After 50 years, still hitting high notes in the arts
In 1968, the South Shore area wasn’t exactly brimming with performing arts centers. Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts was a movie theater; The Gateway was doing its thing, but not as often as now. Some of the local theaters, like the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre in Oakdale and the BroadHollow Theatre Company at the Bayway Arts Center in East Islip, just weren’t present. And as for regular community art exhibitions—nada.
How to address this arts dearth?
“A group of women and men, parents and teachers, who lived in the Bayport-Blue Point area were concerned about this cultural wasteland,” explained Bay Area of the Fine Arts Inc. president Carole Sheppard. “We formed that summer.”
Offering quality fine arts events free to local schools and the public is a noble mission. A Bay Area Symphony and Bay Area Chorus evolved—volunteer-driven, amateur, semi-professional and professional musicians and singers that include students and current and retired music teachers pitching in. BAFFA’s annual schedule now includes five to six concerts a year, one with a dance feature. Performances have even taken place at churches, but usually they are at whatever high school auditorium venue they can get. Most art exhibits now take place at their Sayville Gillette House headquarters; the entrance is on the south side of the building, where they operate out of two attractive rooms. When exhibits take place, cars parked on Gillette Avenue line up beyond the entrance, especially on the weekends.
Fifty years is amazing longevity for a nonprofit organization. But putting on those shows and art events costs money, Sheppard points out. “Janitorial costs and auditorium rental fees when we have the concerts at schools cost $1,800 to $4,200 per rehearsal time and concert,” she added.
The handful of paid staff includes orchestra director Dr. Richard Wright, who is Suffolk County Community College academic chair of the music department, and chorus director Martha Campanile as well as a part-time office manager Richard Rushton, orchestra manager Andrea Edwards, chorus manager Lynette Rushton, orchestra librarian Lauren Marinich and chorus librarian Marjorie Monheit. The staff budget is not a large one.
So besides kicking off their anniversary, a big fundraising effort is underway.
Sheppard herself has sung in the chorus; she’s been a devoted member for over 30 years and there are others, like Anna Davis and Mark and Lois Barton, who have been with BAFFA since its birth.
One of BAFFA’s first acts was purchasing a Steinway piano.
“Everyone bought a key to pay for the piano,” recalled Davis of the early days. Davis, who played second violin for 43 years, is the wife of the late Ray Davis, a chemist and physicist who won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize in physics for his work on peaceful uses of nuclear power. Davis recalled that BAFFA’s orchestra played one year at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She lives in Blue Point and remains a stalwart member.
Mark and Lois Barton, along with Davis, are the musical statespersons of BAFFA. The Bartons, who lived first in East Patchogue and now reside in Bellport, were involved with music groups all over Long Island. They still play their instruments: Mark plays flute and piccolo, and Lois is a principal oboist and also performs on the English horn.
So what pushed BAFFA’s first performance?
“There was a Bayport-Blue Point High School music teacher, Bob Proctor,” Mark Barton recalled. “He prepared a high school performance and thought it would be nice to get an orchestra together.” Barton paused. “The first rehearsal was dreadful.”
That comment brought laughter at the BAFFA headquarters. Barton almost didn’t go back, he said, but Proctor managed to polish the Mendelssohn piece “Erste Walpurgisnacht” with his students and orchestra. And it was glorious.
“He made kids do things,” interjected Davis. “He also got choruses from other groups.”
A couple of years later, BAFFA wound up offering Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
They were off and running.
Besides the professional cache from some of the current BAFFA musicians themselves, there is definite talent in the offering and the making. Jane Monheit, a jazz singer who has been lauded by the New York Times, is a Connetquot High School graduate and a high-profile artist who performs regularly and can be heard on Sirius XM Radio. Monheit grew up in Oakdale and was part of the BAFFA chorus. She wound up performing three concert benefits gratis for BAFFA. First violinist Kerry McDermott plays for the New York Philharmonic. She started with BAFFA at age 14 and went on to appear as a solo artist for notable symphony orchestras (Montreal, North Carolina and Taipei City) and chamber orchestras, and has won notable awards at the Montreal International and International Tchaikovsky competitions.
BAFFA member Florence Hengeveld plays principal viola pretty often at the Patchogue Theatre, including the Live & Let Die: A Symphonic Tribute to Paul McCartney.
There is even a father-daughter duo in the BAFFA orchestra: John Duegel, who plays first violin, and Emma Duegel on second violin.
Innovative offerings have included self-guided tours of area gardens with a mix of musical entertainment and artists in the gardens.
BAFFA has hosted juried high school invitational exhibits for a number of years each spring, where a graduating senior is chosen to receive the Jacqueline C. Palmer Art Award, and Women Sharing Art is now sharing BAFFA’s space. Art exhibits have been on hold this year because of the no heat situation in the Islip town-owned Gillette House since last fall, but a new gas-heating unit was being installed, so the monthly and bi-monthly exhibits should be on schedule for the coming months.
Donations can be made via the internet at www.baffa.org. For more information, call 631-589-7343, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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