Marina Belkin came here from Israel with very limited English.
“Back in Russia,” where she lived as a child, “I learned some English,” she said. “But when we moved to Israel, I had to study Hebrew and English was ‘kicked out.’” Now, the musician is fluent in English — “but still better in Hebrew.”
Ms. Belkin, who is the founder of Fair Lawn’s award-winning Believe in Music Studio, says that the one constant in her life has been the love of — and belief in — music. “It’s in my blood,” she said. She began her study of piano when she was 5, and gave her debut performance with Russia’s Symphonic Orchestra at 10. Since then, she has appeared as a soloist on many stages and offered many workshops. Formally, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Baku State Conservatory and a master’s in musical creative education from Bar-Ilan University. She also received a certificate for advanced training from the Center for Music at Princeton.
Ms. Belkin moved to Fair Lawn and created her studio some 18 years ago. She chose the town because “it was very Jewish, with a lot of synagogues and Israeli people,” she said. “We would be among people we could communicate with.” She arrived with her husband, Mark, and her son, Eugene — her older daughter had just graduated high school and chose to remain in Israel, to serve in the army — and pregnant with her third child, David, “my first American one.”
She built her studio “little by little,” and now has some 60 students who come from towns from Fort Lee to Mahwah and range in age from 5 to nearly 80. The studio offers piano, guitar, and voice lessons. Once a year, during winter break, Ms. Belkin takes her students to family-friendly operas at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. “They love it,” she said. “You have to pick a child’s first opera carefully,” she added, noting that Mozart’s “Magic Flute” is a good choice.
Her goal, she said, is to share her love of music. This is not the first studio she has established. Before moving to the United States, she founded and directed a music studio in Tel Aviv. Her passion and pride, she said, is in “shaping students who have grown up to become musicians or simply people who fill their lives with the joys of music.
“We are proud to send our students to music competitions of all levels in and out of state,” Ms. Belkin said. “They emerge with positive energy, dedication, and bright results. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the development of a child’s skills, and no greater satisfaction exists than that of placing a love of music in a child’s heart.”
But it is not only about music, she added. With the power of music to unite and sensitize people, Ms. Belkin and her students have held benefit concerts in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and are now planning one, on November 24 (see box) to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.
With the spate of recent disasters, Ms. Belkin said, this was a hard decision. “First there was Harvey, then Irma, then Maria.” With her determination to give the proceeds of the concert directly to victims, not to a middleman, she said, “I couldn’t find anyone to work with directly in Puerto Rico. Every penny counts, and I don’t want some of it to go to someone’s salary.”
As it happened, an acquaintance from the National Federation of Music Clubs pointed out that school districts in Texas — in smaller towns outside Houston — need a great deal of help. She contacted the towns and they sent pictures of their schools, which Ms. Belkin showed to her students. They decided that “We have to do this,” Ms. Belkin said. “Usually, music and art are the last activities to get money. But you have to have music. When you play an instrument, it helps your mental health.” The Texas schools will direct the proceeds of the Fair Lawn concert toward a music program of the donors’ choice.
The studio’s past concerts have attracted an audience of about 100, she said, and have raised between $2,000 and $3,000. She hopes that this concert will raise even more. She already has signed up some sponsors, “going on foot to those who know me personally.” She noted, for example, that her bakery, Zadies, helped sponsor last year’s concert and will do so again this year. “Also, we sell tickets, and the parents hold a bake sale,” she said.
Ms. Belkin’s commitment to help others is “absolutely a Jewish value,” she said. Since her students include people of many ethnicities, “I have to explain the word mitzvah. I think that’s what we’re doing. I tell them that they are fortunate to have their health, families, houses, and that they can afford to have lessons. They run from activity to activity. They don’t know about real life. We teach them how to help.”
Each student at Ms. Belkin’s studio will have a chance to play during the first part of the upcoming benefit concert. Her son, David, a freshman at the University of Rochester, who has performed five times at Carnegie Hall (and was born on Chopin’s birthday) will be featured as well; so too will be an Israeli singer and pianist, a Romanian Israeli opera singer, and ballroom dance champions.
“We’ve really put together an amazing program,” Ms. Belkin said. “People will get to come together as a community to help out in a fun and festive way.” It will also showcase “the effort of the young generation, who practice hard and have a purpose.” Her students, she said, “absolutely understand” the significance of what they’re doing. “This is their time to give,” she said.
Who: Believe in Music Studio
What: Will sponsor a benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Harvey
When: On November 24 at 2 p.m.
Where: Fair Lawn Community Center, 10-10 20th St., Fair Lawn
Suggested donation: $25
For tickets and information: Call (201) 773-8389. For more information about Believe in Music Studios, go to www.believeinmusicstudio.com