Originally published on BrooklynCampaign.com on September 19, 2012.
BROOKLYN, NY—Emily Peters had a bad case of nerves. After spending decades as an amateur songwriter, the 79-year-old was singing one of her tunes in front of friends and neighbors for the first time.
She chose “Ice Cream Parlor Song,” which recounts the Crown Heights neighborhood of her youth.
“A time long ago no more. When there was still an ice cream parlor there,” she sang.
The scene was at Xaverian High School, where auditions for Bay Ridge’s 6th Annual Senior Idol, were held September 8th. The talent contest, modeled on television’s “American Idol,” is hosted by Sen. Martin Golden for participants over age 50.<br>
At the audition, participants had 1 minute to introduce themselves and 2 minutes to sing –even if they were cut off before the grand finale.
Songs ranged from Fiddler on the Roof’s “If I were a Rich Man,” Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” My Fair Lady’s “I Could’ve Danced All Night,” and even an Italian aria.
Instead of one of these classics, Peters picked a tune from her personal songbook.
“[It was] now or never. After a while, I’ll just do it. See what happens,” she said.
“It is things like this bring that communities close and [help] keep their identity,” said Vinny Iannelli, 27, the music director at Xaverian High School and of Senior Idol.
Iannelli should know: His parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are all Brooklynites with origins from Italy.
Peters also has European roots. Her father immigrated from Greece to Brooklyn in 1920s, soon after which he began working at the Grand Square Confectionary, located in Crown Heights on Bedford Avenue near Ebbets Field (the former home of the Dodgers, which was demolished in 1960).
As a young girl, Peters spent time at the movie house next to her father’s ice cream parlor, where a janitor would let her go on stage and “sing like a star.” Today, the parlor is boarded up.
“Everyone remembers the same thing: places, ice cream,” she said.
She described playing around with a Yamaha keyboard for her compositions. As for her songs, she said that the words simply come to her. “I wonder how it even happens,” she said.
Peters wrote poetry but never did music professionally. After graduating from Prospect Heights High School, she obtained a scholarship to go to college but never attended and worked as a medical secretary. Peters’ husband died young, after which she didn’t remarry.
During the audition, there was the occasional snore since two men had fallen asleep in the audience.
“Soon only memories remain. Couldn’t I go home again?” sang Peters as her two-minutes in the spotlight ended.
Brooklyn’s 6th Annual Senior Idol will take place on October 13th at 7pm.