Grafton musician is busier than ever in retirement


Fred Orkiseski leads a Fourth of July concert in Grafton.

By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor

Grafton – Fred Orkiseski is a busy man. And at age 83, he intends on staying that way. He has spent a lifetime performing and teaching music, including serving as director of music for Grafton Public Schools for 40 years. Now, along with making music, he spends his time on other pursuits – golfing, painting, cooking, and learning more about the subjects he loves, such as World War II aviation, railroads and carpentry.

Orkiseski grew up in Pennsylvania where he first developed a passion for music, especially that of Harry James, the famous trumpet-playing bandleader. Inspired, he took up the trumpet. He went onto receive a bachelor of science degree in music education from Penn State University and then a master’s degree in performance (trumpet) at the New England Conservatory of Music.

After graduating, he played with some of the country’s most renowned musical groups, including the Boston Symphony, Boston Pops, Metropolitan Opera and Detroit Symphony. His resume also includes stints with international organizations such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony and the Bolshoi Ballet.

The list of conductors he has performed or studied with is equally impressive: Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Fiedler, Aaron Copland and Michael Tilsson Thomas, to name just a few.

Working with such masters provided wonderful opportunities for learning, he noted.

“I was so fortunate to work with so many icons. I just always tried to take everything I could from it,” he said of his experiences. “I was always asking, listening and observing.”

In 1956 he married his wife Mary; several years later they bought a house in North Grafton where they still reside.

He loved his career as director of music for the Grafton Public Schools.

“The students were great,” he said. “I miss working with them. We put on so many great shows and even wrote some pieces.”

He also initiated and conducted the popular July 3 concerts that were held in on the Grafton Common for 25 years.

“I never really considered myself a conductor though,” he said. “But I knew how to read the literature. And I always had a very broad range of knowledge of classical music and Broadway Theater.”

Those were special concerts, he noted, made even more so because there were never rehearsals before the performances.

“A lot of the musicians came from Boston or Worcester – they were busy with their other work,” he said. “But it always all came together. And in 25 years it never rained once!”

Although he is now technically retired, he still plays his trumpet at least 45 minutes a day. And for about the last 15 years, he has also pursued another passion – meticulously painting copies of the works of Vincent van Gogh. Using acrylic paints on canvas, he has created “probably over 50” copies of some of van Gogh’s most well-known masterpieces.

“I am not a painter,” he stressed. “I don’t even know what the primary colors are! I do these copies just for fun, for my own benefit.”

“I have always been interested in the life of van Gogh and enjoyed his works,” he added. “And doing these copies is just a way to challenge myself in a fun way. It’s a nice way to spend time during the winter months.”

During the months when the weather is nicer, he and his wife can often be found at the Westboro Country Club where they play golf several times a week. But ever a student, Orkiseski doesn’t just play with a golf club; he also analyzes them.

“I like to take them apart and see what would make it more playable,” he said. “I want to see what will make it work and what wouldn’t work.”

He also has a passion for studying World War II aviation, an interest he has had since he was a teenager, when a friend flew an Air Force plane over his neighborhood. He also enjoys studying about the Pennsylvania Railroad.

“At one time I had a huge layout of [a railroad],” he said. “Now I just like to read and learn about the how and why of it.”

Orkiseski admits that he has good genes – his mother lived to age 102 and his father to age 98. But there is another reason, he believes, that he is still living a strong, healthy life.

“I just want people to know that age is really just a number,” he said. “If your health allows, you don’t have to stop doing the things you love. Don’t just sit around, get up and move. Find a hobby that you enjoy. It’s never too late to start something new either or to start learning about something.”

Fred Orkiseski with Arthur Fiedler, the long-time conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra Photo/submitted
Fred Orkiseski with Arthur Fiedler, the long-time conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra
Fred Orkiseski Photo/Bonnie Adams
Fred Orkiseski
Photo/Bonnie Adams