Some things simply fit together so well that it’s hard to ignore their connection. Take the Thurnauer School of Music’s upcoming Gift of Music benefit concert, scheduled for February 11. This year marks the 20th year of the school’s partnership with the Englewood public school district and is a hallmark of Thurnauer’s commitment to bring music to as many people as possible.
Then, of course, there is the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth — celebrations are taking place around the world all this year — commemorating, among other things, the great composer’s commitment to bring music to as many people as possible.
A connection? Absolutely.
Which is why the two anniversaries will be celebrated together at the school’s annual benefit concert, said Dorothy Roffman, founding director of the Thurnauer school. The school is part of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, and Ms. Roffman is completing her 34th year with the school.
“Teaching was the central foundation of Bernstein’s life,” Ms. Roffman said. “That’s what we are also all about. He believed that ‘to teach is to believe in continuing.’ When Michael Reingold” — the school’s associate director — “and I sat down to talk about what is most meaningful, we thought about both anniversaries. It seemed to all make sense.
“Bernstein was not only a brilliant American Jewish composer, but he was also a great educator, as we can see from his videos, and he really had a passion for explaining and bringing his love of music to as many people as possible,” Ms. Roffman added. “That’s the mission of our school. We do it in our way, and treasure his legacy.”
Ms. Roffman said that her daughter, violinist Sharon Roffman, has created a website to honor the composer and soon will perform Bernstein’s “Serenade” with the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra. The conductor will be Michael Stern. His father, Isaac Stern, was the first to premiere the piece, in 1954.
For their part, the students who will participate in the Thurnauer Gift of Music concert — the three choruses from the Englewood public schools, and one chorus based at Thurnauer include more than 160 young people — are enjoying Bernstein’s music thoroughly.
“He wrote such beautiful music that still connects to audiences today and to children,” Emma Brondolo, the artistic director of Thurnauer’s young people’s chorus, said. “They love it. They’re having a really good time, especially with ‘Spring Will Come Again.’” The students — many of whom are first- or second-generation immigrants — also enjoy the discussions surrounding the song “America” from West Side Story. They’re particularly interested in the notions of who they are and where they’re from that the song embodies.
The chorus program began with some 16 students. The next year it doubled, and then it grew from there. Participants have “a high level of artistry,” Ms. Brondolo said. “It’s always wonderful to see kids push themselves as artists and then perform and share that joy. Every child has an audition to [ensure that they can] match pitch and we spend about one-third of the time talking about vocal development, finding one’s breath, and getting clear sound. They’re not allowed to just come in and sing. If they weren’t learning, it wouldn’t be as joyous.”
Ms. Roffman said the Gift of Music concert is “the only benefit we have each year. It raises funds for scholarships, for which there is always a great need.” Thurnauer also will use the occasion of the concert to present its Visionary Award. This year, it will go to parent and supporter Tracy Blumberg, “who has been instrumental in helping us build our orchestra. It’s given to someone connected to the school who contributes something special, with an awareness of how they can help young people grow as musicians.” Ms. Blumberg, who has created the Audrey Blumberg Orchestral Development Endowment, is the mother of William, who has been studying at the school for many years, learning violin, piano, and saxophone.
Thurnauer’s orchestra will participate in the concert as well. That will bring the number of participants to more than 250, including children as young as 4 as well as adults. The guest artist will be mezzo-soprano Naomi Louisa O’Connell, winner of the Concert Artists Guild Competition. In addition to Bernstein pieces, the orchestra will play the Hoedown from Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo.”
“Bernstein was influenced by Copland,” Ms. Roffman said, noting that there’s a reason behind each piece chosen for the concert. A movement from Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” will be dedicated to Ms. Blumberg, she added, noting that Dvorak was brought to the United States to be the director of a music school founded by Jeannette Thurber. That school, she said, may be considered the predecessor of Julliard, and Thurber certainly might be viewed as a visionary.
Robert Kravitz, the superintendent of the Englewood public school system, will deliver a few remarks, hailing the success of the Music Discovery partnership. Begun by Thurnauer administrators as a small outreach program to establish music education as an essential element of the classroom in several public school communities, it originally consisted of a series of free, informal in-school music education classes presented by a string quartet of artist-teachers. The program continued to grow in Englewood; in 2005 it formally was named the Music Discovery Partnership.
Beginning with just eight children in 1997, the program now serves more than 2,000 students from second through 12th grades. Classes are held at the Englewood schools and at the Thurnauer school and include instrumental classes, musicianship, and ensembles. Chorus is offered at Thurnauer and at Grieco and McCloud elementary schools.
Ms. Roffman, who pioneered the program, said she felt that community music schools and public schools’ music programs could help each other. “The music faculty of a public school can’t give each child private lessons,” she said. “We can inspire a love of music and a desire to learn. My dream was to work together with the public schools to see what we could do.”
The February 11 concert “celebrates our reason for being,” she continued. “Music connects us all as people.” We communicate best through the arts, “which is especially helpful now. It’s positive communication.”
Who: The JCC Thurnauer School of Music
What: Will hold its annual Gift of Music gala benefit concert
When: On Sunday, February 11, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: At the Bergen County Academies in Hackensack
Cost: $25 for students; $50 for adults; $90 for premiere seating; and $250 for VIP (including premiere seating and pre- and post-concert meet-the-artists receptions).