By Mary Ann Bourbeau
RED BANK – When Roy Gussman was 11 years old, he took part in a summer band program. When it came time for the band director to hand out instruments, Gussman told him he wanted to play the coronet.
“I was into sports and I thought it was a little more macho,” he said.
But Gussman was a shy kid and spoke rather quietly. The band director didn’t hear him correctly and handed Gussman a clarinet. Being too timid to speak up, Gussman kept the instrument.
Who knows where the coronet might have led him, but the clarinet did very well by Gussman. He retired 10 years ago after a 30-year career as a music teacher in Wall Township.
He is also a freelance clarinetist and performs with the Red Bank Chamber Music Society. He has been the principal clarinet with the Orchestra of Saint Peter-by-the- Sea since 1986.
“To me, the clarinet is the instrument that most closely resembles the human voice,” he said. “The challenge is to play with expression, as if you were a singer.”
Gussman, a resident of Neptune, began playing with the Monmouth Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in 1976 and started conducting three years later. He was co-director for 10 years before becoming director in 1992.
“I enjoy conducting because I have control over all of the music,” he said. “With an instrument, you’re just playing your part. A conductor shapes the entire performance. I try to be the conductor I would like to have if I were playing in the orchestra.”
The Monmouth Symphony Orchestra started out as the Spring Lake Sinfonietta in 1948. It changed its name the following year to Monmouth Little Symphony and, as it grew, it took its current name in 1960. The orchestra has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove and the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park.
The MSO now performs four times a year at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.
“It’s a really nice location for our concerts and we’re overjoyed to be there,” Gussman said. “Acoustically, it’s very good. Aesthetically, since the renovation, it’s really a beautiful theater, and it’s in the middle of everything.”
The orchestra is composed of about 75 musicians, many like Gussman who are former music teachers. As such, they put a big emphasis on reaching out to area youth by giving students deep discounts on tickets to their performances.
“It’s a joyful thing in my life to see kids who have never been exposed to a real symphony orchestra and see them really get it,” Gussman said. “We try to keep it affordable. For the price of a movie, you can hear live musicians.”
The MSO also sponsors the Goldwasser Young Artist Concerto Competition each year, through which the winner has the honor of playing with the orchestra. The competition is open to New Jersey high school students. This year, 16-year-old cellist Sydney Lee of Oakland was the winner.
On Sunday, March 30, she will play the Elgar Cello Concerto in E Minor with the MSO.
“A lot of Juilliard prep kids audition for us,” Gussman said. “You have to be ready to play at the professional level. Sydney is a lovely young lady, so expressive and way beyond her years.”
When he isn’t conducting or practicing his clarinet, Gussman spends time with his wife of 29 years, Katie, who is a music teacher. She also plays with the Orchestra of St. Peter by the Sea and is the principal second violin with the MSO.
In addition to the Elgar Cello Concerto, the MSO will perform Wagner’s Die Meistersinger Overture and Schubert’s Symphony No. 8. The performance begins at 3 p.m., preceded by trombonist Tom Avakian’s 2:15 p.m. interview with Sydney Lee.
Monmouth Symphony Orchestra performing at the Count Basie Theatre, 99 Monmouth St., Red Bank, at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 30. Tickets are $37 for adults, $32 for seniors and $5 for students. Discounts are offered for the purchase of multiple concerts. For more information, call 732-806-7680 or visit www.monmouthsymphony.org.
Vibe writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.