Person of the Week
David Frank: Never Too Old to Swing
David Frank smiles before giving a mini concert on the alto saxophone. The retired gastroenterologist and World War II veteran has transferred his love of clarinet to a new instrument thanks to the New Horizon’s band at the Community Music School (CMS). Hear David and his fellow players swing at the CMS annual gala on Saturday, April 22 at The Lace Factory at 6 p.m. (Photo by Michelle Anjirbag/The Courier)
What do World War II, gastroenterology, and a saxophone have in common? The answer to that question lies within Essex resident David Frank, the 92 year-old alto saxophonist for the Community Music School’s New Horizons band.
New Horizons is a national music program for adults who either never studied music or who stopped playing for a while.
While the saxophone is new to David, who is cajoled into practicing by his wife, Valley Courier writer Rita Christopher (they sometimes duet, with her on the baritone horn), music was long a part of his life.
“I started playing clarinet at 11 years old. Music was important in our family,” says David, who has since given up the clarinet because of arthritis.
Born and raised in Burlington, Vermont, David served in the Army during World War II. He spent two years in the Rio Grande Valley with an Army band.
“I originally went in as a potential pilot, but I washed out,” says David. “I was in a place called Mission, Texas, which probably doesn’t exist anymore. We were only there because there were 365 clear, blue-skies flying days. We were teaching people to fly, and I was part of the support of that.
“I went to the Army band because there were a bunch of us sitting around, and someone said,’Hey, does anyone play the clarinet?’ And I said, ‘That’s me,’” says David.
After that, David went to Enid, Oklahoma, “with an outfit with nothing to do at all.” To fill his time, he took classes at Phillips University, picking up where he had left off with his coursework when he had to leave the University of Vermont to join the Army.
“I took chemistry, physics, and systematic botany—don’t ask me what that was about, I don’t remember. But when I was discharged I finished my courses, and then I decided to go to medical school,” says David.
David was accepted into Harvard Medical School, and graduated in 1950—the same year his first wife gave birth to twin daughters. He became board certified in gastroenterology, something he calls “the story of a lot of hard work” as he had to first certify in internal medicine. He practiced for about 40 years.
“I gave up the clarinet when I went to medical school. I sold my horns because I needed money for school. I was on the G.I. Bill then, which worked out well, it paid for three out of four years of medical school,” says David.
“I was an intern at Massachusetts Memorial; it’s not called an internship anymore, it’s now a first-year residency. From there I went through the VA system. It was really good training and they also paid really well. They paid $36,000, which I needed, I had a wife, two kids, and two dogs, and anyone else who was around because I was working,” says David.
As for becoming a gastroenterologist, that was born of what David referred to as “cowardice.”
“Specializing means that you’re sort of a coward. You don’t want to get into all sorts of things like a general practitioner. I wanted to do one thing well,” says David.
David eventually went into private practice as a junior practitioner. While he still hadn’t returned to music, he was always doing things with his hands, even after retiring in 1992.
“I loved to build things, I built a house, extensions for it, and then a separate wing for my 16 year olds. They had their own telephone line—and they used it,” says David.
His children, twins Susan and Amy, and Elisha, seven years younger that the twins, live in New Jersey, Mexico, and Massachusetts, respectively.
No longer building things, David has returned to the music he loved. He’s been with the New Horizon’s band for about five years, and enjoys the range of music the director, Patricia Hurley, brings to the group.
“Patty keeps bringing new music to us all the time, which keeps us occupied,” says David. “I really like sight-reading.
“We also give concerts, too, where there are elderly citizens,” he says, noting he’s realistic about his fan base. “We think they’re listening, but they’re nodding off to sleep.”
In addition to the twice a week rehearsals, David also takes private lessons with Hurley.
“Patty’s a good leader—[a] very exacting leader—which makes you play better,” says David. “I don’t love to practice. I have to be nudged. We play a fair amount of different kinds of music.”
What he does love, however, is “the fact that I can do it. Of course, I couldn’t do the clarinet anymore,” says David.
He started on the clarinet at all because of his mother, who emphasized the importance of music for her sons.
“She knew that music was important along with education. And she had neither. She was a high school graduate who played nothing, but she got us playing at an early age,” says David.
New Horizons has given David, and those he plays with a chance to re-instill music into their lives, and from the twinkling in his eyes as he picks up the saxophone to play a short melody, it is obvious that music has gone a long way to keep him young at heart, and the living representation of the idea that it is never too late to start something new, or reclaim a lost hobby.
The Community Music School Swing Band will perform at the annual Community Music School Gala on Saturday, April 22 at 6 p.m. at The Lace Factory in Deep River. Tickets, $125, can be purchased at www.community-music-school.org/gala.