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Batavia native follows path of mentor, teaching music and leading GSO

By Howard B. Owens
gso feb 2024
Melzie Case, a member of the Genesee Symphony Orchestra and president of the board of directors.
Photo by Howard Owens.

Music has been a big part of Melzie Case's life since she was four years old when she first started piano lessons at Roxy's Music Store.

Along the way, she's had teachers and mentors to guide her, and one of the most important was Roxie Choate, the former president of the Genesee Symphony Orchestra, herself a retired teacher, who died in October.

Case, who first served on the GSO board as a high school student, has stepped in to lead the GSO.

"Roxie was a passionate and unabashedly determined leader," Case said. "Under her guidance, I learned how to positively steer the GSO Board and how to be a leader in music ministry. We connected and bonded over music, from appreciating classical music to playing piano and organ duets together, and forged a seemingly unlikely friendship through our love for music in the community. Her influence continues to serve me well on a daily basis."

In addition to working together on the GSO board for a number of years, Choate and Case became well acquainted with one another musically at the Batavia First Presbyterian Church, where Coate was an organist, and Case played piano.

Coate had been a music teacher in Oakfield-Alabama. After graduating from Batavia High School, she earned a degree in music education from Buffalo State University.  The 30-year-old Case is now a music teacher at Batavia Middle School.

Her musical journey has prepared her well for both roles.  Starting with those piano lessons at Roxy's Music, she participated in musical theater as a child, was a member of the chorus in middle school and high school, and along the way, she became a percussionist to go along with singing, playing the piano, and organ. She first joined the GSO as a percussionist while still a teen, and then Choate asked her to be a student rep on the GSO board.  Following a break for college, Case rejoined the orchestra and the board as she wrapped up her education in 2016.

"I like GSO because you meet so many people in the community, people from all ages and backgrounds. That is what really drew me in," Case said. 

The orchestra, she said, is comprised of “local folks, people from surrounding counties, music teachers and people with jobs outside of music.  It’s such a wonderful group of people. We have a wonderful time rehearsing together and putting on concerts together.”

Obviously, Case is passionate about music.  She thinks music helps bring people together.

"Music has a unique way of connecting people like nothing else. Music is healing, exciting, joyful, engaging," Case said. "I see every day the impact that music has on people of all ages and how it is a creative outlet in so many ways. Music is a part of nearly every moment of my day, whether I’m singing, playing, teaching, or listening."

One reason GSO has thrived in recent years is the leadership of music director and conductor S. Shade Zajac, Case said.

“I enjoy working with Shade," Case said. "The whole board does. We appreciate that he comes to board meetings when he can or gets on a call with us and that he brainstorms with us about concerts. We really have a great time working with him. He has a great vision when it comes time to select repertoire. The music he picks pushes us all as musicians, and we feel grateful to have him at the helm.”

As president of the board, Case, of course, has a role in ensuring the GSO continues to build on its success, and she that can happen through collaboration with other arts groups in the community and making connections with young people who are interested in music.

Entertaining programs, such as the one Zajac has programmed for Saturday at GCC, will also help garner growing support for the orchestra.

"The program is a blend of emotions," Case said. "There are some familiar pieces and some new ones that people will enjoy."

One of the new pieces is a composition by Paul McCartney.  Yes, the former Beatle writes more than pop songs.  He has composed a number of classical pieces, including Spiral, which the GSO will perform at the concert.

"I'm a huge Beatles fan, so I'm excited to play one of Paul McCartney's lesser-known works," Case said.

The rest of the program is comprised of pieces by other English composers, as Vaughn-Williams and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

The anchor piece of the program is Elgar's “Enigma Variations.” 

"It's one of my favorite pieces in the entire literature," Zajac told The Batavian at the start of the season. "It's a very special piece. I've conducted only one movement from it (previously). It's a remarkable piece of music. Every note and every bar sounds like English music, which is incredible because you can trace every note to some other composer. You can hear the influences of Beethoven and Bach and Wagner. But somehow, he makes it all sound like English music."

Choate is, as they say in show business, a tough act to follow, Case acknowledged.  She led the board. She often handled concert publicity. She was also the personnel manager.

"Roxie did so much.  We find things all the time we didn’t even know about," Case said. "As a board, we say all the time, 'Oh, Roxie did that, and she did this, and she did that.' She was a huge advocate for GSO and for music education.

The GSO, with what it has achieved and how it can yet grow, will carry on because of a lot of people over the past eight decades, but Choate certainly contributed to GSO's success.

"I have so much pride in GSO," Case said. "We have a professional orchestra right here in Batavia. We can offer to our community that experience. You can go to Buffalo and Rochester and hear those orchestras, or you can stay right here in Batavia and hear a professional orchestra."

The GSO concert on Saturday at GCC begins at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors, and students with an ID can get in for free.

Photos by Howard Owens.

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