In some ways, the old Beatles lyric from the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band album fits very well with Bayonne Senior Orchestra singer and piano player June Sturz, who is celebrating her 20th year as a member.
She broke her wrist earlier this year but continued to sing, and recently has found a way to play piano again, so that she will be fully functional when she appears with the orchestra on Sept. 8 at the Nuova Venezia from 6 to 9 p.m.
“I found out I can play a little,” she said.
Sturz joined the orchestra in the autumn of 1991, when the group was six years old. For many senior citizens, the orchestra has become a central part of their lives and a nostalgic connection to a musical past largely ignored by modern media. It also helps that members of the orchestra are also senior citizens who happened to be accomplished musicians with years of playing on the stage.
“What's the point of doing this if we can't have fun?" -- June Sturz
When Sturz joined, Charlie Oliver was leader, and when he became ill, Sturz took his place.
Sturz started with the orchestra as a singer, although she had had plenty of experience as a pianist over the years. She describes herself as a jazz pianist, not one who plays note for note.
Sturz became the pianist when the orchestra's pianist stepped out to use the toilet and she was asked to fill in.
"When he came back and heard me, he left and never came back," she said.
Always a piano around
Sturz grew up with music. Her mother always had a piano in the house. Even when Sturz made plans to attend dental school, she played music. Her mother provided her with piano lessons for a few years.
While she has degrees in everything from American literature to biology, she ended up teaching high school English.
She grew up in Brooklyn and arrived in Bayonne in 1982 when she married Mel Sturz, a local insurance agent.
She has performed most of her life in one way or another, and once had a duet group called the June and Judy Show.
A piano teacher at the Adult School helped inspire June when she got to Bayonne, giving her tough assignments, and encouraging her to play.
The orchestra draws most of their material from what is called The Great American Songbook. This is an informal name to describe a period of popular music that took place between the 1930s and 1950s that many consider the peak of writing popular music. It includes people like Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and Duke Ellington. The songs feature strong melodies, well-thoughtout lyrics, and sophisticated rhythms. The orchestra does occasionally play some contemporary tunes.
The orchestra performs a lot of gigs during the year, especially during the holidays, and usually rehearses at the old St. Andrew’s Hall on West Fourth Street.
“We’re always looking for new members,” she said.
The orchestra’s biggest time is in December, when they have eight or nine performances.
Each member brings a varied background.
Gusick, for instance, worked with musical groups over the years, but also kept his day job. Cappodona, who is the one member who lives out of town in nearby Jersey City, moonlights as an extra for movies and TV shows. Sturz also mentioned the wonderful rhythm section led by drummer Frank DiDonato.
"We all love to play and we all want to play," she said. "We have fun together. What's the point of doing this if we can't have fun?"