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NJIO, The Little Orchestra That Could

Judy Jacobson

Thursday, August 22, 2013 • 9:30pm

When Eric Jacobson joined the New Jersey Intergenerational Orchestra  (NJIO) eight years ago, he was 7-years old and carried a small stool into rehearsals so that he could play his 1/10th sized cello with his feet touching the ground.  Rehearsals were held in the small chorus room at Cranford High School, but only when it was available.  Fast forward to 2013, 14-year old Eric is still playing with the orchestra, but on a full-sized cello now. He has grown up and so has the orchestra.  With 107 members, the NJIO has moved this summer into its largest rehearsal studio ever, Burgdorff Hall, in the New Jersey Youth Symphony building in New Providence, NJ. There are now three orchestras that accommodate all ages and musical skill sets, an outreach ensemble that visits senior centers and hospitals every month and a wealth of workshops offered during the summer, all intended for an intergenerational membership. Eric and his sometime stand partner, 65-year old Len Avdey, have been playing side-by-side for eight years, a model of the intergenerational collaboration that permeates throughout the orchestra.

Recently, the orchestra was honored and elevated into the national spotlight when The Eisner Foundation named them as a finalist for the Eisner Prize for Intergenerational Excellence, an award for non-profit organizations or individuals that model positive, lasting changes in their communities through the commixture of different generations.  "The Eisner Foundation exists to provide access and opportunity for disadvantaged children and the aging and is dedicated to improving communities with intergenerational programming," said founder, Michael Eisner.  "The Eisner Prize allows us to honor organizations nationwide that share our mission, and it serves as a catalyst for a national conversation on how much good can be done when children and seniors unite under a common cause."  Michael Eisner and the Eisner Foundation will be coming to New Jersey in September to meet with the orchestra. 

The national spotlight was cast on the orchestra earlier this summer when NJIO was invited to perform at the Kennedy Center.  Under the baton of their acclaimed new conductor, Warren Cohen, the orchestra played to a packed house in Washington, D.C.  Their energetic program included  John Philippe Rameau’s Baroque melody ”Les Indes Galantes”  inspired by Native American dance rhythms and jazz motifs.  Franz Josef Haydn’s moving Symphony No. 6, featured soloists from all of the sections of the orchestra and Camille Saint-Saens’ challenging Danse Bacchanal was an exhilarating feature of the program.   Eleanor Seline of Bethesda, Maryland was in the audience at that performance. She commented that “the visual of the old and young playing together so professionally is breathtaking. Something you can’t imagine until you've actually seen it.” 

Not only do the intergenerational members play together, but they mentor each other. Sometimes the older members are the mentors and sometimes it’s the younger members. Interspersed among the musicians are professional coaches that provide instruction and assistance. Board President Susan Peterson says “we pride ourselves on our inclusivity. Everyone is welcome. We provide discounts for seniors and scholarships for those that have a need. Last year we provided several scholarships to students in underserved communities. We hope to provide more as we continue to live up to our motto, bridging the generations through music.”

With their new artistic director and conductor, new home, new accolades and a new spring in their step, the New Jersey Intergenerational Orchestra is gearing up for a sensational 20th anniversary season that begins this fall. They are always looking for new members of all musical abilities, ages and backgrounds to join in the excitement. If you are interested, check out their website www.njio.org, facebook page or contact Mary Beth at (908) 603-7691.  NJIO is committed to ensuring that all our rehearsals and events are accessible to everyone.

This program is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.  Additional funding was provided by the Merck Foundation, the Lillian Pitkin Schenck Fund, Tokio Marine Management, Inc., the Provident Bank Foundation, the Summit Medical Group, The John Bickford Foundation and the Standish Foundation.

About New Jersey Intergenerational Orchestra

The New Jersey Intergenerational Orchestra (NJIO) Bridges the Generations through Music by bringing together musicians from throughout New Jersey of varying ages and musical experiences and backgrounds to study and perform music.  The orchestra promotes education, growth and understanding through the shared experience of musical performance.  Seniors and students work side by side with more experienced players mentoring their fellow performers.  NJIO has over 100 members ranging in age from 6 to over 80.  A non-profit organization, NJIO runs programming year-round including orchestras, summer chamber workshops, a cello camp and community outreach from New Jersey Youth Symphony in New Providence. www.njio.org

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