

The 2015 winner Samuel Wallach will perform a solo on the piano, the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12. Deaver said each student participating in the competition had a 10-minute slot to perform a movement from a concerto, and a committee of judges decided who was best. She said, “Sam played great. He was wonderful.”

Wallach, a sophomore at Ward Melville High School, said in the month of February, he’s been practicing every Tuesday with the university orchestra and at home with his piano teacher. The young pianist said he’s happy that he won the competition.

Wallach became interested in piano when he started playing with an electric keyboard as a small child. His parents signed him up for piano lessons around the third grade. While he’s performed solo and with a chamber group of four musicians, this is the first time Wallach will be playing with an orchestra. “I don’t know quite how to picture it; I’m excited,” Wallach said.

Deaver said every year the concert includes surprises for the audience, too. Last year at the end of the show, while the orchestra played the theme from “Frozen,” “Let It Go,” someone came on stage dressed as Elsa. The surprise was a big hit with the children who were singing along.

The orchestra also interacts with the audience and gives short demonstrations of the different instruments. Deaver said she asks audience members things like: Who plays string instruments? Who plays wood wind instruments? The conductor said the orchestra members always enjoy the interaction with the audience.

The show keeps children engaged not only by talking directly to them but also by keeping the show to an hour. Deaver said the concert is a great opportunity for kids to hear all the instruments together, and it’s more approachable, because when it comes to orchestral music, “sometimes people think it’s too sophisticated or untouchable.”

“I really hope they are inspired to listen to more orchestral music and music in general. And, for the youngest ones who are not playing an instrument yet, I hope it inspires them to consider studying an instrument. For those who are already studying an instrument, I hope it inspires them to want to achieve even more,” said Deaver. “If nothing else, it exposes them to new and great music, because it’s a very different experience hearing it live, as opposed to a recording or YouTube, because all your senses are really activated, ears, eyes, everything, and there’s perspective,” she added.

Tickets for the concert are $5 and are available at the Staller Center Box Office or by calling 631-632-2787. For further information about the University Orchestra, contact the Stony Brook Department of Music at 631-632-7330 or visit its website at www.stonybrook.edu/music.

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Top row, from left, Isabella Eredita Johnson, Bruce Teifer, Jessica Stolte Bender, Danielle Davis, Arthur Lai; bottom row, from left, Bob Westcott, Charlotte Koons, Maddalena Harris, Cheryl Savitt Spielman, Lorraine Helvick, Lauren Murray, Kayla Dempsey. Photo from the Three Village Historical Society

By Frank Turano

On Sunday, June 14, it was standing room only at the Bethel A.M.E. Church on Christian Avenue in Setauket. The Three Village Historical Society sponsored a concert featuring an 1860 Robert Nunns piano built in Setauket. A Robert Nunns piano has probably not been heard in concert for more than 100 years.

The concert was developed by the Three Village Historical Society Rhodes Committee. This committee was also responsible for the construction of the exhibit, Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time, the community in which the piano was manufactured. Michael Costa of Costa Piano Shoppes has been working to restore the Nunns piano for more than six months.

The featured artist was Isabella Eredita-Johnson, a classically trained pianist living in Northport. Assisting Ms. Eredita-Johnson were Kayla Dempsey, cello and Lauren Murray, violin. The program featured classical music from the period of the piano’s manufacture.  Sopranos Cheryl Savitt Spielman, Jessica Stolte Bender and Danielle Davis performed, as did mezzo soprano Lorraine Helvick and tenor Arthur Lai.  The highlight of the concert was Ms. Eredita-Johnson playing Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” on the Nunns piano. A sprinkling of American classics from Stephen Foster were rendered by guitarist Bob Westcott and folk singer Maria Fairchild. The entire program was enhanced by visits from Clara Schumann, played by Carlotte Koons, and Robert Nunns, played by Bruce Teifer. The surprise of the day was the presence of Frederick Lorthioir of Connecticut, Robert Nunn’s great-great- great grandson. Since the restoration of the piano is not complete, funds will continue to be solicited to complete the restoration and it is anticipated that future concerts will make more complete use of this historic instrument.