Slice of Rye
Stephen Banker Strikes the Right Chord
By Janice Llanes Fabry
Stephen Banker is the type of guy who leaves an indelible mark wherever he goes. Whether it’s at one of the country’s best corporate law firms, in an underserved public school district, a renowned nonprofit performing arts group, or a neighborhood party in Greenhaven where he resides, Banker is acutely attuned to the joy in everything he does and the good in others.
As a member of the Westchester Chordsmen, a men’s a cappella chorus he joined four years ago, not only can he harmonize with the best of them, he took on leadership, administrative, and logistical duties as president. Nevertheless, it is his peers whose praises he gleefully sings.
“When I joined the Chordsmen, I got 60 new friends,” noted the bass. “They’re wonderful, friendly, and warm. We’re a volunteer organization, so everyone chips in and loves making music.”
With respect to his career, the retired partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP admitted that “except for marrying my wife, working at Skadden was the best decision I ever made. I worked with exceptional people on the most interesting legal issues all over the country and internationally.”
If asked to offer advice to seniors on the cusp, he remarked, “Retirement is fabulous, but you have to be prepared for it. It’s good to have something artistic, altruistic, and intellectual in one’s life. And, of course, family is critical to all of it.”
Upon retiring seven years ago, he “took out a legal pad out and made a list of activities,” of which he’s only begun to make a dent. Singing for the Westchester Chordsmen didn’t even make the cut.
“Last time I sang in an organized group was in the fourth grade, but I did always play the trumpet through elementary and high school. I thought that when I’d retire, I would pick it up again because I love making music,” he said.
The Westchester Chordsmen weren’t on his radar at all, that is until he and his wife Susan saw them perform at a Youth A Cappella Festival, where their son’s Rye Neck High School Glee Club also sang. Benjamin, now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, is a glee club member there as well, one whom Banker insisted “is a much better musician.”
About hearing the Chordsmen at the festival, Banker recalled, “When I saw the group singing in four-part harmonies and grooving to the music, I elbowed my wife and whispered, ‘Do you think I should do this’ and she said ‘yes.’ I was just a shower singer, but she always told me I had a good voice.”
A week later, he joined them at their rehearsal space at Kol Ami Synagogue in White Plains. Two weeks after that, he passed the audition and has been performing at events and fundraisers ever since.
The Westchester Chordsmen have been singing as part of the worldwide Barbershop Harmony Society since 1953. They’ve performed at the White House, at Carnegie Hall, and in China, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. During Banker’s tenure, they sang at Lincoln Center when Distinguished Concerts International arranger and producer Deke Sharon invited them to perform.
Their eclectic repertoire last May included Benny Goodman/Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” Tina Turner/John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary,” and Kiki Dee Band’s “I’ve Got the Music in Me.”
“Being on the stage was certainly a different perspective. Logistically, it was such a labyrinth getting there,” he quipped. “I was focused on the music, I knew where my wife and son were seated among the almost 3,000 people there, and it went by in a flash.”
The Chordsmen also compete regularly and currently rank 10th in the Mid-Atlantic District of the Barbershop Harmony Society. Their annual Youth A Cappella Festival appearance is coming up on November 18 at Mamaroneck High School and their holiday show will be held December 18 at First Presbyterian Church in Ossining.
As a public service, they perform at elder care facilities during the holidays. In addition, they offer free six-week singing lessons twice a year for men of all ages, including teenagers, that culminate in a full-fledged performance.
To offset choral expenses, such as rehearsal space fees, the not-for-profit organization publishes “Overtones,” a magazine that makes ad space available. It also offers Singing Valentines. For a fee that includes roses and a card, the Chordsmen will serenade unsuspecting loved ones with two songs, from “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” to “Love Me Tender.”
As if singing his way across Westchester weren’t enough, Banker also volunteers once a week at an elementary school in Manhattan’s lower east side. The Honorary Trustee of the Board of Education Alliance, a multi-generational social service organization, has designed a maps curriculum for the afterschool program that has sparked the interest of third and fifth graders there. A longtime map collector, Banker has actually expanded and adapted map lessons he originally designed for Rye Presbyterian Nursery School’s 4-year-olds.
“It has been such an opportunity for creative thought. I’m loving this,” he said, “I hope I’m cramming their heads with information and getting them to think.”
No doubt Banker’s retirement holds all the right notes. As he observed about his role in one of the Westchester Chordsmen’s quartets, “You’re the only one singing your part.”
For upcoming events, services, and auditions, visit Chordsmen.org.
Westchester Chordsmen President Stephen Banker