Hitting the High Notes
Playing piccolo with the Westchester Symphonic Winds is a spiritual’ pursuit for Strauss Paper Company CFO Rachel Eckhaus
Photos byJen Parente
Who doesn’t love the rousing piccolo solo in Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”? Its sheet music reveals a crazy roller coaster of notes — over 122, to be exact. It’s an intimidating piece to be sure — just ask Rachel Eckhaus, who is often called upon to perform it in public, before cheering crowds.
Piccolo player and CFO Rachel Eckhaus helped found the Westchester Symphonic Winds 29 years ago. Today, the group — comprising “doctors, lawyers, computer programmers, music educators, and former military” — performs several concerts each year.
A professional numbers-cruncher by trade — she’s the CFO of janitorial-supply firm Strauss Paper Company in Port Chester — Eckhaus is also the principle piccolo player for the Westchester Symphonic Winds (WSW), a group of 60 amateur musicians she helped found 29 years ago. The busy single mother of two remains dedicated to the ensemble, which performs three concerts each year as the ensemble-in-residence at the Tarrytown Music Hall, plus the always-sold-out Fourth of July celebration at Caramoor.
Eckhaus’ musical career began in elementary school in New Rochelle when she picked up the flute and later the piccolo, despite a decided lack of encouragement from those within earshot. “A newbie on the piccolo is like a newbie on the violin — quite jarring,” she admits. A private teacher helped Eckhaus learn to love the instrument, which gets “much better parts,” than the flute, she says. New Rochelle High School’s band program solidified her passion while surreptitiously planting the seeds for what would become Westchester Symphonic Winds.
The ensemble was born after Eckhaus bumped into a former NRHS bandmate, Robert LaPorta, on the train. The two had taken to commiserating about how much they missed playing and how few opportunities there were to do so.
Like many musicians, they had put down their instruments for day jobs. Eckhaus had assessed her professional potential long ago, while attending a summer flute program at Tanglewood as a teen. “All 25 flute players there were older and played circles around me, yet they were still struggling to succeed,” she recalls. Vowing to “play only for fun,” she went on to earn an accounting degree but was musically unfulfilled until that fateful train ride. Efforts to “get the band back together” began with contacting NRHS alums, and Westchester Symphonic Winds grew from there to the well-established, dedicated roster it enjoys today. “We have doctors, lawyers, computer programmers, music educators, former military… an amazing group of people,” Eckhaus says, who all gladly donate their time and talent.
Eckhaus’ employers at Strauss paper are extremely supportive, she says, understanding how much she needs “her music thing.” Rehearsing and performing with WSW is “spiritual,” she claims, like “spa time.” “I’m not Mom; I’m not CFO; I’m not the boss,” she adds. “Nobody’s pulling at me. I just sit there and play. I couldn’t ask for a better hobby.”