WHEN FUNDING TO California schools was cut, one of the first programs to go was music. Solz”l and Bunny Zechter, ardent believers in the necessity of music in children’s lives, envisioned a program to fill the gap for Jewish youth in Orange County. In 2011, they established Zechter Music Center (ZMC) with Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS) through an endowment at the Jewish Community Foundation, and partnerships with Tarbut V’Torah, Pacific Symphony, and UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts. The Center offered introductory-level musical instrument classes (guitar, piano, wind/brass), and arts enrichment activities (concerts, plays, etc.) for the students.
“We often called it ‘a conservatory for beginners,’” said Susan Zechter, “because the classes were aimed toward beginners but taught by top instructors.” Bunny Zechter added that “in the first five years, we served 117 students–and many are now performing in school bands, orchestras and musical theater! Our family has loved every opportunity to hear the students share what they’ve learned.”
This year, a unique and timely opportunity appeared: the opening of Orange County Music and Dance, OC’s first and only nonprofit community performing arts school, dedicated to providing high-quality education and resources for its students, regardless of their ability to pay. “When OCMD and JFFS met, it was bashert – the perfect match,” said Arlene Miller, President & CEO of JFFS. “We embraced this opportunity to take Zechter Music Center to the next level.”
In just a few months, a new strategic relationship was forged between the organizations. From January 2018 forward, Jewish OC students can continue guitar, piano, violin and wind/brass, and expand their arts horizons through dance, theater arts, and instruction in percussion, cello, voice, and more. Parents now have maximum flexibility in scheduling–OCMD is open six days a week plus one day by appointment. The school matches student and teacher schedules, which is a plus for busy families and students with multiple after-school activities.
“What ZMC has done has provided us with support that goes directly to the kids for their training,” said Douglas K. Freeman, the Executive Chair/CEO of OCMD and longtime member of the Jewish community. “Forty percent of the children in Orange County are unable to access performing arts training,” Freeman continued. “We don’t believe that is appropriate or fair and that is our reason for being here. Our goal is for this school to ensure that the children who are here receive the best training and performance and life skills that they can possible gain.”
OCMD shares a building with the new offices of Pacific Symphony, and symphony members, along with the original Zechter Music instructors, are on the OCMD
faculty. Through the generosity of the Zechter
family, combined with matching support from OCMD, there are now scholarships for eligible Jewish students. Interested families should contact Lindsay Peckham, Registrar at OCMD at (949-386-8336 or Lindsay@ocmusicdance.org (and mention they read about it in JLife!).
Rabbi Florence L. Dann, Beit Sefer Director of Temple Beth Israel of Pomona, has been a contributing writer for Jlife since 2004.