Challenging Programs for Seniors

Part 1: The Sixty Plus Chamber Players Of the 92nd Street Y
Ted Baumgold

(From time to time this web site will carry articles describing programs for senior citizens written by participants in the program. We start this series with a description of the 25 year old program of chamber music for the "Sixty plus Chamber Players" written by the present coordinator/conductor of this program, Ted Baumgold. Mr. Baumgold is an ebullient, gregarious, musician (violist), whose love of classical music is reflected in his dedication to this program and the various administrative activities entailed in trying to integrate 20 to 30 active senior citizens into a cohesive classical music group. What follows is Mr. Baumgold's description of his program.)

Every Thursday morning from Labor Day until the end of May, the Sixty Plus Chamber Players of the 92 Street Y (NYC) meets from 10 am. until noon to play chamber music. This program began 25 years ago. There are 20 to 30 members in the group, playing the violin, cello, viola, piano flute and clarinet. Their background in music varies. Some have been playing music as an avocation since they were young; some have abandoned their instruments during their working lives, returning to play in retirement. All have a love of music and appear to look forward to our weekly meetings, traveling from as far away as Connecticut and New Jersey.

Players are formed into groups to play duos, trios, quartets or quintets. The assignment of groups is done by the coordinator (presently Mr. Baumgold) well in advance of the Thursday morning sessions. The attempt is made to let individuals of similar ability play together. This does not always run smoothly due to sudden and unexpected absences, with the burden falling on the coordinator to make changes at the last moment. Groups can play together for several weeks or rotate with other similar level players. There are 8 rooms available in the Y for the groups to practice.

Usually the groups play music from the Y library. This music includes almost all the chamber music of Hayden, Mozart, and Beethoven as well as the chamber music of the romantic 19th and 20th centuries. Many times the coordinator will suggest the music to be played, or the group will select a piece they would like to practice.

Groups proceed in a variety of ways. Some might like to sight read, using the two hours to explore music. Others might prefer to work out the more difficult passages, repeating sections several times during the time allotted. At times, the coordinator is called upon for coaching and to settle differences in musical interpretation. Then there are groups that both sight read and work on short complicated passages.

There is a 10-minute break time during the two-hour session for coffee, snack and a lot of socialization. This is also done after the session as well as people arranging to get together in various homes to continue the music playing.

Each year, in the middle of May the entire group gives a concert. Practice for this concert starts anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks before the concert. During this time, groups remain stable preparing for the concert.

Besides small chamber group performances, there is also a chamber orchestra, rehearsing on alternate Thursdays, that provides the finale for the May concert. In recent years the chamber orchestra has played Benjamin Britten's "Simple Symphony", Prokofief's "Overture on Hebrew Themes", and Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings".

After the May concert, The Sixty Plus Chamber Players meet for 3 or 4 weeks for more informal chamber music and prepare for the closing of the season, looking forward to the next year.

(Mr. Ted Baumgold graciously granted the editors a telephone interview as a follow-up to his description of The Sixty Plus Chamber Players of the 92nd Street Y..)

Mr. Baumgold, father of four children and with seven grandchildren, is a graduate of Columbia University, where he majored in music and studied under "the foremost musicologist, Paul Henry Lang…and also Douglas Moore". His junior year was spent in France. Music was always a part of his life. He played in the orchestra at Columbia University and also in string quartets. He had hoped to become a professional musician, but World War II interfered with that goal. During the war, he served in the OSS, parachuting into occupied France to coordinate activities between the French resistance and allied forces in Algeria.

After the war, he entered his family's diamond business, running the Antwerp, Belgium office for 12 Years. While there, he organized and was first violin of a string quartet that played every Friday without fail in his home in Belgium. From time to time, players from other countries came to join his quartet, but the basic group continued to play regularly over the years deeply exploring the chamber music literature..

When he returned to the United States, he lived in Stamford, Connecticut, getting to play frequently through use of The Amateur Chamber Music Association and making it his business to attend summer music camps.

He formally retired from business in the early 1980's " to devote his full time to music. To him, music "is a way of bonding to others".

Not only does Ted conduct at the Y, he also lectures to senior groups on concerto music incorporating various audiovisual devices to enhance appreciation of this music. These are not formal lectures, but Ted's way of expressing his love of music and developing figuratively a musical appreciation orchestra. As Ted states: "Music is my life"

Participants in the program initially rate themselves based on the system used by The Amateur Chamber Player Association. No audition is necessary. Players range from A+ to D level. Players start in "the medium group" and then are shifted around by Ted as he gets to know them. He "seeks to understand their personality" besides their musical talent and uses this knowledge in helping them enhance their talent. That a good number of individuals remain with the group attests to Ted's ability to integrate those who love music into a cohesive musical group.

Ted informs us that he is constantly looking for string players. Those interested need only call Ted at 203-325-4910 and discuss it with him.

We encourage our readers to send a descriptions of unique programs for seniors in which they participate for consideration of having it placed in this series.)

by Ted Baumgold
posted October 5, 2003
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