By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The oldest community arts school in the country celebrated its 120th anniversary this past weekend with what it does best: music. Third Street Music School Settlement, which has actually been on East 11th Street since the 1970s, has been offering various celebratory events for the occasion in the last few weeks. Last Saturday, 120 pianists participated in a 15-minute concert, with kids, parent volunteers and faculty members alike playing Pachelbel’s Canon throughout the building’s hallways and rehearsal rooms.
Piano department chair Joan Forsyth, who came up with the idea for the building-wide performance, said that they ended up having even more people show up on top of those that had registered so it was actually more than 120 students participating, but spots were found for everyone.
“We were running around and pulling keyboards out of closets but everyone had a good time,” she said.
Executive director Valerie Lewis said that there were students as young as six who participated, but among the adults, aside from faculty and parents, were some of the school’s older students. Ray Sauerbrey started taking classical lessons about five years ago and recently came to Third Street for lessons because his previous teacher retired.
“It’s hard to get into a music school without classical training but (Third Street) welcomed me with open arms,” he said. “It isn’t a conservatory, it’s a community-based school and they turn away practically nobody.”
Sauerbrey noted that Third Street made it easy for all students to participate in the holiday festivities.
“They broke the Canon into pieces so it was manageable, like they do with everything else,” he said. “They reach out to your ability.”
Ricardo and Courtenay Lima played with their sons, 12-year-old Gabriel and 8-year-old Nicholas.
“We practiced two on two so this was the first time we all played together,” Ricardo said. “If it wasn’t for this, we wouldn’t have ever played with all of us so it really brought the family together.”
Brandon Tesh, director of the woodwinds, brass and percussion program, was a conductor for the evening’s concert. Kerry Greene, director of development and communications for the school as well as a lifelong Stuyvesant Town resident, was impressed by Tesh’s coordination throughout the performance.
“He was running up and down the stairs during the whole thing, trying to keep time,” she said.
Tesh said that he happened to be in the office when Forsyth was discussing putting together the event so he offered to help because he thought it sounded fun. In addition to being director for one of the school’s programs, Tesh also has conducting experience with the children’s ensemble and concert band so he noted that the conducting wasn’t a new experience but the setting was.
“I’ve never done anything like this before and I definitely wore the wrong shoes,” he joked.
Tesh said that it was all a matter of timing, since a “canon” in music consists of a main melody with one or more imitations of the melody played after a duration, also known as a round.
“Trying to keep the beat in my head while I was running up and down the stairs was kind of a challenge, but it was great,” he said.
Sauerbrey said that he was impressed by how it all worked out.
“The logistics of this was magical,” he said. “There were 240 hands to worry about and they put it together without a hitch. It was a truly unique performance.”
Third Street’s anniversary celebration culminates in holiday caroling on December 18 at 4 p.m. when students will serenade the customers waiting in line at Veniero’s Pasticceria and Caffé. The pastry shop, which is also celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, will be handing out special holiday butter cookies designed in honor of the shared birthday. The carolers will be performers from the school’s various choral groups.