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Marcus Music Endowment Benefits Adirondack Wind Ensemble

A few years into Daniel Gordon’s tenure as a music professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, he had gotten to know the public school music teachers in the region and realized that like him, they’re all trained musicians with an instrumental specialty.

“I thought if I could get them in the same room at the same time, we’d have a well-balanced wind ensemble, which is an orchestra without the strings,” the associate professor and chair of the college’s music department said. Gordon, himself a jazz saxophonist who teaches saxophone and directs the college’s symphonic band and saxophone ensemble, contacted the music teachers and was surprised that nearly every one of them said yes. He feared the next question would prove the deal breaker: When would they rehearse? 

“I picked a day, and 75, 85 percent said yes to that,” he said. That was January 2002, and the ensemble of 40 — representing schools and bands from four northern New York counties, four towns in Vermont and one in Massachusetts — have been together ever since.

Under Gordon’s direction, the AWE performs two concerts in January — one in the E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium and the other at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. This year’s concerts will be held Saturday, Jan. 31 at 4 p.m. in Giltz and Sunday, Feb. 1 at 1 p.m. at the LPCA.

This year’s concert honors the late Eleanor Marcus ’43, a retired teacher and longtime fan of not just the AWE but of the arts around the region. Whereas in previous years, Gordon has worked to secure grants and sell ads for the ensemble’s program to help pay for concert expenses, this year’s concert is special in that it is the first performance that will also benefit from the new Eleanor Marcus Music Endowment, which Gordon used to commission a piece of music written especially in Mrs. Marcus’ memory.

“Eleanor Marcus was the quintessential sweet elderly lady,” Gordon said. “She studied here in the 1940s when it was a teachers’ college. She went to just about every musical event — certainly everyone I’ve been involved with since I’ve been here. We got to know each other. And in the earliest days of the AWE, when she saw our fundraising blurb in the program, that was it. Eleanor Marcus was the first to donate money to us. I was very touched by it. That donation said to me, ‘I like what you do.’ I sent her a personal thank-you note.”

When Mrs. Marcus died in August 2013, her family approached the college about the possibility of establishing an endowment.

“When Eleanor’s son, Paul Marcus, explained that he wished to honor his mother with a special gift to her alma mater, we talked about her life and her interests,” said Anne Hansen, vice president for institutional advancement and executive director of the Plattsburgh College Foundation. “Clearly, she enjoyed the concerts and theatrical productions on our campus very much and attended practically every musical performance over the course of her lifetime. I offered to provide the family with a list of all the different types of performing groups and musical activities so they could select one that seemed to best match her personal interests. Happily, it was an easy choice for them because of Eleanor’s love for wind instruments and, especially, her enjoyment of percussion instruments."

“She was a percussionist — a drummer,” Gordon said. “So I wanted this concert especially to be centered on percussion.”

Gordon commissioned a percussion piece that will include “marimba, vibraphone, snare drums, you name it, all lined up on the edge of the stage. Every piece in the program uses percussion in a prominent way. I told the composer to keep the percussion section busy.”

He said he will forever be grateful for Mrs. Marcus’ generosity and long-time support of the ensemble and arts in the region.

“It is a wonderful thing that Eleanor Marcus’ love of music will be forever celebrated through this endowment,” said Hansen. “The Eleanor Marcus Memorial Concert will be performed on an annual basis, in perpetuity, and future generations of this community will always have the chance to enjoy all that the AWE has to offer. It is an amazing musical legacy and one that we deeply appreciate.”

Tickets for both the Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 concerts are $10 general admission, free and are available at the door.

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