The well-intentioned gather, but is it music?

A talented conductor takes challenges of Princeton Garage Orchestra in stride

By: Hilary Parker
   Another conductor might have panicked at Princeton Garage Orchestra’s Friday night performance, but it was exactly what Ira Mowitz expected, and precisely what he wanted.
   The musicians trickled in, bearing cases loaded with instruments, but no written music. Some of them arrived out of the blue — pulling chairs from the audience and joining the band, although they had never rehearsed with them before. A few were shy or tentative, and they sat out the first few minutes with their parents before taking to the stage.
   Taking it all in stride, Mr. Mowitz composed on the spot, assigning parts to his orchestra members based on their various levels of musical experience. Well-known for his innovative technological approach to composition, one of Mr. Mowitz’ most recent gigs was composing music for answering machines. With his unconventional background and musical philosophy, he readily took on the challenge of conducting the Princeton Garage Orchestra.
   "Despite all my training, I think music is just making things up," Mr. Mowitz said, "and kids can do it."
   The Princeton Garage Orchestra is the brainchild of Joanne Gere, whose two sons, Frank and Rick Rein, are core members of the group. Through her Planet Princeton organization — dedicated to leveraging the global reach of all musicians and artists — and collaboration with the Princeton Recreation Department, she created the orchestra as a way to help children use the music education they receive in the public schools in a new and challenging way.
   "They do a lot of great things in the school system," Ms. Gere said, "and I think kids need the opportunity to do things a little differently to develop the love of the instrument and the love of music."
   Her friend and co-organizer of the orchestra, Joann Singer, put her in touch with Mr. Mowitz of Princeton, and prior to Friday night’s concert, the core group had rehearsed four times at Community Park School through a Recreation Department program.
   "Even if the kids can only play one or two notes, we’ll find out what those notes are and we’ll make music out of them," Mr. Mowitz told the audience. As newcomers joined the orchestra, their fellow players helped tune instruments and tighten strings while Mr. Mowitz orchestrated their coup d’eclat — "a big B-flat chord."
   Before any notes were sounded, a chorus rang out as hands waved frantically in the air.
   "I’ll do a D!" and "I got a B flat!" called the children as they eagerly prepared to make music together. Then, as Mr. Mowitz cued them one by one, the Princeton Public Library filled with the sound of the B-flat chord, though not on the first attempt.
   "Here’s one of the things about music," Mr. Mowitz told the children after their first boisterous — but off-key — try at the ominous chord. "All of the B flats have to be the same."
   And then they were, much to the delight of Mr. Mowitz and their parents who burst into enthusiastic applause.
   "Why should they be left out of music just because they haven’t had the training at a young age?" Mr. Mowitz asked. "All of us have the music within us," he said, and he found it on Friday night.