A band story: Music never gets old

Linda Whittaker tickled the ivories on her keyboard and directed the band to play softly for this part: She waved her hands, the conductor, as the clarinet, saxophones, trumpets and the other instruments combined to produce the jazz standard “Satin Doll.”

This is the Milford Senior Center Band, the Notables, and Whittaker is their director.

A retired music and band teacher, she directs here and she teaches: When a group of senior citizens entered the practice room to listen, she explained the baritone horn. “It plays a low sound,” she said, as the band prepared to play “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You,” before moving to a bit more contemporary “Earth Angel” and then a Beatles tune.

There are 15 band members — on violin, flute, brass, and percussion — and Whittaker said she is looking for two or three more alto sax and clarinet players to fill out the woodwind section.

The members meet every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon, practicing and performing swing era classics, marches and pop standards for the center members.

Two upcoming general performances at the center include the Veteran’s Day program on Nov. 11 and the Christmas Tree Trim program on Dec. 6.

Whittaker, who has been directing the band since 2008 when former director Art White retired,  said the band is a great place for people who played when they were younger.

For some of them, “Life got in the way after high school, and they still wanted to play,” she said.

Whittaker is a great resource: She directed her first chorus when she was 15 years old, and today directs the Senior Center Chorus as well as the band. She taught at Amity Junior High School for 25 years, and also taught in Fairfield and California. Her instruments are piano and organ, but since she majored in music in college, she learned to play all the instruments well enough to teach them.

Many of the band members hadn’t played in 30 or 40 years, until they found the senior center band.

Susan Tiernan played clarinet in high school. Last year at age 72 she saw a sign at the center calling for musicians. Even though she said she could only play four notes at that time, she signed up and bought a clarinet. After a year, she said her progress has been “unbelievable.”

“The more you play the more you get it,” she added.

Now, she gets to call her children and tell them to come to her concerts, rather than the other way around when they were young, she said with a laugh.

Bob Frey hadn’t played the drums in 40 or 45 years when he was “drafted” into the senior center band about eight years ago. His neighbor is a good friend of Whittaker, and that’s how she found him.

“It took awhile to come back to me,” Frey said about his drum playing, as his fellow band members chided, “It’s still coming back.”

Now Frey plays in five different bands.

Charles Needle, a retired local attorney, read in the Milford Mirror that the Senior Center band was looking for a trumpet player. He hadn’t played in 60 years, he said. With help from the rest of the band, he’s bringing back his trumpet playing.

Ron Bonito never stopped playing the trumpet: In the 1980s, he played at 500 Blake Street’s piano bar in New Haven. He saw an ad in the paper about eight years ago, after he’d retired from work, that the Milford Senior Center needed a trumpet player, and decided to join the band.

“It’s a beautiful thing, the people here love it,” Bonito said. “They seem really happy when we play for them.”

John Scalici, the band’s lone violinist, added, “The band is a forgiving band. We make mistakes. We try hard, and for the most part we get it right.”

For information about joining the band, call Whittaker at 203-877-2134 or Amanda, program director, at 203-877-5131.