Dominick Ferrara III passed away on Monday, 13 February, 2017. He was director emeritus of the Bloomfield Civic Band, having served as its director for forty-three years until his retirement in 2013. The generosity of someone who would devote so much of his life to a volunteer community band can’t be overstated.
Over twenty years ago an article in the New York Times featured Dominick and the band. The writer did not call the band an anachronism but clearly and respectfully placed community bands and their repertoire in some romantic yesteryear.
Dominick and the band’s current director, Frank Ortega, have championed the kind of repertoire that transcends time, pleases diverse audiences, keeps the band members engaged and sharp, and showcases the talents of individuals in the band. Classical transcriptions, marches, show tunes, big band and jazz arrangements, pops favorites, and rock and roll transcriptions fill our programs. Dominick even arranged at least part of a Mozart symphony for performance by the Civic Band and the Garden State Concert Band, of which Dominick was also the director.
Dominick was generous with the time that he spent curating music for the band’s programs and conducting the rehearsals and concerts, but he was also generous in supporting and encouraging members of the band. Learning to play a band instrument was my answer to midlife angst. Before 2004 I barely knew what a baritone horn or euphonium was, let alone picking one up and attempting to play it. After only about seven months of lessons my teacher contacted Dominick and asked if he had a seat in the band for a new player. Of course Dominick said “Yes,” so on a Monday evening in September 2004 I gathered my instrument and my courage and attended my first Civic Band rehearsal.
I’m probably still inflating my achievement to say that I could play only about twenty percent of what was in the folder, but I had the good fortune to sit between two very skilled and experienced players. Weeks later Dominick insisted that I play in that season’s holiday concert. I had not experienced such stage fright in many years, if ever. To this day, over twelve years later, I still play like a middle school kid who never practices. I am still grateful beyond words for the chance to play in the band, and for Dominick’s and now Frank’s patience with the less proficient members of the band like me.
Through leading the Bloomfield Civic Band and through the Bloomfield Federation of Music Dominick helped keep alive the institution and tradition of community music making. When the Bloomfield Civic Band meets for rehearsal we leave at the door the concerns and categories and predispositions that otherwise distract and keep us apart in our daily lives. We spend a couple of hours trying to make sense of a lot of dots and squiggles. Magic happens. We make music. Periodically we get to share that music with an people who, we hope, have also left concerns and categories somewhere else and who, we hope, will be lifted and cheered by the magic of a community band.
That is my memory of Dominick Ferrara III. I am privileged to have sat and played under his baton.