HomeJanuary 2012Making Music

Making Music

Sol Zechter loves music, and he loves to build things.  He recalls that when he was eight years old, growing up in a rough Italian neighborhood in South Philadelphia, an orchestra came and played at his school.
“I loved it, and I thought it would be fun to make music,” he said.  “It was during the Depression, and there was no money for kids to learn to play an instrument.”
Today, Zechter and his wife, Bunny, have 1,000 CDs, including rock, country, jazz, blues, classical and other varieties.  He has learned to play the guitar and sing “for the fun of it.”  Realizing that the economy has caused many schools to close their music programs and many parents to think that outside music lessons are a luxury, Zechter decided that “a lot of kids out there now might like to have the opportunity to make music.”  Bunny Zechter, who has “an informed appreciation of music,” and who enjoys playing the piano, agreed.
At the November 2010 meeting of the Solomon Society, the men’s philanthropic group of Jewish Federation & Family Services (JF&FS), Zechter made a commitment to donate $400,000 to create a program that would enable students in the 5th through 12th grades to have free introductory-level lessons on the piano, guitar and wind or brass instruments, as well as engaging in supervised practice sessions, expert guidance by first-class instructors and music appreciation activities.  It was the genesis of the Sol & Bunny Zechter Music Center, a new JF&FS Connect 2 Learning Initiative, in partnership with Tarbut V’Torah (TVT) Community Day School, Pacific Symphony and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UCI.
There will be four sets of classes per year, each lasting eight weeks for the Zechter Scholars, as program participants will be known.  “Even if the students don’t continue the lessons, once they have had the chance to put their fingers on the keyboard of the piano or the fret of the guitar, their lives have changed,” Zechter said.  “They will enjoy learning to play and understand what music is all about and who the artists are.  They’ll be able to go to concerts too.”
Zechter described music education as “a void that needed to be filled.”  He thinks JF&FS is the ideal organization to bring all the partners together and help people develop their talents.  He is thrilled to be working with JF&FS’s Kathleen Mellon, “who loves music as much as I do.”
The first session will begin on January 3.  When the program was announced, 40 people signed up for it within days.
The sessions are being held on TVT’s upper school campus.  This is an extension of TVT’s recent selection by Pacific Symphony to be a Class Act School.  Class Act is Pacific Symphony’s elementary school partnership between the Symphony, schools and parents dedicated to bringing quality music education to Orange County’s elementary students.  Class Act schools are selected through a competitive application process. The Class Act curriculum focuses on different composers each year, also rotating between three key musical elements.
“We already have a thriving K-12 music program with a big, beautiful music room, recording studio and instruments,” said Kevin Bachelder, chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department at TVT.  “We’re glad to house this wonderful Zechter Music Center program, so kids can get exposed to playing music.  Those who love it can go on and really become musicians.”
“The Claire Trevor School of the Arts is very excited about our new partnership with the Jewish Federation & Family Services and its Zechter Music Center,” said Joseph S. Lewis III, dean of UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts.  “Our program will begin this spring when some of our music scholars are hired by the Center to provide free music lessons to approximately 75 young Jewish children.”
He added, “Thus far, we have confirmed the services of a graduate student majoring in guitar performance, as well as a grad student specializing in piano performance, and we anticipate that other CTSA scholars will be participating as well.  The program culminates by having the Zechter scholars attend one of our music concerts, which is tentatively scheduled to be a performance by the UCI Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Grammy Award-winning musician and CTSA professor Charles Owens.”
John Forsyte, the president of the Pacific Symphony, believes that, “Like any great language, music is something you can acquire as a young child.  The younger children do it, the more they can enjoy it as adults.”  Forsyte, who played in the JCC Orchestra and served on its board, added that classical music plays a special role in the lives of Jews throughout the world.  He wants to find new ways to celebrate the historic connection between the symphony and Judaism.
“I hope this program inspires many more children to consider instruments as part of their future, that they persevere and achieve excellence, and I’m glad the Pacific Symphony can play a role in helping to develop the program,” Forsyte said.


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