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They Got The Band Back Together 

Rich Iacona leads the Half Hollow Hills Alumni Band’s first performance in nearly four decades in July at the Dix Hills Performing Arts Center. Iacona, who taught at Hills from 1969-1979, will resume that role Sunday with 21 former students at the Dix Hills branch of the Half Hollow Hills Community Library.

After nearly 40 years apart, an intrepid group of nearly two-dozen Half Hollow Hills High School grads are coming home from all over the country to perform together with their high school music teacher leading the band.

The Half Hollow Hills Alumni Band, whose first performance in nearly four decades was July 7 at the Dix Hills Performing Arts Center at Five Towns College, will take the stage again at the Dix Hills branch of the Half Hollow Hills Community Library on Sunday. Former Hills music teacher Rich Iacona will be at the helm, as he was for most of the 1970s.

Bennett Fisher, now an attorney in Houston, Texas, said the idea to reform the band came after he reformed his high school band in 2006. Five years later he pulled his college band back together.

He would see Iacona about once a year, during reunion performances of his high school band, Octopus, at The Nutty Irishman. During one of those meetings about three or four years ago, he floated the idea of reforming the Hills Jazz Band.

Talk turned into action this January, when he, Iacona and bandmate Rich DeRosa agreed on a date of July 7. A few weeks later, they began emailing their classmates and searching for a venue.

“We had no idea how many people would show up,” Fisher said.

Following a flurry of emails, 21 came home to Dix Hills to perform. For many, it was the first time they had seen each other in nearly 40 years, let alone play music as a group. Under Iacona’s guidance, the group rehearsed for about six hours on July 6 at the Usdan Center before taking the stage at the Dix Hills Performing Arts Center July 7.

“The response was phenomenal,” Iacona said.

A few months later, the 21 performers of 25 overall have their sheet music for this Sunday and are gearing up for their second Alumni Band performance of jazz and big band favorites.

While some band members have pursued music and performing for a living, most have chosen other vocations. The time apart melted away quickly, Iacona said.

“After we’re in the room a few minutes and you see everybody, everybody is exactly what they were then in every way,” he said. “They look alike, act alike, act alike to each other.”

And for some, the teacher-student relationship remains sacrosanct, even 40 years later.

“Some of them still can’t call me Richie – they still call me Mr. I.,” Iacona said with a laugh. “Everything is the same. The same dynamic exists as it did years go.”

Iacona, who taught at Hills for 10 years until he became a full-time professional musician in 1979, was a young teacher who inspired his students, Fisher said. Since then, Iacona continued teaching as an adjunct professor – he currently teaches at LIU Post – and served as staff composer and arranger for the Omni Music Library in Port Washington, which produced music for film, screen and major ad campaigns. He also worked with Celine Dion at the height of her popularity, orchestrating a 1998 recording of “Feliz Navidad” on her “These Are Special Times” holiday record.

“He motivated us back then to study music and work at it. For some of us it became a vocation. For the rest of us, it became an avocation,” Fisher said.

But Iacona was quick to return the credit to his pupils.

“This was a very special group… They were very good when they were kids. We rehearsed a lot – they were all smart kids,” he said. “I was crazy about all of them.”

While all of the free tickets for Sunday’s performance have been snapped up, there’s still a chance to get a seat for the 1:30 p.m. show. Doors will open 15 minutes before showtime, and any seats remaining after ticketholders are seated will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information call the Dix Hills branch at 631-421-4530.

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