American Legion Band Maestro Kept Baton Moving at 96
Latest News | June 06, 2015
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Irwin Meyer at his home in Brooklyn in 2012. Mr. Meyer died in May after being hit by a car.
Irwin Meyer, 96, was an old Navy man who used to take his evening constitutional down to Sheepshead Bay from his apartment on East 21st Street in south Brooklyn.
“He was an old sailor — he liked to walk down to the water,” said his son, Stewart Meyer, 67. “You couldn’t talk him into not taking that walk at dusk.”
During one of those walks last month, Mr. Meyer was hit by a car and died three days later, on May 19, at Lutheran Medical Center.
The accident felled a man who by all accounts was still in the prime of his life.
In the previous week or two, he had been swing dancing, had rehearsed his big brass band, and had done his usual curating sessions at Fort Hamilton’s military museum, and had, of course, made his usual rounds visiting veterans at local hospitals.
“He was living an active life right to the end, which makes it all the more a shame that this happened,” his son said, adding that his father still lived alone, drove his 1994 Toyota and enjoyed a glass or two of wine every evening.
Mr. Meyer was musical director and conductor of the Kings County American Legion Headquarters Band.
Mr. Meyer, who served on a destroyer off Omaha Beach on D-Day and during three subsequent European battles, rehearsed the 30-member ensemble weekly at the Floyd Bennett American Legion in Old Mill Basin, and played nearly a dozen concerts a year.
The band’s manager, Jim Buchanan, said Mr. Meyer was likely the oldest conductor with his own band in New York City.
At a concert shortly before his death, Mr. Meyer led the band in a two-hour performance at the New Utrecht Reformed Church. He took the band through its signature song, “The Original 13,” and on to the final military themes during which the maestro, as was his tradition, turned on his platform to salute the veterans in the audience, who returned his salute.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded Mr. Meyer’s ground-floor apartment, claiming his furniture and most of his belongings, including his three trombones and most of the sheet music from the band’s repertoire.
But Mr. Meyer remained undeterred in his drive to renovate and move back in.
Mr. Meyer began taking college classes at Kingsborough Community College at age 80, soon after he retired from his electrolysis practice, his son said.
The accident occurred on May 16, a half block from his apartment. The police said that Mr. Meyer was hit by a 33-year-old woman driving a sport utility vehicle who was making a left turn when she struck him. She remained at the scene and was not immediately charged, but an investigation was continuing, a police spokeswoman said.
A funeral service was held for Mr. Meyer on May 22 at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, followed by a military burial at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island.
The American Legion concert band has an 85-year history. When Mr. Meyer took it over in the 1970s, most members were military veterans, and there were a few old-timers who had played in John Philip Sousa’s band.
Mr. Buchanan said the band canceled its June schedule while it searched for a new conductor.
“The band is devastated, but he would want it to go on — the tradition must continue,” he said, adding that the band would play at a memorial service to Mr. Meyer in September.
“He kept us going and we kept him going,” Mr. Buchanan said. “He was the most amazing guy any of us ever met. He had no thought of packing it in. He wanted to add more music.”
“You could be 10 years old, or 80, and he would invite you into the band,” Mr. Buchanan said. “His approach was just to enjoy life as much as he possibly could.”