Baldwinite Vincent “Bobby” Ferrari has a difficult time hearing those who are talking right in front of him — the 99-year-old often has to ask people to raise their voices, or repeat themselves, so he can understand them.
But as bandleader of the Golden Tone Orchestra, a 20-piece band primarily made up of seniors, Ferrari’s hearing is as perfect as someone a quarter his age. If a trumpeter in the back of the band plays a wrong note, Ferrari’s ears perk up.
“He can point to whoever it was and tell them what they did wrong,” Barbara Hausen, a Merrick resident who sings with the band, said. “He just knows what it’s supposed to sound like. It’s absolutely amazing.”
At the band’s monthly performance at the Merrick Golf Course, the music flows through Ferrari. He swings his arms back and forth to the tempo of the songs as he directs each section when to join in, and interrupts his conducting only to grab his clarinet and play along. He is the only one who stands for the orchestra’s two-hour show, outlasting the dancing seniors behind him who must sit for breaks every few minutes.
Sid Hausen, Barbara’s husband and the band’s treasurer, said that music is the battery that keeps Ferrari charged. “I call him the Energizer bunny,” he said, “because you feed him music and he keeps on running.”
Ferrari’s active lifestyle extends beyond the golf course’s ballroom. He still drives himself to the monthly shows, and elsewhere — he recently had his driver’s license renewed. He also lives by himself, but said he is never alone. “The music is my company,” he said with a chuckle. “It gives me a reason to get up and keep going.”
He credited the orchestra’s players with keeping him vibrant in his advanced age. “I enjoy the big band because you have a variety of personalities,” he said. “They keep you on your toes, and that helps to keep me going as well. I would like to think as much as I enjoy them, perhaps they enjoy my joking around, too.”
Ferrari has been around music his entire life, he said. Most of his family members played instruments, and many were professional musicians. He played with the world-famous Paul Whiteman band (Whiteman, in his prime, was called the “King of Jazz”) and bandleader and pianist Vincent Lopez, who was one of the most listened-to radio stars in the 1920s.
“I got to travel the country and all over the road playing music with different bands,” Ferrari said. “It was great, and it was a thing that kept me going.” He still practices every day, and in addition to the clarinet plays the saxophone, flute and occasionally sings.
He said he was introduced to the Golden Tones Orchestra about 20 years ago, and became the bandleader 10 years after that. In addition to the band’s monthly Merrick performance, the first Wednesday of every month, the orchestra does special concerts at libraries across Nassau County. Nursing home residents are bused to the golf course to enjoy the show, and many get up to dance to their favorite songs.
The band rehearses at Cow Meadow Park in Freeport on the Wednesdays that it is not in Merrick. There, Ferrari makes sure that the players are as ready as possible for its performances. “If he hears that something’s not right, he’ll stop everything right away,” Sid Hausen said. “But at the same time, just as I can’t hear music because I’m tone deaf, he can barely hear you talk. It’s the most amazing thing.”