August 13, 2020
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Accomplished classical musician Michael Sanders’s main career was in transportation, though in his retirement he’s been able to share his musical appreciation by serving on the board of the Robbie Collomore Concerts. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Accomplished classical musician Michael Sanders’s main career was in transportation, though in his retirement he’s been able to share his musical appreciation by serving on the board of the Robbie Collomore Concerts. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)


Michael Sanders shares his Chester home with a menagerie that includes Denali, a red-footed tortoise. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Michael Sanders shares his Chester home with a menagerie that includes Denali, a red-footed tortoise. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

Michael Sanders: This Double Bass is not a Fish

Published Aug. 21, 2019

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Michael Sanders’s family has a special relationship to the Person of the Week column. Mike is the third member of his family to be featured. His wife Sally was the subject when she was the leader of the cub scout pack to which the Sanders’s son Zachary belonged; Mike’s son Matt was a person of the week six years ago when he was working as a docent at Gillette Castle.

Now It’s Mike’s turn. He is on the board of the Robbie Collomore Concerts, the four-concert, fall series at the Chester Meeting House that is a reliable favorite on the local music scene. Two the concerts always feature classical musicians; the other two concerts highlight artists from blues and jazz to world music.

This year’s lineup includes the Ansonia String Quartet on Sunday, Sept. 22; Hubie Jenkins Jazz and Blues on Sunday, Oct. 13; John Anderson Bluegrass Band on Sunday, Nov. 3 and cellist Carter Brey with pianist Benjamin Pasternack on Sunday, Nov. 24.

Mike knows concerts; he is himself a musician, a double bass player. He says he paid his way through college at SUNY Binghamton playing as a freelancer in the Binghamton and Syracuse symphonies as well as the early days of the now-renowned Glimmerglass Festival. Still, he opted against a professional career as a musician.

“I thought about it but decided against it. It is a different way of living, and I would have had to spend a lot more time with the bass,” he says.

He continued, nonetheless, as a freelance musician for many years with the Connecticut Valley Symphony Orchestra, the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra, and the Manchester Symphony, among others.

As his professional responsibilities as a transportation expert grew more demanding, however, Mike found he had to curtail his musical schedule.

“I don’t play anymore for pay; I backed off about 10 years ago. I really needed the time for my day job,” he explains.

Now, he plays in only one amateur group: the string ensemble at the Community Music School in Centerbrook.

When he went off to college, Mike, who grew up in Merrick, Long Island, was unsure of a major. He briefly thought of music; next it was geology and then he took a geography course.

“It looked interesting,” he recalls.

It certainly interested him. He had found his major.

“Geography is an interdisciplinary social science that takes in many field,” he says.

Graduation brought the sad surprise that has upended the plans of many a college senior: Mike couldn’t get a job. He worked as a teaching assistant at SUNY Binghamton and the manager of a GNC store in a local mall.

“I knew a bit about nutrition,” he explains, the result of keeping himself in shape for his high school track team when ran hurdles.

Next, he saw an advertisement placed by a regional planning association for a cartographer.

“I had done cartography in school,” he recalls so he applied and he got a job, but not the one he had applied for. “They said I was overqualified for that job,” he says.

Instead, he was offered a position in the regional planning agency in Binghamton.

In 1980, still doing regional planning he changed jobs and locations, becoming the director of surface transportation for the Westchester County Department of Transportation.

“Transportation was a new challenge for me,” he says.

In 1994, still focused on transportation, Mike moved both to Chester and to the Connecticut Department of Transportation. He spoke with particular pride about his work on Connecticut Fast Track, an express bus service involving bus-only lanes for much of the route it covers. The service, Mike says, is popular not only with longtime bus commuters but with younger riders who want to avoid owning cars and use public transportation. (Visit for more information.)

Mike retired in 2017; he formed his own company and is doing 10 hours a week of transit consulting for the City of New Haven, but he has no intention of plunging into work full time again.

“I’m retired,” he explains. “It’s nice now; I only carry once cell phone, not two, and sometimes I get no emails instead of 250 a day.”

He remains active in Chester, serving on the Planning & Zoning and the Economic Development commissions. He is also a trustee of the Chester Historical Society, of which the Collomore Concert Series is a part. In addition, he has been involved with Common Ground, a third party in Chester that has run candidates for town commissions and in some cases selectmen for over a decade.

“It still gives some people an option if they don’t want to identify with a party or if their party does not want to have them run,” Mike explains.

Retirement leaves more time for Mike and Sally to travel.

“We thought, ‘Let’s do it while we can,’” he says.

They have, among other places, hiked the famous Milford Track in New Zealand, gone to Southeast Asia, and visited the Galapagos Island and Machu Pichu, the abandoned Inca city in the Peruvian highlands. Concerned about the environment, Mike says he and Sally are conscious of the carbon emission expended for overseas flights. A recent report by NBC News identified air travel as frequently the largest source of personal carbon emissions for what the report describes as “high-income individuals and frequent flyers.”

“We don’t want to endanger the environment,” Mike says.

He and Sally are conscious of trying to shrink their own carbon footprint. To that end, their home has solar panels that create enough electricity to power their whole house.

Mike’s sons, Matt and Zachary, are now adults and on their own, but Mike and Sally have plenty of housemates. They share their home with five turtles, four cats, a ball python named Aria (in a terrarium in the living room), and Denali, a red-footed tortoise. Their menagerie has also included birds, fish, and hermit crabs.

“At one time, we had 12 species including in this house, including kids,” Mike says.

The animals are all rescues, the result of Sally’s longtime work at a veterinary clinic.

In the barn in the back of Mike’s house there are two horses; several more are boarded out. Mike is not the rider, but he gets on each of them once.

“I want to see what I paid for,” he says.

As he looks forward to the upcoming Robbie Collomore season, Mike says he is particularly interested in the performances of the Ansonia String Quartet and cellist Carter Brey.

“I’m a classical musician, so I tend to enjoy those concerts in a special way. This year we have a contrast in the two classical concerts—a young string quartet just starting out and Carter Brey, who has had a long and successful career. Interesting juxtaposition the two,” he notes.

2019 Robbie Collomore Concerts

All Robbie Collomore Concerts are held in the Chester Meeting House at 5 p.m. on Sundays

Sept. 22: Ansonia String Quartet

Oct. 13: Hubie Jenkins Jazz and Blues

Nov. 3: John Anderson Bluegrass Band

Nov. 24: Cellist Carter Brey with pianist Benjamin Pasternack

For tickets and information, visit

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