How did the Memorial Day concerts at Green-Wood start?
The Memorial Day concerts have a rich history that began with the historic Goldman Memorial Band, followed by the Band of Long Island, and now the ISO Symphonic Band—which, it should be noted, was the first time a youth symphonic band played this historic event. And add to that the ensemble is Brooklyn-based.
How have the concerts changed?
Well, the change of going from a professional ensemble to a youth group was met with some hesitancy at first. That was the first major change. From the get-go I will say the Green-Wood community—President Richard Moylan, VP Nicholas Pisano, and operations' Kenneth Taylor—has been very supportive. They heard a recording of the ISO band and were amazed that these were young people who give of themselves once a week for up to three hours to create a wonderful life-changing and positive music-making experience.
After our first year I wanted to add some other elements. We invited the Brooklyn Youth Chorus to sing, Borough President Marty Markowitz has narrated, and we have had the great Yamaha performing artist James Adler perform major piano works by Gottschalk and Gershwin. This year we will have some narration and guest vocalists.
What do you take into consideration when programming it?
I hope to offer our listeners an eclectic mix of music that the students are working on for concert programs in NYC—known as "contest pieces"—as well as music from the "permanent residents," notably Leonard Bernstein, Fred Ebb, Louis Moreau Gottschalk—there is a huge drive to dedicate his new monument—and this year Paul Jabara. Additionally, I like to throw some Pops in as well as patriotic music that recognizes the special day that Memorial Day is.
Do Brooklyn audiences respond differently than those in other parts of the city?
Of course they do! Being a native, I have seen the band audience grow. Bands bring you back to a time when people sat outside to hear Sousa play or their local band playing in the gazebo.
What about ISO? How did that get started, and how has it grown?
The InterSchool Orchestras of New York was founded in 1972 by Annabelle Prager as a small chamber group in her living room. Six orchestras, a symphonic band and numerous chamber ensembles and outreach programs later, we have over 400 students involved.
The band started as an Eagle project for me 19 years ago. At that time there was no community band for young people, so I started one with friends from school when I was 19. Seventeen years later, we are one of the most important symphonic bands in the area. I am very proud of what these students accomplish each week and of some of the educators that have come out of our ranks. Former members have gone into military service, others have gained jobs with major companies and firms, and one is even a member of the Canadian Brass.
What do you hope to accomplish through the symphonic band?
Some of our students reinforce the skills they learn in their stellar programs throughout the city; for others, the band provides them with some of the most advanced music they get, since they may not have a band in their school.
I think the Green-Wood concerts have affirmed something I have always believed—that young people can change the world through the humanities. Through the simple act of playing an instrument, they can change the world for the better.
For more info on the Memorial Day concert, click here.