Phyllis Solomon shares about her dad, Ben Chancy, founder of the orchestral music program at Midwood and later Director of Music for the entire New York City Board of Education.
Ben Chancy opened Midwood High School with dreams of creating a music program that would provide cultural enrichment for all the students living in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. As he sized up each interested student, he suggested that the tall ones play the double bass and the short stocky ones the tuba and the petite ones, the flute. And so the orchestra and band grew to include all shapes and sizes and the music program at Midwood High School would become the finest in the city and became a magnet for all students interested in a diversified and inclusive music curriculum. The students and their parents were supportive, interested and excited to have this as a part of their high school experience. Ben created the Cavalcade of Stars in 1952 for the entire NYC school system. It was a magnificent gathering of New York’s most talented musicians including instrumentalists and vocalists. Beloved by his students, in the words of Sylvia Violin Midwood HS Class of 1955; “ Uncle Ben was the most compassionate and understanding gentleman I’ve ever met. He made each student feel as if he or she was the only student in the room. It was as he or she was the best musician at whatever instrument they were playing.” “I’ll never forget him.”
Having used Madison Square Garden as the venue to showcase the talented youngsters of our great city, provided Ben with the opportunity to apply for and be appointed to the position of Director of Music for the entire NYC Board of Education. A daunting task but he brought his passion for cultural enrichment for all of the students in the schools in all the boroughs. Ben championed the causes for symphonic, band, vocal, and instrumental music instruction and even created a music appreciation program for those students who were never exposed to the classical music repertoire. Ben left the music program at Midwood under the capable supervision of his former students, Jerry Goldstein and Julie Hirsch. They continued the legacy and the joys of music and the accomplishments continued on for many years . Ben Chancy loved his students, they gathered in his office under the stage and helped repair the instruments and catalog the music library . They practiced their instruments and stayed on after the school day to “jam” and compose and improvise. They were Ben’s squad and proudly they carried the torch for those students who would arrive at Midwood and realize they were in a setting of “music heaven.”
It was at the May 5, 1971 All City Concert at Lincoln Center that Ben Chancy was to come on stage and lift his baton to lead his talented young musicians of the “All City Orchestra of the City of New York” in Brahm’s Tragic Symphony. As the audience awaited his appearance on stage, there was an announcement and it was understood that Ben suffered a massive coronary attack backstage that he succumbed to. His baton was laid to rest and sits upon his grandson’s Neil’s mantle as a reminder of the man who brought his love for music to an entire city as well as the special loyalty he always displayed for his Midwood High School. Mr. Chancy was awarded the prestigious Handel Award in 1970 by Mayor John V. Lindsay.