When Englewood resident Sandra Gold proposed the idea of a community music school to the JCC on the Palisades some 25 years ago, she was driven by what she calls “an epiphany.”
The mother, then, of young children who attended music school in New York City, Gold said “a light bulb went on” when driving home with one of her daughters after a music lesson.
“It had never occurred to me that some children might not be able to attend music school for religious reasons,” said Gold, noting that all the music schools held their classes on Saturday.
Even before that, however, the community activist had dreamed of a “high-caliber, comprehensive music education” for youngsters in Bergen County.
Her successful efforts to create one – resulting in the much-celebrated JCC Thurnauer School of Music, established in September 1984 – will be celebrated during this 25th anniversary year with a campaign kicking off at the Sandra O. Gold Founders Day Concert on June 14.
Gold said she credits founding director Dorothy Roffman with the growth of the school, adding that Roffman “has worked vigorously and with a full heart.” The director, who also serves on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, first met Gold when teaching her daughter violin privately in Bergen County and then later at the Manhattan school.
“Sandra has a great passion for music,” she said, recalling that the two women would often discuss the idea of starting a music school.
Roffman said the school, which began with 30 students and six teachers, grew rapidly, coming to occupy the second floor of what Gold called the JCC nursery wing. Today it has 65 teachers and some 500 students, serving another 250 or so through its partnership with the Englewood school system.
According to Gold, outreach to the community was always part of her plan. Scholarships and a sliding scale of tuition are available for those who otherwise could not attend, and Thurnauer musical ensembles bring their music into the Englewood schools – and Englewood students into the group’s concert halls – “sparking an interest in music” that Gold hopes will last throughout their lifetime.
The school is named for Bill and Maria Thurnauer of Teaneck, she said, whose interest was sparked in early 1987 when Maria Thurnauer – a former musician who was visiting the school to take photographs of children playing music – became enthusiastic about the program.
“They asked what they could do,” said Gold. Learning that there was a naming opportunity, they responded positively.
While the Thurnauer school offers a wide range of classes, Roffman said she is particularly proud “that we have created an environment where so many can learn and enjoy music together – a community of music listeners and learners.”
The teachers, she said, “come from the best conservatories in the country. They’re extraordinary teachers,” she added, “and many have been here as long as I have. There’s a lot of consistency.”
The Young Artists program, serving children from age 3 though high school, has 200 students, she said, pointing out that if a student wants to learn a particular instrument – the school prides itself on finding teachers to meet children’s specific needs, whatever the instrument – that youngster must engage in a full program of musical study. Roffman pointed out that while a child may have chosen one instrument to express himself or herself musically, the student must still learn about the different aspects of music.
The goal is not to produce “professionals,” she said, “but to bring music to many people on many levels,” from developing an ear for music to understanding its structure, to developing musical skills and learning about the quality of sound.
Gold, too, feels that music should be learned for its own sake.
“Sometimes, music is synonymous with competition,” she said. “It was my dream to invite children to have an education in music and develop a lifelong appreciation for it.”
“I don’t use the word prodigies,” said Roffman, “and I’m not interested in the word ‘talent,’ since there are so many kinds of talents. We take children wherever they’re at and help them reach their potential.”
The school has music programs for adults as well, including both instrumental and vocal classes. While children, too, receive voice lessons, “we have to be very careful with children,” said Roffman, noting that they “must use their voices naturally and allow them to develop without tension.”
In addition to classes, which, said Roffman, “include master classes with master teachers,” the Thurnauer School has a full program of concerts. The Thurnauer Chamber Music Society gives three concerts a year in the facility’s Eric Brown Theater, said Roffman, and Kangaroo Concerts for 3- to 6-year-olds are also offered three times a year. In addition to the annual Founders Day Concert, the school holds a Gift of Music concert to raise funds for scholarships.
Students have an opportunity to give recitals six times a month, and some have a chance to perform at outside venues as well. The youngsters also have an opportunity to meet world-class performers, said Roffman.
According to Gold, the June 14 concert will provide an opportunity for the students to demonstrate what they learned during the year. In addition, a new piece dedicated to the school by composer Bruce Adolphe – resident lecturer and director of family concerts for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, whose daughter studies with Roffman – will be unveiled.
Gold said she is proud that the school not only has high standards but “provides a loving environment for children to learn in. Our music school prepares kids interested in music to enjoy it. It helps music become a part of life.”
She pointed out that the skills learned in music school are also of great advantage to a child’s development, enhancing discipline and focus that enhance academic growth as well. The school’s founder said she is also proud of the parents “who work together to support the school and give their children this opportunity. It takes a lot of time and resources.”
For more information about the Sandra O. Gold Founders Day Concert, to be held at Bergen PAC, call the school, 201-569-7900, ext. 235.