Dust off that instrument case, and come play for fun


Maybe it was playing cello in high school orchestra decades ago. Or clarinet in marching band.

It’s been years, and the instrument’s gathering dust in the attic or moldering in a hall closet.

But sometimes the itch to play is undeniable, even though the difference between A-minor and C-major is a fuzzy memory. The love of making music as part of a group — the arcing lines of melody and harmony melding into one unified ribbon of sound — has never faded.

For any lapsed player who wants to rekindle that love, Herb Gardner has the perfect opportunity for them.

Gardner’s looking for players to join his Neighborhood Ensemble, an informal summer group of musically inclined neighbors who want to dust off their old instruments and play some Mozart or Telemann.

“It’s all for fun,” Gardner said. “No auditions. No competition. No tuxedoes. Just people playing music for music’s sake.”

And no pressure. The recruitment poster stresses “no yelling!” to assuage any worries that a sour note or missed cue will result in a sharp word.

After 25 years teaching orchestra at the former M.S. 143 junior high school off Sedgwick Avenue, Gardner honed the skill of patiently leading burgeoning performers to a better understanding of music.

A quick internet search of Gardner’s name reveals a number of former students who credit him with their lifelong dedication to music.

After leading middle schoolers, Gardner served as music director of all city schools, and later as chairman of the Manhattan School of Music.

Even after retirement, he’s stayed active, serving as the former conductor of the Riverdale Orchestra and the Bronx Symphony. He even started a baroque music ensemble in Palm Beach, Florida, where he spends his winters. Much like the folks he looks to recruit, Gardner couldn’t ignore music’s siren song for long.

But the new Riverdale Neighborhood House-based ensemble needs more volunteers to get off the ground. A few string players and a keyboardist have signed up so far, but Gardner hopes to have 12 or more performers to cover every part. Rehearsals will be Tuesdays starting at 7 p.m., at the 5521 Mosholu Ave., neighborhood house, and “ending promptly at 9, so people can go home and watch the news,” Gardner said.

Even if it’s been 30 years since a player has picked up their instrument, they’re welcome to join. There’s no need to feel intimidated if they don’t remember how to sight-read music.

“Don’t worry about that,” Gardner said. “Once you have (music) ingrained in you, once you do it, it comes back to you very quickly.”

When discussing a new ensemble with Gardner, Riverdale Neighborhood House health and harmony program director Rob Adelman wanted the experience to be one of growth for participants.

“When we began talking about it, we said from the beginning that we wanted an experience that was positive and relaxed for everyone,” Adelman said.

With yoga, painting, meditation and creative classes, the organization offers sessions that expand participants’ horizons, Adelman said. The ensemble fits right in.

“The neighborhood house is really a place for self-actualization,” Adelman said. “We offer programs for people that will help them develop their interests at any age.”

Although music instruction is typically a childhood pursuit, playing as an adult has a number of benefits, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Researchers studied the effects of listening to and performing music on the human brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Studying music can increase the volume of gray matter in several regions of the brain while creating new neural connections. Researchers found evidence that structural changes to the brain resulting from playing music strengthen long-term memory and sensory awareness, according to the study. The brain scans of musicians found a higher number of nerves connecting the two hemispheres of the brain.

And scientists believe learning new skills like playing an instrument or learning a new language can prevent age-related conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

So rosen up a bow, and if the spirit moves you, get to know some Vivaldi this summer.

“The goal is to have fun,” Gardner said. “We’re not going on a world tour. At least, not yet, anyway.”