Thursday, December 15, 2011

These music lovers go for baroque

(Note: This is a longer version of a story that recently appeared in the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y.)

By Bob Gaydos
A visit with the Orange County Music Lovers Guild in Howard Garrett’s Montgomery sitting room is a trip to another world. In fact, several other worlds.

Garrett, known for his creation and continued operation of the Grand Montgomery Chamber Music Series (which offers more than chamber music) and the originator of Orange County Days, is also a collector of seemingly anything that strikes his fancy. His collections fill his home and put seating in his tiny sitting room at a premium for the monthly meetings. Those seeking comfort, come early.

What they get is two hours of classical music with informed commentary before and after (and occasionally during) by Garrett. And don’t bet against baroque.

The group was a natural progression from his years of listening to and then assisting the controversial classical music radio disc jockey, Seymour DeKoven, for the last seven years of his life. DeKoven, who never used his first name, played only what he liked and never held back his opinion of it, often expressed in superlatives. After DeKoven’s death, Garrett started the group in Queens, drawing on DeKoven’s address book for members. “I wanted to perpetuate his message,” Garrett explains. What is more routinely (and conveniently) called the Music Group was formed shortly after Garrett and his wife, Judy, moved to Orange County in 1987.

DeKoven loved baroque. Famously and passionately. Garrett carries on that love affair, with a fondness for superlatives of his own. The group’s emphasis is on early music -- never contemporary -- with an occasional foray into romantic. “It’s rare that I ever play anything that anybody has ever heard before,“ says Garrett. “They don’t need me for that. When it’s a well-known composer, I play his unknown works.”

Over the years, choosing from his collection of some 25,000 CDs, tapes and vinyl recordings, Garrett has expanded the offerings of the club and proudly proclaims he tries never to repeat a program. “It is constant discovery,” he says.

And that’s undoubtedly what keeps many of the loosely knit group’s members coming back for more music and conversation. At a recent all-Handel program, Vic Werany, of Middletown, admitted, “I didn’t think I’d like it, but I did.” Werany is no stranger to classical music. “The love of music was instilled in me by my parents from when I was a kid. They loved opera and my mother was a pianist.”

Ed Dubin, of Florida, was a regular listener of DeKoven’s shows and attended many of his lectures, developing his own fondness for baroque over the years. When Dubin and his wife moved to Orange County in 2000, they began attending Garrett’s musical productions. When they learned of the DeKoven connection, they became regular, indeed loyal, group members.

In fact, much of the membership (no dues or fees) has come by word of mouth from people attending local music performances. Jen Parker. a relatively new member was brought to her first meeting by longtime member Melody O’Connor. Parker says she came “as a lover of music written before 1800. But in this group I can laugh through the more recent works.”

There is a fair amount of laughter and gentle kidding at the meetings, but there is also no doubt that everyone is quite serious about the music. They are there to learn about and appreciate a form of music that has largely disappeared from airwaves and is less prominent in schools. For her part, O’Connor, a music teacher at Wallkill High School, uses classical music to teach some basics of music. And Dubin, who is retired, taught science with the music of Handel or Bach as a backdrop.

Elmer Brunsman, on the other hand, says he uses the group to fill a part of his education he ignored through high school and college. For the past eight years, he has been making up for that gap and “now begin every day with Haydn, Bach or others filling my house and have some idea of what I’m listening to.”

Brunsman notwithstanding, at this point Garrett says, if people are thinking about joining that‘s great, but “I’m not looking for casual music lovers. I’m not interested in opera lovers. I’m not interested in people who like 20th century music. I’m interested in people who like baroque music and are passionate about it.”

You might even say he collects them.

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