Article and Photos by Matt Smith
As you make your way toward the red velvet seat in the newly refurbished Wallace Auditorium, clutching your program to the Children’s Story Concert, which boasts the titular characters of the evening’s respective pieces, you hear the faint murmurs of the Chappaqua Orchestra tuning up, and almost immediately feel a rush of excitement. You pause to breathe, look around, and take it all in; you’re preparing yourself for the journey on which you are about to embark.
Upon exiting the building, you’ll snap back to reality and remember you’re indeed in Westchester, but inside the auditorium, that detail is sure to be easily forgotten. With your eyes closed, the sound of the orchestra makes you feel like you’re at Lincoln Center… and you are, in fact, after all, witnessing “the Jewel of New Castle” perform one of the most popular and well-known pieces in the history of classical music. In short, it’s an incredibly moving experience you’re sure to remember.
The November afternoon began with The Runaway Bunny, a musical adaptation of the classic children’s story by Margaret Wise Brown, as composed by Glen Roven–who, it should be noted, was in attendance at the event. Narrated by WQXR’s Elliott Forrest, the composition was accompanied by a series of illustrative projections, which guided the audience visually through the titular bunny’s journey–from the trout stream to the mountains to the circus. The arrangement itself provided a beautiful instrumental background to the story, that served to set the tone of the piece, establish a musical theme for each location, and punctuate significant moments in Forrest’s narration, with either a blast of a trumpet, a flourish of a flute, or the pluck of a violin string–by famed violinist Kinga Augustyn, no less, who served as a soloist on that selection.
The second orchestration kicked off with an introduction of the characters and their representative instruments–Peter (strings), the Bird (flute), the Cat (clarinet), the Duck (oboe), the Hunters (timpani & large drums), Grandfather (Bassoon), and of course, the Wolf (french horns)–before the orchestra launched into the string refrain so familiar and reminiscent of our childhood.
To end the program, conductor Michael Shapiro gave each section of the orchestra their own individual recognition, a gesture met with a rousing, well-deserved standing ovation from the audience.
Overall, “the concert was a success,” comments David Restivo, Executive Director of The Chappaqua Orchestra. “We know the people who came really enjoyed themselves.” He adds that TCO is planning to arrange another Children’s Story Concert in 2016, and hopes to make the program a bi-annual event in the years following.
It certainly seems like a great idea, as the first concert was very well received. Reiterates Restivo: “Anyone who missed this show really missed a great performance!” So, keep an eye out next year: it’s a truly one-of-a-kind experience… and it’s right here in Chappaqua! How could you lose?!
Restivo also wishes to thank sponsors Kiwi Country Day Camp and the Westchester Conservatory of Music who provided guests with activities such as face painting, bead-making and tic-tac-toe, and the instrumental “petting zoo,” respectively — and the Town of New Castle for supporting such a significant event.
“It is so vital for children to see these types of concerts [live and in person],” he continues, “and to realize these things don’t just happen on TV or on their iPads.”
Shapiro reiterates the importance of “bringing professional level music of all kinds to our local community,” especially for the kids, because “it’s essential” to instill the youngsters with a deepened appreciation and “enthusiasm for music.”
And with a program like this winter’s Children’s Story Concert and an orchestra as lively as TCO, it doesn’t seem like too hard a goal to achieve!
The Wallace Auditorium is located within Chappaqua Crossing, at 480 Bedford Road, just off of 117. For more information on The Chappaqua Orchestra, visit www.chappaquaorchestra.org.
By Heather Skolnick
Finding ways to express oneself is an individual journey. No surprise, I found my personal outlet in writing. For others, there are a myriad of creative outlets that exist. For Pia Haas, Director of The Armonk Players, her outlet was always the theatre–acting and directing.
Pia began developing her love for the theatre at a young age, starting her acting career in elementary school. By high school, her interest in acting had grown significantly, but her love for Biology reigned supreme. Pia intended on majoring in Biology. Before matriculating though, she met someone who would become her mentor who changed all that.
Pia met Mort Clark who gave her a taste of the life in the theatre. He was the chairman of the Arts Department at SUNY Westchester Community College and he exposed her to the many exciting aspects of theatre as her teacher and mentor. Based on those experiences, Pia chose to pursue theatre as her major in college. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, she started teaching part time at the college, while also performing. She succeeded in landing a variety of roles from commercials, to soap opera appearances (The Guiding Light and One Life to Live!) to plays. She sought a steadier form of income so Pia next went back to school to get a Masters in Educational Theatre at NYU. With Masters in hand, she began to teach both Acting and Directing at Westchester Community College as an Associate Professor. At the same time, Pia directed the theatre group called The Theatre Connection and was also freelancing as a Director on the side. Pia was one busy lady!
After 10 years of teaching at Westchester Community College, it became too much to manage along with raising her three children. Pia gave up teaching and focused on freelancing. In 2000, Pia was approached to work for the newly formed Armonk Players.
The Armonk Players was an idea conceived by Barbara & Hal Simonetti and Susan Geffen. The Armonk Players is a not-for-profit organization supported by Friends of the North Castle Public Library and is made up of mostly North Castle residents. This symbiotic relationship benefits both organizations–the library raises money for the Players and allows the Armonk Players to utilize Whipporwill Hall as a stage. Any money earned by the Players goes right back to the library–all the while enriching the Armonk community. In fact, Pia said that the people involved in The Armonk Players “think of the Players as a gift to the community.”
The Armonk Players annually does two main stage productions and three to four staged readings where the actors carry scripts. The Players just wrapped Mothers and Sons, and will be doing a one day staged reading on 12/16 called Looking at Christmas, a light hearted fun comedy. Next up is Love, Loss and What I Wore in February, also a staged reading.
Their next main stage production has not yet been determined. Now 15 years as the Director, Pia speaks fondly of The Armonk Players. She said that her fellow actors and peers “became like a family.” She continued to say that “working with such a great group of people made it fun, made it my outlet.” While Pia predominately directs the productions, she occasionally acts as well–something she called “the ultimate creative outlet.”
Pia’s three children have “all dabbled in acting and directing”–as middle schoolers, campers and then as counselors. Pia’s eldest daughter leverages some of those skills and techniques learned when she was younger with her students at a New York City Montessori charter school where she teaches.
Want to express yourself but acting isn’t your forte? There are many ways to be involved with The Armonk Players without being an actor. Pia suggests that creative involvement can include set building, costume design, building /designing props, make up, gathering music, social media/publicity, poster design and execution, programs. If interested go to the website: www.armonkplayers.org
As if she weren’t busy enough serving as the Director of the Armonk Players, Pia also does all Public Relations for the Westchester Broadway Theatre, and most recently helped promote a stellar production of Showboat. For those of us who may not be theatrically inclined but still enjoy watching productions, there are two great options to see the fruits of Pia’s labor!
Heather Skolnick, husband and three children reside in New Castle. She works for a major retailer on their Omnichannel Strategy. While Heather is not theatrically inclined, she enjoys writing for Inside Chappaqua and Inside Armonk as a vehicle for self-expression.
By Jon Cobert
Self-expression. What is it, exactly? There are billions of people on this planet, and every one is unique. We all have our own view of the world, and our own way of communicating our thoughts and feelings. There are ballerinas, artists, sculptors, orators, architects, and poets. People who express themselves in solitude, and others who perform in front of thousands.
I am a musician.
I have been for as far back as I can remember. There was always a piano in the house, so that’s what I gravitated towards for my own personal form of self-expression. Of course I can speak and write and draw and even paint a little (no dancing please!), but music has always been the most personal and effective way for me to express myself.
Playing an instrument is like learning a language; you have to practice and play for long enough that it becomes second nature. If you have to think about what your fingers are about to do, then you’re not really making music; you’re kind of painting by numbers. When I play, I feel like the music is already out there, and I’m collecting it and letting it be heard through the piano.
As a musician, I’m the sum of all the influences I’ve encountered over the years. It’s been quite an eclectic journey. I started taking piano lessons when I was 9. Ted Harris, my wonderful teacher, came to the house every Wednesday afternoon. He taught me how to read music, how to play scales, and also how to improvise, since he was a composer and a jazz pianist.
I learned Haydn, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Bartok, and Schoenberg. Then Fats Waller, Scott Joplin, and Earl “Fatha” Hines. After that we went into popular music: Beatles, Bachrach, Beach Boys.
Mr. Harris showed me how to appreciate music, and how to communicate it my own way. He encouraged me to improvise, and I spent many hours at that piano, with the lights out, just experimenting and discovering new harmonies and melodies.
When I got into college, I had to decide if this ability and love of music could be my living, or just something to do after work. At NYU, I had two majors, Music and Biology, because I liked science and wanted to see if I could do that for a living. My passion was never in my schooling; I always had rehearsals with my band after school, and that’s where my heart was. I continued to study Bio and Music, waiting for a “sign” to help me decide.
In my Junior year, my band signed a management deal with Record Plant Studios, a famous recording studio where all the big names did their albums. John Lennon was recording his Wall and Bridges album there, and I soon began recording and playing with him. So much for the Biology major. That was the sign I needed, and there was no turning back.
Today my musical life is rich and varied. I play many styles, and do various things. I write music for TV and radio, commercials and sports themes. I write songs, also in many styles, and I play lots of different types of engagements. I play in several bands in clubs around the area, doing rock and roll, soul, jazz, and blues (my own band is called Cobert Operations). I tour the country with Tom Chapin, playing music for families as well as folk music for grown-ups. I play in Churches and Synagogues and yes, even Carnegie Hall.
And I play and sing solo at Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua every Thursday night. It’s the solo work that gives me the most freedom of self-expression. When I play with a band, arrangements have to be agreed upon, so the musicians are on the “same page”, and it sounds cohesive. While that is enjoyable, and carries its own set of skills like listening and collaborating, it does limit my freedom.
When I’m solo, I can interpret the songs however I feel, depending on my mood and the mood of the crowd. I can take a Beatle song and do it bluesy, or in the style of Leon Russell, just for fun. I am truly the luckiest man to be able to express myself freely, and earn a living at the same time.
Jon Cobert will be playing and singing in the Tap Room at Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua every Thursday from 7 to 11. He’ll be the musical director for A Tribute to Lead Belly at Carnegie Hall on Dec. 7 and 8, with his band, Cobert Operations, at 12 Grapes in Peekskill on Dec 12, at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in White Plains on Dec. 23 and 30, starting at 6, and with Tom Chapin at the Turning Point in Piermont, Dec. 27 and 28. You can check his website at www.joncobert.com or his facebook page.
Fun Facts about Jon Cobert…
Jon Cobert is a New York-based composer/arranger/pianist/session keyboardist/vocalist. He got his Music Theory and Composition degree from N.Y.U., and began his career with a bang, recording and playing live with John Lennon (you can see him in the movie “Imagine”). Other recording and touring credits include John Denver, Klaus Nomi, Laura Branigan, Phyllis Hyman, Al Green, Henry Gross, Linder Eder, Leslie Uggams, Harry Chapin, and Dion, among others. He has played with Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Richie Havens, Pete Seeger, and many more. Since 1988, Jon has been working with Tom Chapin, recording, touring, producing, writing, and arranging. He has earned five Grammy nominations for his work as producer on Tom’s recordings. In addition to being a sought-after studio keyboard-player, Jon has also been writing and arranging music for TV and radio, and some of his work includes: The ESPN Baseball Tonight Theme, ESPN College Football Gameday Theme, Dr. Pepper, Pepperidge Farm, Rolling Rock, Budweiser, Arm and Hammer, Juicy Juice, Activia, Burger King, Wendy’s, Capital One, Dannon, and many others.
There’s no shortage of enriching and engaging cultural opportunities in and near New Castle. Here’s a taste of the available options the whole family can enjoy.
Arc Stages in Pleasantville encompasses the Community Stage, the Educational Stage, and the Next Stage. The Community Stage presents contemporary and classic musicals and dramas. The Educational Stage (Little Village Playhouse) is a not-for-profit youth theatre program. The Next Stage is the professional theatre that endeavors to present new work, edgier, more avant-garde material.
Community theatre group dedicated to “producing high quality theatre for the enjoyment and enrichment of its participants and the local population.” Produces two full productions annually
in addition to free play reading programs.
An ensemble-based theatre organization in Pleasantville committed to a “vital educational experience for emerging artists. Programs for the public offered in acting and playwriting for youths, teens, and adults. Individuals who have taken part in programs may be invited to become members of the Ensemble.
Jacob Burns Film Center
A nonprofit educational cultural institution in Pleasantville dedicated to presenting the best of independent, documentary, and world cinema. Houses a state-of-the-art theater complex, a 27,000-square-foot Media Arts Lab, and a residence for international filmmakers.
Small Town Theatre Company
Armonk based theater company launched by Sam Morell and Donna Garr in 2008 with the vision of producing high quality performing arts programs throughout the Westchester County, New York region. These include theatrical plays, summer concerts, staged play readings, variety showcases, as well as theatre and film festivals. smalltowntheatre.com
Westchester Jazz Orchestra (WJO)
The WJO aims to promote jazz, contribute to its evolution, and advance the appreciation and understanding of this American cultural treasure. The 16-piece orchestra, made up entirely of Westchester-based volunteer musicians, composers, and arrangers, performs an annual concert series, in addition to various other performances during the year.
White Plains Performing Arts Center
Located in White Plains, WPPAC is a 410-seat state-of-the-art theatre presenting classical and contemporary theatre, as well as music and dance. Recently introduced a classic play reading series. Also offers professional training conservatory programs year-round for participants aged 10-25. wppac.com
Chappaqua Orchestra Association
Serving Northern Westchester since 1959. The orchestra, composed of both professional and professional level volunteer musicians, performs at various Chappaqua venues. Fosters the development of new artists and smaller chamber groups by showcasing their performances or by sponsoring smaller venues. chappaquaorchestra.org New to Chappaqua! The Chappaqua Crossing Wallace Auditorium Since acquiring the entire property from Readers’ Digest at the end of 2004, Chappaqua Crossing has made its auditorium available for public events such as community theatre, orchestral performances, award ceremonies and the annual Fire Dept. Easter Egg Hunt. chappaquacrossing.com
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