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Posts Tagged ‘synagogues’

I woke today trying to fathom a Nyack without George Bryant.  George Bernard Bryant, Jr. passed away at home last evening at the age of 77. George was one of those parts of life that you consider a “constant”, he was so faithfully, quietly, graciously THERE for so long, it seemed to many that he always WOULD be there.  This musician extraordinaire touched so many lives all over our area both as musician and passionate advocate for peace, mutual understanding, fellowship and ecumenism.

For those who don’t know, “Mr. Bryant” as he was frequently known, was the Organist, Liturgical Music Director, and Choir Director of Saint Ann’s in Nyack from 1966 to his retirement in 2014, as well as Organist for Temple Beth Torah in Upper Nyack from 1978 to 2014.  His reputation as both instrumentalist and instructor was not only national, but international, and yet this quiet self-effacing man chose to never leave his beloved Nyack for more than a few weeks at a time despite numerous offers over the course of his long musical career.

He was born June 17th, 1939 to Margaret Beirne Bryant and George Bernard Bryant, Sr and grew up on First Avenue around the corner from St. Ann’s.  George was a musical prodigy and despite his shyness, his talent was apparent at Nyack High School and the church, and his facility with keyboards, both piano and pipe organ, brought him to study at the prestigious Julliard School of Music.  In 1962, at the age of ONLY 22 (just barely, his birthday was only weeks away) George Bernard Bryant, Jr. received his Masters of Science degree from Julliard. Please note, a Master’s Degree at 22, and also note, not a Masters of Arts, but of SCIENCE a more difficult degree in Music.  He was truly both a passionate artist AND a brilliant technician.  He would go on to play recitals here and abroad but his heart and soul and life were in his little village “up the river” from Julliard.  George became musical director at St. Ann’s church a few years later, and despite many offers, including invitations to become organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, George stayed put in the house he grew up in on First Avenue, only venturing out of Nyack for the occasional master class, recital performance, international choir tour, or music festival and convention. It seemed he was quite content, first living with his parents, then inheriting the house and living with his dog for many years – though I never could tell if the poor thing was a really big beagle or a less woebegone basset hound…

Along with the two choirs, Catholic and Jewish, George had many private students and many of them would go on to great success in the competitive music world.  He was Vice President of the New York State Association of Music Teachers from 1986 to 2014, on the Board of Directors of the Rockland County Music Teachers from 1962 to his passing, a member of the National Pastoral Musicians, and several time recipient of Rockland Executive Arts Award from the County of Rockland, and in 1997 the George Bryant Organ Scholarship was established in his honor.  He helped found and guide the Rockland County Catholic Choir, and worked with many other Rockland Music groups and schools.

George was passionate about helping youth discover the magic of music – and not just classical or sacred music – but music of all kinds, all periods, all ethnicities.  When I joined the St. Ann’s Youth Choir at the age of 16 in 1979, it would be to join a group that sang not only old church dirges, but vibrant jazz, rock, broadway, creole, american spirituals, gospel and more. It was a multiethnic group, and of the teenagers that were members when I joined, George’s “kids” would go on – as I did – to a number of prestigious music schools and programs and follow with professional musical careers.  Alumni of that group inspired by “Mr. Bryant” would record hit albums (imagine a trance-dance track with a house beat and an operatic soprano soaring over the top… yeah, the album “Aria” for any former club kids featured a lead singer who was in St. Ann’s Youth Choir), others, careers in Musical Theater or Cabaret or Jazz, along with Classical Singers and Instrumentalists, and even a Jazz Vocalist who sang at the White House. Others would become Music Teachers themselves, as well as several who are also now Musical Directors at both St. Ann’s and other churches, Musical Therapists and even the head of People to People here in Rockland.

And somehow, we would all always come BACK to this man… for guidance, for practice, for a task master when needed, and a sympathetic ear if that was required. And we’d all do anything for him.  He wasn’t just a superb musician… he was also a superb human being.

Justice, Fellowship, Peace, Understanding, Civil Rights – these all meant so much to George Bryant. He was instrumental in many music programs – whether here in Nyack, or Rockland as a whole, or even in New York City – music programs that fostered interaction and understanding between different religions, different denominations, different races or different ethnicities all in a search for commonalities while celebrating each groups unique gifts and culture. He was extremely involved with the B’Nai B’rith’s “Brotherhood Thru Music” concerts back in the ’80s and the ’90s, where groups from different churches, synagogues and mosques as well as cultural groups, got together and entertained each other in rousing concerts of wildly different musical styles all celebrating our common humanity and always culminating with several pieces where all the groups performed as one whole.  Any fight for Human Dignity and Human Rights attracted his attention, and George’s most fervent, if innocent-sounding, wish was that we would all somehow learn not only to get along, but to appreciate and rejoice in our minor differences.

Heck, I learned a good amount of Hebrew during the many occasions where St. Ann’s Choir and Temple Beth Torah’s choir would come together for mixed performance and worship services!  To George Bryant, the “music” only got better as the “orchestra of life” added more and more instruments of all kinds, and voices of all kinds.

George was such an understated and constant part of our community that I think in some ways – completely without malice – his absolute genius got overlooked.  There were many times when I was cantor on the altar at St. Ann’s (especially once I actually became a seasoned performer myself) when George would be playing something and I would look out at the congregation wondering “since they hear him all the time, do they realize just HOW good he is? And how NOT normal a musician of this quality is in a suburban Catholic Church?”  The man could play a Fantasy on any given church hymn at the drop of a hat (a Fantasy is taking the basic melody and enhancing and embellishing it, especially with extremely fast and precise keyboard fingering).  He could look at a piece of sheet music he’d never seen before from any given Broadway Show and play every note on the page his first time through flawlessly and I’d even watched in awe when during one of the aforementioned “Brotherhood Thru Music” concerts, a Baptist Choir scheduled to close the show was late and was still robing when all the other performers had finished, so George Bryant, without sheet music, from memory only, proceeded to play several Chopin Nocturnes for the audience… and play them with delicacy, gentleness and sensitivity that could only be described as astonishing.

George Bernard Bryant - Facebook Photo

George Bernard Bryant – Facebook Photo

For many of us, Nyack’s George Bernard Bryant, Jr. was teacher, mentor, coach, therapist, motivator, occasional drill sergeant, and very much FRIEND.

He will be missed.

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It’s after midnight, and one hour into December 24, 2011. For me, Christmas Eve has begun and I’ll be singing my heart out at two concerts and two masses later today at St. Ann’s on Jefferson, culminating in Midnight Mass 23 hours from now. Other local friends have been steeped in Latkes and Apple Sauce (even a bit of Sour Cream now and then – which is sacrilege I know, but some just don’t know what’s right and proper!) while lighting candles and spinning dredles for a few evenings now. A Pagan friend seriously lucked out this year as her annual sprint below the solstice moon with ‘nothin’ but the radio on’ had to have been relatively balmy this year compared to last, and I’m sure the Yule Log is now merrily crackling in her hearth. All over the village and the companion areas, old traditions are celebrated and new ones born… because it’s Nyack, and so we somehow manage to be over-the-top traditional and cutting-edgy all at the same time!  Though our individual traditions can occasionally bruise the toes of another’s traditions, for the most part they co-exist side-by-side relatively well and even find new and innovative ways to celebrate together or even combined… and always in our own unique, and frankly, quirky ways.

I’ve tried to explain to friends and colleagues who’ve never been here, that even in the worst of times, Nyack at Christmastide through the Nights of Chanukah and the Festivities of the Yule and the Principle Seeking of Kwanzaa still has a *suspicion*, a little frosting as it were, of pure unadulterated magic. All through the Season we light our homes and even the sky on New Year’s Eve with joy, with fellowship and with fun. Give Nyackers yet another reason to celebrate through the dark days and they’ll take it. Which is why you’ll find Haitians celebrating Sint Niklaus Day and Irishmen munching Latkes while a Russian Jewish lady puts ornaments on her friends’ Christmas Tree and an Italian Teen hangs with his bros at the Nyack Center listening to the Principals and a Catholic Nun joins her friend at a Sacred Oak.  Cause it’s Nyack. And we truly LIKE to share some of our fun with our neighbors who celebrate something else… and because we’ve never EVER done things the way any other place does. And that’s why only Nyack could have had these folks pictured below come by to help us celebrate the Winter Holydays for so many years… who knows, maybe some future December, Santa’s sleigh will once again be drawn by Elephants in the Snow…

Photo from the Bernard Collection, Hudson River Valley Heritage

Mom, Juno and Babe out for a frolic in the snow!

photo from Bernard Collection; Hudson River Valley Heritage

Back home for some Cocoa… by the gallon!
 
And so to all of you – in my tradition – a Very Merry, Very Nyack Christmas! May you have a Bright and Blessed Season no matter what you celebrate! Hold close to your friends and your family and remember THEY are the true gifts of the season… cherish them and it, and may all your holidays be Nyack-y! 

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Along with my continuing series on “Why is it called that”, I’ll also be doing a continuing series on some well-known Nyack buildings that were constructed as something else entirely. 

THE HOTEL EVERETT:  The five-story building that is the home of Pickwick Bookstore at 8 South Broadway was for many years Nyack’s tallest building.  The Hotel was host to a special dinner for young John D. Rockefeller, Jr,’s Sunday School Class (though Junior didn’t bother to show up himself – shy, I expect) back in 1906 and made the New York Times back in November of 1911 when the mysterious suicide of young man named H.E. Baldwin occurred in one of the rooms (and from some accounts of friends who have lived there, may be lingering on...). The upper stories are now residential rental apartments with spectacular views from the upper floors. 

photo by J.P. Schutz

 

CONGREGATION SONS OF ISRAEL:  The House of Worship on the corner of  South Broadway and Hudson Street was constructed in 1924 for the Congregation Sons of Israel in Nyack – in the early 1960s, the congregation required more room and moved north on Broadway to their current home on the border of Nyack and Upper Nyack (where they maintain a vibrant congregation – in fact, they marched by my building blowing their shofars celebrating Rosh Hashanah while I was setting up this post!). In 1964, the structure became the Berea Seventh Day Adventist Church and remains so to this day.  The former temple still displays a number of visible symbols of its’ former use, notably the Stars of David on top of each tower and the depiction of a scrolled Torah in the stained glass above the door. Of course, though not frequently seen on Christian Churches, the symbols are a part of the spiritual heritage of all Judeo-Christian denominations, and so were fortunately kept intact for us to admire today. 

photo by J.P. Schutz

 

HOTEL ST. GEORGE:  This gorgeous structure located on Burd Street between Broadway and Piermont Avenues was once Nyack’s most glamorous hotel, the Hotel St. George.  Jim Leiner of the Nyack Villager will tell you there were once 25, count ’em, 25 hotels scattered around the Nyacks and mostly concentrated downtown (He should know, his great-grandparents were the proprietors of the “Nyack Hotel” that stretched from Main Street through to Burd Street).  Built in 1885, the Hotel St. George was the preferred overnight accommodation for many a Ferry or Hudson Steamboat passenger, and was renowned for its’ Dining Room, particularly their Grand Breakfasts featuring “Flaming Rum Omelettes” – proving that Nyack has been doing Fabulous Brunches for well over a century! 

photo by J.P. Schutz

 

The Hotel St. George is now a lovely complex of office suites at 48 Burd Street.  I am so grateful that such a gorgeous building with real “Nyack History” was so lovingly up-dated… but I still wish it could have been brought back as downtown’s only hotel.  “But I can dream, can’t I…”

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