Charlie Garfinkel’s Racket Sports: Tennis, music go together for BPO members - The Buffalo News
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Charlie Garfinkel’s Racket Sports: Tennis, music go together for BPO members

Are you aware that the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has a number of outstanding musicians who are very proficient in tennis? The following relates why each of them feel that playing tennis complements their musical talents.

Alan Ross (violin): Ross is a solid 4.0 player who has played in many tournaments and taken part in USTA play the past few years. Originally from Cleveland, he has played violin in the Buffalo Philharmonic for 31 years. He was first involved with baseball as a youngster and didn’t take up tennis until college. Since then his powerful serve and forehand have made him a real force on the tennis court, especially in doubles.

“Switching from baseball to tennis was a pretty smooth transition. I fell in love with the game immediately,” he said, adding that the development of strokes in tennis greatly helps in learning the technique of a musical instrument.

He loves the competition that tennis provides. In music, he stresses that the competition factor isn’t as big because all of the musicians have basically the same goals. He plays mostly doubles because he has had a couple of knee surgeries and doubles play is easier on his body. Ross is one of the most popular players in the group and has an advantage on his serve because he is a lefty.

“Tennis is a great game. I greatly enjoy tennis playing with players of all ages and levels,” Ross said.

Diana Sachs (violin): Sachs’ tennis game has improved remarkably over the past year. She is a 3.5 player who plays doubles regularly with Ross, Roman Mekinulov, and Jay Matthews. She has been a violinist with the Philharmonic for 35 years and puts a great amount of time into practicing and rehearsing. She enjoys playing with the other musicians.

“We joke around a lot on the court and constantly work hard to improve our games,” Sachs said.

She stresses that she loves playing violin in the orchestra and the chamber music.

“However, it’s so great to go out on the tennis court and let off some steam and try to hit good strokes with my fellow musicians,” Sachs said. “All those tennis lessons that I took have really paid off.”

Jay Matthews (French horn): Everyone loves playing with Jay because of his outgoing personality. The 6-foot-4 Matthews wears size 15 tennis sneakers. He jokingly says, “Footwork is not my forte.”

However, he has arguably the hardest serve in the group and also hits a strong forehand. He is originally from Fort Worth, Texas, and has been playing the french horn in the Philharmonic for 19 years. He hadn’t played tennis since he was a kid and didn’t get back into it until he was asked by some of the musicians to play 2½ years ago. He relates that the concentration and focus are very similar in both tennis and in music and feels that the exercise that helps him with his breathing and muscle control when playing the French horn.

“My tennis level of play is about 3.5,” Matthews said. “I hope that my horn playing rates a little bit higher. As for my tennis strokes I have been told that I look like an octopus falling out of a tree when I am moving. So, I guess I have a few things to work on.”

Phil Christner (trumpet): Christner has always lived in Buffalo and has been playing trumpet in the BPO for 32 years.

“Tennis is what keeps me in good shape,” Christener said. “Tennis helps me with my breathing when I am sitting in the chair for an extended time, and keeps my muscles strong.”

He said that just because he is sitting when he plays in the orchestra he is still working hard. As for his strengths he knows that it definitely isn’t his backhand. His strengths are a steady forehand, being limber, and being fleet afoot.

Monte Hoffman (cello): Hoffman has been playing the cello an incredible 63 years and has played with the Philharmonic for 49 years. He has been playing tennis for 25 years and loves the sport because he feels, and rightfully so, that you can play well into your later life. He feels that playing tennis has skills that are compatible with playing an instrument, such as good hand and eye coordination.

Hoffman admits to being an average tennis player who tries to keep the ball in play and frustrate his opponents. He claims that his only strength in tennis is his mental game. He loves the game and finds it humorous when grown adults get upset over a close call.

“Don’t take the game so seriously because there is always someone who is going to defeat you sooner or later,” he said.

Roman Mekinulov (cello): Mekinulov is a cellist who is originally from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia. He has played in the Philharmonic for 12 years and first started playing tennis when he was 18. He went to Juilliard, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees after six years. He didn’t play tennis from the time he enrolled at Juilliard until five years ago. Due to a shoulder injury he still doesn’t serve hard. Mekinulov is a 3.5 player who is very intelligent on the court, has a good forehand, moves extremely well and has great anticipation.

“What I love about tennis is that everyone that I play with has basically the same schedule that I do, are friendly and competitive, and enjoy playing with everyone in our group,” he said.

Jeff Jones (violin): Jones is originally from Akron, Ohio, and has played violin in the Philharmonic for 39 years. He went to school at Western Reserve Academy in Ohio and enjoyed playing tennis on both the asphalt and clay courts that the school had. He was out of tennis for more than 30 years before starting to play again about 10 years ago. Although Jones plays a lot of doubles he really doesn’t play much with other Philharmonic musicians because he lives in South Towns and plays mostly at South Towns Tennis Club and Chestnut Ridge. The other members play mostly at Miller Tennis Center and the Village Glen.

“I play doubles with an older group that includes some players that are over 80,” Jones said. “It is amazing at how well some of them still play. They prove the old adage that says “staying active keeps you young.”

Geoff Hardcastle (trumpet): Hardcastle is a 4.0 player who has played the trumpet for seven years in the Philharmonic. He played quite a bit of tennis in junior high and high school when he lived in Los Angeles. An extremely cerebral player, he loves the mental aspects of tennis. He feels that playing tennis helps him greatly when he plays the trumpet as it makes him feel as if he is in top physical shape.

“Playing tennis with Jay Matthews and Phil Christner is so much fun. Everyone also enjoys playing with Alan Ross. He is a great player, and regardless of your level of play, he brings out the best in each one of us,” he said.

Jacek Muzyk (french horn): Muzyk has played the French horn in the Philharmonic for the past 11 years. Muzyk feels that playing tennis is a great way to stay in shape and keeps him sharper mentally when playing.

“Playing tennis is like playing the French horn. They both challenge you to do your best at all times.,” he said.

Muzyk says that everyone says that they want to play for fun. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “Most people that I play with always want to win. Let’s face it. Winning is much more fun than losing.”

Muzyk is a 4.0 player who plays quite a bit with Ross and Hardcastle. “I can tell how well I’m playing by how well I do against Alan and Geoff.”


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