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Roxie Choate

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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Friends reflect on 'integral' member of musical community

By Joanne Beck
Roxie Choate
Roxanne "Roxie" Choate

Generosity — of her time, friendship, possessions, and passion for music, life, and all creatures — is something that Roxanne “Roxie” Choate will be remembered for by her friends, family, and fellow choir members, they say.

A music teacher at Oakfield-Alabama school, president of Genesee Symphony Orchestra, choir director and bell choir member, and organist at Batavia First Presbyterian Church for many years, Choate became a fixture to many for her connections to the notes on the page and the songs in the air. She died on Oct. 5 at Le Roy Village Green Nursing Home.

“Roxie loved music and loved to share it with others. She had the gift of discovering talent and connecting people to choirs or musical groups. Many of our music leaders in the church today were mentored by Roxie,” the Rev. Roula Alkhouri of Batavia First Presbyterian said. “I loved watching the friendship she had with Melzie Case, our organist/choir director. The music was what brought them together, but their friendship grew deep. We are so grateful to have Melzie, but without Roxie, it would not have been possible.

"The same is true of Cheri Kolb. Roxie was the connection for Cheri to our church,” Alkhouri said. “The Bell Choir is something that she started in our church as well.”

Alkhouri also noted Choate’s tremendous generosity when it came to her time, talent, and resources. She had an apparent green thumb and was also skilled in the culinary world. 

“Every summer I got tomatoes and other goodies from her garden. Every Christmas, I received a beautiful wreath for our home to put on our door. I got to taste many of her wonderful meals as she often shared them with me,” Alkhouri said. “Every year she spent a lot of time and effort thinking about the Christmas gifts she was going to give to the members of her bell choir. She would get so excited about the selection. One year, she found beautiful ornaments that were quite expensive and bought only a few of them at a time until she was ready to share them by Christmas. Roxie was also generous with her time and energy. She volunteered for anything that was needed at church, even for jobs she didn’t necessarily enjoy. Her spirit of service was exemplary.”

Melzie Case met Choate several years ago when in the Genesee Symphony Orchestra, where she developed a friendship with someone who was an “advocate, leader, and volunteer in the GSO for numerous years,” and also served as Board president, vice president, personnel manager, ad book co-chair, string workshop coordinator and helped to organize the first Summer Serenade events, “in addition to performing countless tasks behind the scenes that have helped the GSO to thrive.”

“She was integral in virtually every aspect of the orchestra’s operations and I believe the GSO is successful today because of her work and contributions,” Case said. “I first met Roxie in 2009 when I became involved with the GSO as a high school student, and we worked closely together on the Board over the years. In 2019 Roxie asked me to accompany the choir at the Batavia First Presbyterian Church where I also enjoyed playing piano and organ duets with her. Whether it was a phone call about the orchestra or a choir rehearsal, we shared many laughs and the joy of making music over the years. 

“Roxie, a music educator, was passionate about bringing music to the community,” Case said. “She was a friend in music to me and so many others, and her impact will be felt for years to come.” 

Paul Saskowski worked with Choate on the GSO board about eight years ago and recalled how she covered many positions at the time.

“And (she) would tirelessly work for the GSO. We worked as co-presidents through the process to hire Shade,” Saskowski said. “She was dedicated and relentless.”

Sarah Wahl and Sherry Mosher shared how tenacious Choate was when it came to leading the bell choir. She took on that role in 2009, and passed along “to all of us handbell ringers her passion for precision and excellence,” Mosher shared on behalf of her and Wahl.

“Many of us wondered how she was able to detect a wrong bell was played when five bells played a chord. ‘Someone picked up the wrong bell; that was supposed to be a B flat,’ she would promptly say. Either no one admitted to it or you would hear a loud ‘Oh no, how could she possibly catch that.’ We became performance-ready in no time thanks to her leadership,"  Mosher said.

The bell choir performed at the Holland Land Office Museum, the VA, and Genesee County Nursing Home (now Premier) and for many worship services at the church.  The season was capped off when “Roxie graciously hosted a wonderful party for the ringers and spouses at her and Mike's beautiful home,” she said.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though Choate’s leadership did come with a sense of humor, Mosher said. She answered the call to lead the First Presbyterian Church Sanctuary Choir when a director was needed and never held back from selecting challenging anthems.

“More than once, after one or two go-arounds on a new song, many of us questioned whether we could ever learn the song. In fact, the first whirl on one song with multiple key changes and back-and-forth repeats, we ended up in a loud outburst of laughter,” Mosher said. “However, with Roxie's persistence and direction,  we learned it and performed it very well. No doubt, Roxie passed along to us her love of music, pride, and performance perfectionism. For all FPC Handbell Ringers and Choir members alike, we all miss Roxie and deeply value our years of friendship, leadership, and her passion for music.”

As much as she loved music, Choate also had a deep faith and loved God, Jesus, and the church, Alkhouri said.  For Mother’s Day each year, the gift she asked for was to have her whole family go to church with her. 

“Even during her recent illness, Roxie never waivered in her trust in God’s care for her. She was not afraid because she knew and felt the love of God,” Alkhouri said. “Roxie loved her family so much. I would often get to hear the love in her voice as she spoke about her children and their family. She was an amazing mother, grandmother, and a great-grandmother.

“Roxie was such a great example of strength. She faced all the challenges of life with a sense of commitment to the common good no matter what she was facing. Until the middle of June, Roxie was always on the go and was involved in so many community activities, even as she cared for her husband,” Alkhouri said. “She inspired me in times of hardship. During the pandemic, Roxie was also willing to adapt and change to meet the music needs of the church.” 

A truism about Choate was that “once you became Roxie’s friend, you became a friend for life,” Alhouri said. That was true even for the cherished kitties under her care. 

“Roxie has had a huge impact on my life and the lives of many. I know that I am a better person because of knowing Roxie and having her as my friend,” Alkhouri said. “What a blessing to have had her in my life and as part of our community.”

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