All we need is music, sweet music / And there’ll be music everywhere
There’ll be laughing, singing and music swinging / And dancing in the street.
—Dancing in the Streets, Marvin Gaye/William Stevenson/Ivy Jo Hunter
Everyone who sang Dancing in the Streets — from Martha and the Vandellas to the Grateful Dead to Van Halen — could have had Maxine Graber in mind when they sang the celebratory song of music’s uplift and power.
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Maxine Graber, who died at 93 on May 1, was music.
She was a piano teacher when she raised her sons Woody and Jeffrey with her artistic postal supervisor husband Samuel in Buffalo, N.Y. — and anyone who knows Woody Graber, a veteran entertainment publicist in South Florida, knows that music is his DNA. This is the guy, after all, who inspired a line in the 1970 Grateful Dead song Truckin.’ (“Truckin’ off to Buffalo.”)
The Cleveland-born, Buffalo-raised Maxine Graber was responsible for that music gene.
“There was always music and a piano in our house, and from the time I was able to get up onto a bench I was taught to play the piano,” Graber said. “Music was such an important part of her life, and she gave that to us and encouraged us to pursue whatever we wanted with music.”
Son’s rock and roll? Not exactly her gig. “Whatever you like, that’s what you like, that’s for you,” she would tell her children. Classic mom mold.
As a piano teacher, she allowed her children to use her account at a local music store, Denton’s, to purchase sheet music. Jeffrey dug classical. Woody gravitated to the Beatles, Stones and Kinks.
“I remember when he would come home from school. If something didn’t go quite right, he’d go right to the piano and let out his feelings,” Maxine Graber said in a 2000 Miami Herald story.
But when conductor Andrew McMullen realized that the Stuart and Jensen Beach region of Florida was in need of culture, the first person he rang up was Maxine Graber. By then, in 1990, she was already a grandmother, a world traveler and mostly retired, but when the phone rang with a request to start an orchestra, she responded.
Graber and McMullen founded The Atlantic Classical Orchestra. She would serve as its managing director until 2000.
“She was the first one he called,” her son said. “She was so passionate about what she did and always involved, whether it was the PTAs or telling me right from wrong — which she did on many occasions — but he approached her and she knew nothing about starting an orchestra, but he didn’t, either.”
She figured she’d give it a try. She certainly knew culture and how to excite people about the arts.
Now in its 25th season, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra has become the only resident performing arts organization on Florida’s Treasure Coast, performing concerts around the state and regularly in Palm Beach County. In 2009, a new partnership was forged with Miami’s Dranoff International Two Piano Competition to perform education programs in schools throughout South Florida.
Graber met her husband in Canada in 1943 when he was on furlough from the Army. Two years later, they married, and the first dance at the wedding led to a lifetime of dances. Samuel Graber died two years ago.
In 1977, the family moved from Buffalo to Stuart where she danced with the Fabulous Footnotes, a tap-dancing troupe that landed her one time on the Radio City Music Hall stage. At the Delray Beach retirement community she had moved to later, Abbey Delray, she created the Dancing Walkers group and Abbey Tappers.
“I remember at the Amphitheater in West Palm Beach (Cruzan), they had André Rieu performing. I gave them tickets to come see the show, and they were out in the aisles dancing the waltz during the performance. Music was a very strong part of her life,” Woody Graber said.
Travel, too. Graber and her husband cruised the rivers of Russia, took the Orient Express, visited the Great Wall of China. She also played the calliope on a Mississippi river boat when the captain learned how adept she was on keyboards.
The couple kept a map with pins to mark off all the destinations they had hit.
“There are a lot of pins there,” her son said. “I’ll never be able to thank her enough for allowing me all that access to the sheet music that was such a strong part of my life in high school.”
In addition to her sons, Graber is survived by six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Services were held. Donations in her name can be made to the Atlantic Classical Orchestra.
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