HaZamir Headed to New York

For many choir members, fostering Jewish identity is one of HaZamir’s strengths. (Provided)

For many choir members, fostering Jewish identity is one of HaZamir’s strengths. (Provided)

On Sunday, after a weekend of rigorous rehearsals, Shabbat activities and networking with the more than 350 fellow singers from around the country and Israel, HaZamir and its cadre of teenage singers will make its debut at Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York.

HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir, will premiere a new work, “L’Dor VaDor, Generation to Generation,” commissioned for the choral group and composed by Cantor Gerald Cohen.

Among the 350 vocalists will be 28 Marylanders from HaZamir’s Baltimore chapter. The students hail from 12 schools in Baltimore, suburban Washington, D.C., Frederick and Olney. The group includes three eighth-graders.

“The students come from everywhere,” said Erika Pardes Schon, the Baltimore chapter’s conductor. “It’s a competitive audition, and it’s a high bar.”

There are 26 American chapters of HaZamir, with a 27th chapter soon forming in Washington, D.C. There are also five Israeli chapters, with a sixth to be launched next year.

The students need to have the talent but after that, the commitment to two-hour rehearsals every Sunday night.

For some, that’s no big deal.

“I love singing,” said Daniel Goldman, a junior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and a teen leader in the Baltimore chapter. “Singing is my life, you ask my siblings. They hate it because I do it all the time.”

Another undeniable component of HaZamir is the friendships forged through national festivals.

“I’m talking to kids in Israel every single day,” he said. “I need to interact with these people, who come from a totally different background, whether they be from Israel or Cleveland. Everyone has a different experience.”

Israel’s newest chapter, in Ashkelon, will be performing in New York, then spending time in Baltimore. That chapter was launched in partnership with The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership.

While Goldman has made friends all over through HaZamir, he acknowledged the choral group’s deeper purpose of fostering Jewish identity.

Fellow singer Abram Foster, a senior at Park School, said the Jewishness of the music gives it much deeper meaning for him.

“Really, we’re teaching Jewish values through music. We’re building Jewish identity through music.”

“Music in Hebrew has such spiritual connotations and has such depth and is enriched by the incredibly rich musical history of Judaism,” he said.

Schon agrees, adding that for some kids, HaZamir doesn’t just foster their Jewish connection, it is their Jewish connection.

“We teach Judaism through music. We discuss the source of the text, ethics of Mishnah, study sources with our teens so they understand the value of the music in the Jewish narrative, in Jewish history,” she said. “Really, we’re teaching Jewish values through music. We’re building Jewish identity through music.”

Goldman said strengthening his Jewish identity through HaZamir will help him in college, where he may face some opposition to his beliefs, especially regarding Israel.

“By using our voices, not only do we create our voice of song, a voice that’s nice to listen to, but we create our voices of change, voices that combat social conformity and advocate for social change in the world,” he said. “I’m going to college in a few years and I’m going to face a lot of opposition. In HaZamir, I’ve found that voice.”

And that’s the goal, Schon said, to turn singers into leaders.

“Each chapter is able to elect and appoint its own teen leader. We have two,” she said. “These teenagers are taught leadership skills. They have summer and winter retreats for the teen leaders where they are trained to lead Jewishly.”

HaZamir Baltimore performs at the Gordon Center on March 24, Beth Tfiloh for a Yom HaShoa commemoration on April 19 and the Myerberg Senior Center on May 3.



Stevenson Gallery Features Auschwitz-Birkenau

Learning about the Holocaust in Hebrew school and through family is one thing, but Stevenson University senior Michelle Canvisser wasn’t exactly prepared for what she saw on a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“I thought what I was taught was enough for me to know how I would feel, but I was extremely overwhelmed the entire time and just could not believe
I was there and what had gone on there,” she said. “Actually being at the place was a whole different level of emotions for me.”

It was easily the most intense day of the 12-day trip to Eastern Europe that she took with 18 other students through Stevenson’s School of Design in spring 2014.

“The thing that got me was going into a gas chamber; I regretted setting foot in there the second I went in. That was horrible,” Canvisser, a visual communication design major, said.

Four photos from that day, along with 22 other shots, are on display at Stevenson’s St. Paul Companies Pavilion at the university’s Greenspring campus through May 22. The presentation, “E3: Exploring Eastern Europe,” features photos from the entirety of the trip — during which the group visited Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria — and capture street life, scenery, landscapes and architecture.

Jefferson Steele, a former Stevenson faculty member who now works at the Maryland Institute College of Art and led the trips from 2011 to 2014, said he wanted to students to have the kind of experiences he did right after college.

“I traveled when I got out of school, and it changed my life,” he said.

In addition to Canvisser’s photo, which shows a sign with a skull and crossbones that says “Halt! Stoj!” in front of wire fences at Auschwitz, three other photos capture different poignant scenes from the concentration camps. A photo from Birkenau shows brick pillars the Nazis tried to destroy toward the end of the war through a barbed wire fence. Another photo shows baggage from Auschwitz, focusing on a piece that has a name and address on it. The fourth is a photo of the book of names that tells where and when a person was born and where and when they died, if it was known.

“Students who aren’t even Jewish were taking photos because they knew the gravity of the document,” Steele said.

Lauren Mattes, who took the photo at Birkenau, was struck by how the crumbling brick pillars were left alone in disorganized piles after the Nazis destroyed structures.

“Nothing was reconstructed there,” she said. “It’s very authentic.”

In each place the group visited, a tour guide showed them around the Jewish areas, including where Jews lived before World War II.

“We got a tour of the old Jewish quarter and the ghettos in Prague and we saw a [Jewish] cemetery,” Canvisser said. “The whole experience was cool because there was a lot of Jewish history there that I wasn’t aware of before I got there.”

Matt Laumann, Stevenson’s cultural programs manager who manages and curates the school’s art shows, placed the photos from the concentration camps carefully in the gallery, after viewers would walk past a wall of bay windows to give them a break.

“You want to pay the correct respects to the photos they presented,” Laumann said. “They’re somber scenes, one is of luggage. It really makes you pause and think more about the photo and the subject matter.”

The gallery will be on display through May 22 at Stevenson University’s St. Paul Companies Pavilion at 1525 Greenspring Valley Road in Stevenson. For more information, visit stevenson.edu/arts.


Soulful Sound

As a promising young talent on the basketball court and the cello, 14-year-old Amit Peled found himself at a crossroads: He needed to concentrate his energies.

Ultimately, he resigned himself to the fact that he’d never get the height needed for professional basketball like his idol, Miki Birkovich of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball club, whose pictures plastered the bedroom walls of his kibbutz home. So, why not, he thought, “stick with the cello?”

Now at 40 years old and 6 feet, 5 inches (yes, as fate would have it, the growth spurt came later), Peled is a sought-after soloist and one of the foremost professors at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University. He also recently became keeper of the legacy for the world’s most famous cello — one belonging to famed musician Pablo Casals — that he played last month on the Peabody stage, re-creating a legendary concert from a century ago; he will play again at the Kennedy Center next week.

Peled laughs at the memory of his adolescent reasoning to choose music over basketball, the same reasoning that provided the motivation to play cello in the first place.

At age 10, children on the kibbutz had to choose an instrument to study. Though his teachers expected Peled, “a cool kid like me who played basketball,” recalled the musician, to choose drums or guitar and then quit soon after, he surprised everyone, including his parents, when he chose to study the cello. But his newly found adoration wasn’t for classical music; it was for a girl, a cellist, four years his senior.

“I had a plan,” he said during a recent interview. “I’ll play with her; we’ll go on the school bus together, we’ll do duets, then we’ll get married and have children.”

Laughing, he added, “But I never talked to her.”

He didn’t get the girl, but Peled did get a cassette tape from his parents, who were eager to support their son’s enthusiasm for the instrument. On the tape were bite-sized musical pieces performed by Maestro Casals, regarded as one of the greatest cellists of all time.

Each night, Peled recalled, he would press play on his boom box and listen as he drifted off to sleep. He repeated the same thing night after night, listening over and over.

“Since an early age I wanted to imitate that sound,” said Peled. “I didn’t know how, or who was Casals, or what it means that he had this special cello. I just wanted to imitate it. So that’s how I started and how I fell in love.”

Peled’s natural talent and drive began to get noticed. After a year of study with a private instructor, he was chosen, at 15, to attend the Thelma Yelin High School for the Arts in Tel Aviv, where in ninth grade, Peled held the spot for last cellist in the orchestra. By his senior year, he was principal cellist and soloist for the orchestra’s traveling performances. That’s when, he said, it was clear that music would be his path.

“When we were kids, he would practice for hours to understand how, physically, the body should work to play [a] phrase better,” said childhood friend and now colleague Guy Ben-Ziony, an accomplished violist and instructor at Leipzig Musikhochschule who first met Peled on the basketball court. They also attended the arts high school together before entering the
Israel Defense Forces.

The IDF has a highly competitive music unit that accepts eight musicians each year, a group Peled referred to jokingly as the “classical commando” unit. The musicians completed basic training and wore uniforms like other soldiers, but they played almost every day, said Ben-Ziony — for soldiers, at memorials, for the prime minister and the president.

Peled stands out because of “his warm sound, his honesty when he plays, his command of the instrument, and he really plays like every note means something for him,” said Ben-Ziony, who will perform a Brahms program with Peled in October in Berlin. “To really be that music, that piece, the notes, the rhythm, the soul and the spirit of the piece and to really take it into you and from there to kind of let it go — the music goes not only through his cello, but through his body and through his emotions.”

After service in the IDF, Peled attended Yale University on a full scholarship. Though he was grateful for the opportunity, after a year, he said, “I didn’t like the teacher. So with my Israeli chutzpah I told him that it’s not the right place for me, and I left. It was the best decision of my life. But no one could believe I would do something like that. [It was] because I wanted to fulfill a dream of mine.”

At that time, Peled was consumed with the music of Bernard Greenhouse, who had been a student of Casals, although Peled didn’t know that when he tracked the 81-year-old down in Cape Cod, Mass. Peled became Greenhouse’s student.

“I just had a goal. I wanted to look for a certain sound on the cello that I could not get anywhere else, and that sound came from Greenhouse,” said Peled. Though Greenhouse was shocked at Peled’s request when he called, he granted him an audition.

While the two had lunch together afterward, “I told him, if you’re willing to accept me to come here, live here somehow and study with you, I will leave everything,” said Peled. “I don’t have even one dollar in my pocket, but I really want to study with you. And [Greenhouse] responded, ‘If you want it that much, and you’re willing to leave and sacrifice so much to study with me, I’m willing to accept you for free.’”

Thrilled, Peled found a place to live nearby, then went to Israel to inform his parents of his decision to leave Yale. They fully supported him.

“I studied with [Greenhouse] for an intense year. I observed him completely,” said Peled. “We had two, three, even four lessons a week.”

He often joined Greenhouse and his wife for martinis at the end of the day, and they would gaze out at the ocean, while listening to Casals’ music.

While on Cape Cod from 1996 to 2000, Peled completed his degree at the New England Conservatory of Music, receiving funds from the American-Israeli Cultural Foundation. It was through the organization that Peled stumbled onto the next path in his musical journey.

Miriam Benbassat, then on the board of the Young Concert Artists of Washington, helped Peled find a host for a house concert in order to make a run-through rehearsal of his debut recital. Benbasset knew Linda Shapiro hosted concerts in a small performance space in her Baltimore home, which would be the perfect venue.

At the after-concert reception, a woman introduced herself to Peled.

“I really like the way you play Bach and the way you communicate with the pianist, and I wonder if you like teaching,” Peled remembered the woman saying. “I’m hardly 28, just out of school and I said, again with my Israeli chutzpah, ‘I love teaching! Of course!’ Even though I never taught in my life.”

It’s not that he plays music, he is music.

The woman was Eileen Soskin, then associate dean for academic affairs at the Peabody Conservatory. She told him there was no position available but asked if he’d teach a master class.

Soskin described Peled’s teaching style as “total focus on the individual. Amit’s students do not play like Amit, they play like themselves. He gives them both the inspiration and the technical tools to become the best musicians they can become.”

About a year later, in 2003, Peabody invited Peled to audition for a faculty placement. During that daylong process, he said, “I decided to be myself, not to impress anybody.” The next day, “I got an email from [Peabody] that said the committee unanimously decided to hire me.”

In tears, he called home. “I said, ‘Ima, your son is a professor at Johns Hopkins.’ They were all crying. … The following August, I came here with two suitcases and my cello and my wife.”

“It’s not that he plays music, he is music,” Soskin said from her home in Washington state. “When you combine that with his very sweet and genuine personality and love for people and for the music, he is a spectacular teacher.”

Sam Matthews, 34, one of Peled’s first students, now teaches cello and owns a music store in Houston. He said Peled provided “a lot of practical experience, because he’s out there performing every day. It’s pretty rare to find a teacher who can teach and perform, it’s usually one or the other.”

Benbassat arranged a meeting with Neale Perl, then president of the Washington Performing Arts Society, that brought Peled closer than ever to Casals.

“I was blown away by the level of musicianship and the beauty of the sound,” said Perl, now president and CEO of the Scottsdale Cultural Council. “Amit plays from the heart, and people feel that. And a big part of my professional life has been devoted to helping young artists.”

Understanding the need to invest in an artist for at least a decade, “because it takes time,” Perl assisted in finding Peled a manager and “knew that Amit needed a better cello,” he said.

In 2012, he arranged for Peled to meet with Marta Casals Istomin, Casals’ widow. After she heard Peled play, she offered some critiques.

“From that moment on, she practically killed me. She was so tough, and it reminded me of the lessons with Bernard Greenhouse … the same mentality of taking care of each note, of making the phrase alive, controlling the vibrato, controlling the bow, all those little details that I really looked for from that tape cassette, and from Greenhouse,” said Peled.

At the end of the evening, Istomin invited Peled to return and play “the maestro’s cello.” Two weeks after that visit, she offered Peled to play Casals’ cello on loan.

“I think he’s incredibly deserving, and I particularly love the fact that he is continuing the legacy of Pablo Casals,” said Perl. “A new generation doesn’t always focus on the past, and sometimes to move forward, you have to look back and realize where we all came from musically speaking. For him to continue the Casals legacy by playing this cello is very powerful, and obviously to Marta, it’s very powerful.”

Since coming to Baltimore 13 years ago, Peled, his wife, Julia, and their three children, who attend Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, have made a home in Pikesville surrounded by the Orthodox community that refers to him as “the Jewish Yo-Yo Ma.” The Peleds invite the neighbors into their home for run-through concerts and even provide kosher receptions for their guests.

Said Peled, “I felt a great vibe being here in Baltimore and at Peabody.”

This year for Founder’s Day at Peabody, Peled performed the identical recital that Casals performed on its stage with the same cello 100 years ago.

“All the time, it’s going through my mind, the history — that I’m playing a piece on the cello that Pablo Casals played,” Peled said. “Here I am putting my fingers on the same spot, and so many people heard those pieces through that piece of wood, with Casals. It’s an amazing feeling but also a great responsibility at the same time.

“And at the end of the day you also feel like you are a passenger,” he added. “[Casals] was a passenger, and I am a passenger, and … this instrument lives through us all and will hopefully stay for generations to come. So my voice through it should be mine and not an imitation of his. And the instrument is so great to allow me to do that.”


Tres Pablos: Casals, Neruda, and Picasso: A Multimedia Celebration

Amit Peled will play on Pablo Casals’ cello at the Kennedy Center’s intimate tribute to three giants and contemporaries of the Spanish-speaking world — Pablo Casals, Pablo Neruda  and Pablo Picasso. It will also include videos of all three late artists as well as live music and interviews with several special guests.
Friday, March 13 at 8 p.m.
Eisenhower Theater at Kennedy Center
For tickets and more information, call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org



B1G-time Champions

The Maryland women’s basketball team poses with their coaches, UMD President Wallace D. Loh and school mascot Testudo in front of the Big Ten Conference trophy. ( Maryland Athletics)

The Maryland women’s basketball team poses with their coaches, UMD President Wallace D. Loh and school mascot Testudo in front of the Big Ten Conference trophy. ( Maryland Athletics)

The University of Maryland women’s basketball team clinched the Big Ten Conference championship, and with the team’s victory over Penn State Monday evening, the Terps are on their way to a perfect debut season in their new conference.

Ranked No. 5 in the nation (24-2 overall, 16-0 in the Big Ten Conference), Maryland was guaranteed a share of the title with its 81-70 win over Wisconsin on Feb. 19. Ohio State’s victory over 13th-ranked Iowa on Feb. 21 gave the Terps sole possession of the honor.

Going into the 2015 Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, Maryland is guaranteed the No. 1 seed. The tournament will take place at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill., March 4 through 8.

Following Monday night’s 65-34 rout of the Nittany Lions, the Terps, decked out in pink basketball shoes for the Play 4 Kay Pink Game, took center court in the Xfinity Center to receive their rightly earned trophy.

Said senior guard Lauren Mincy, “I think we were just really excited to play this game. It was big. … But I think this is only a starting point for us. It feels great, but we are going to get back at it tomorrow.”

This is the fourth conference title in head coach Brenda Frese’s 13 years.

“I’m just really proud of this group, but, you know, going into this season there were a lot of unknowns,” Frese said after the Penn State game. “We had a young team, a new conference, and to be able to come out and play the way that they have in the first 16 games is not easy, and they stuck together, they trusted, they really worked extremely hard.”

This “is the first step for us, it’s something we’re proud of, but hopefully there are many great things left for this team to be able to do,” she added. “We have two more regular-season conference games to be able to get ready for the tournament and the postseason.”

As of press time, the Terps were preparing to face Indiana at home on Thursday, where fifth-year senior Mincy was honored prior to tip-off.

Those who follow women’s basketball know that Maryland’s team is a post-season tournament staple. They won the national title in 2006 and last year made it to the Final Four, where they fell to undefeated Notre Dame.

The program has graduated a number of players who have gone on to play professionally in the WNBA and in Israel, including Kristi Toliver, who sank an incredible three-point shot over a far taller Duke player to clinch the 2006 national title and spent the 2010 WNBA off-season playing for B’not Hasharon, where she counted a trip to the Dead Sea as one of her favorite sightseeing excursions.

Notable among former Terps stars is Shay Doron, who earned the distinction of becoming the first Israeli drafted to the WNBA when she was selected by the New York Liberty in 2007. She left the WNBA after one season to continue her career in Israel.

Doron’s recent 26 points against UE Sopron of Hungary lifted her team, Maccabi B’not Ashdod, into the semi-final of the 2015 FIBA EuroCup. As of press time, her team was preparing to face Villeneuve D’Ascq of France. Israel last made an appearance in the semifinals in 2011, when Doron led her former team, Elitzur Ramla, to the tournament title.


Sober Purim

022715_alcoholWhile many people can’t wait to crack open the booze each Purim, some in Baltimore’s Jewish community find themselves in a difficult situation, struggling to balance a recovery from addiction with a religious tradition.

“I think Purim is, in some ways, an exception to prove a rule, which is that, by and large, our approach toJudaism is one of moderation,” said Beth Am Synagogue’s Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg. “Purim is like that one day a year that, yeah, you’re encouraged to let your hair down a little bit. So I think drinking a little more than usual is called for on Purim.”

Among the traditions associated with Purim, such as reading the megillah, giving to the poor and exchanging gifts of food with friends, is to enjoy a festive meal. Religious tradition has ascribed imbibing more than usual to the feast, with the Talmud saying that a person is required to “spice himself” on Purim to such an extent that he cannot tell the difference between Mordechai’s blessings and Haman’s curses.

But for those struggling to recover from addiction, health and well-being must trump tradition and even religious commandment, said Burg.

“For someone who is a recovering alcoholic, the tradition actually would be pretty clear that not only is that person discouraged to drink, but that person is forbidden to drink,” said Burg. “There is an understanding that this is an illness and that if one who is a recovering alcoholic has even one drink, we know that that would be putting that person at risk, and health and life trump really any other considerations in Jewish tradition.”

Though many recovering alcoholics might wish ideally to avoid all tempting situations, sometimes religious obligation and the desire to participate in everyday observance means those in recovery find themselves having to test their sobriety at a Purim party.

While every day in recovery is a challenge, holidays centered on letting loose and celebrating can be especially difficult, said Heather Press, a recovering addict and an administrator at Right Turn-IMPACT, a local recovery house.

“In the past, that’s all we know of that holiday,” she said of consuming alcohol with traditional religious celebrations.

As part of her recovery, Press skipped celebrations during most of her first year of sobriety. But when she decided she wanted to return to attending holiday gatherings, she made sure she first set up a network of support.

If a person finds himself or herself in a situation where there is a lot of pressure to drink, Press suggests keeping a non-alcoholic drink on hand at all times, “so people aren’t tempted to offer you an alcoholic beverage.”

She also suggests attending a recovery meeting soon before and soon after the event and to know where the nearest meeting is. A sober companion can also provide added strength when temptation is all around. Press said all of these tools helped her re-enter holidays when she felt comfortable enough to try.

Most importantly, Press said, recovering addicts have to learn to trust their gut instinct and be ready to leave early if they feel being present could jeopardize their recovery.

“If you’re uncomfortable and you’re starting to have thoughts and cravings, get out of there,” she said. “Your life and your recovery is more important at that point.”


Raising the Roof!

The pep band, front, attepmts to distract an opposing player taking a free-throw shot. (Donald “Mutt” Meritt)

The pep band, front, attepmts to distract an opposing player taking a free-throw shot. (Donald “Mutt” Meritt)

Maryland fans are known for being enthusiastic. No group drives the electric atmosphere at a home game more than the University of Maryland Pep Band.

Forty-five minutes before tip-off, at every men’s and women’s home basketball game, the band is ready to entertain the crowd with a binder full of popular tunes and an unwavering love of the basketball program.

“I just always knew I was going to join. From day one of marching band I loved this organization, I loved the people in it and the music that we play,” said Michelle Eckstein, a senior from Gaithersburg, Md., where her family attends Kehilat Shalom. Eckstein has played clarinet for 13 years, including the last four with the University of Maryland’s marching and pep bands.

Likewise, Louis Levine, a junior trumpet player from Brookeville, Md., knew he was going to be in a pep band from a young age.

“My dad went to Iowa and raised me watching Iowa basketball and football,” he said. “I watched the pep bands on TV and knew I wanted to be a part of that.”

When not at school, Levine attends Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Md., where his mother is the cantor.

Conducted by graduate assistants Nate Reynolds and Craig Basarich, the pep band gets the crowd at the Xfinity Center riled up with charts such as “Party Medley,” a mash-up of dance hits including “Shout” by the Isley Brothers, “Tequila Song” by the Champs and “Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys.

“We all have fun rocking out when we’re playing [“Party Medley”] and dancing during the rests,” said Eckstein. “It sets the tone for a nice, fun atmosphere during the game.”

Levine agreed, describing the chart as a fan favorite. “In the Stone,” or really anything by Earth, Wind & Fire, he added, tend to be a favored by horn players who appreciate the melodies that let the brass section shine through.

The band will take requests from fans. In years past, there was one intrepid fan who made a poster declaring his love for the theme from “The A-Team.” The band was happy to oblige.

It’s really exciting. We boost the energy in the stadiums. We cheer constantly during the game to give our players encouragement.

Players will make requests too. Former Terps power forward Bambale “Boom” Osby got his wish to hear the band play the theme from “Ghostbusters” at most home games. Former star of the women’s basketball team Sequoia Austin, who graduated last year, was partial to “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes. Austin, who has a percussion background, even jammed with the band on the drum set during a men’s basketball game.

The band has created some lasting traditions of their own. Every women’s game, “Hey Baby” is sure to be played and sung. During the second half of women’s basketball games, they’ll sing songs like “Build Me Up Buttercup” and “Just a Friend” by Biz Markie to distract the other team when they step to the free-throw line. (So popular has this tradition become, that when Bingo cards were handed out in the student section at a recent game, the band singing was one of the squares.)

Whether newspapers are distributed or not, the band is prepared with their own copies to “read” when the opposing team is announced.

Only members of the Mighty Sound of Maryland, the university’s 250-member marching band, are eligible to participate in the pep band. Though all marchers are eligible to join, there are still auditions.

Eckstein described the process as relaxed: “There’s one song they give us to prepare and we schedule a time to go into Dr. [L. Richmond] Sparks’
office and play for him and Mr. [Elijah] Osterloh. They ask us first for a scale and then we run through the piece.”

Less than half the marchers from the fall sign up for the band, which is a one-credit course, but that does not diminish the enthusiasm and sound elicited from the band at every home game.

The auditions from the beginning of the season determine ranking. Those toward the top get picked first to travel to March Madness. To maintain travel eligibility, pep band members can have no more than five absences if they live within 150 miles of campus, or six if they live farther away. To earn an ‘A’ in the class, band members are required to attend 10 women’s games and 13 men’s games. That number drops to eight and 11 for those musicians who live farther away, making the games played over winter break difficult to attend.

Levine who has been fortunate enough to retain first seat for three years has traveled extensively with both teams. Often when traveling with the women’s team, the band and the players will travel on the same plane and stay in the same hotel near the tournament site.

As the NCAA regulates everything from the number of band members a pep band can travel with to when each band can play, the atmosphere on the road can be quite different from playing at home.

Without big turnouts from students who cannot travel while in classes, the band pulls double duty, acting as musicians and cheering section.

“It’s really exciting. We boost the energy in the stadiums. We cheer constantly during the game to give our players encouragement,” said Levine.

Though there is little formal interaction between the band and the teams during the regular season, the teams are supportive of the band’s endeavors. Both teams’ head coaches donated money to the marching band for the purchase of a new equipment van, and each year around the winter holidays, the women’s team sends tubs of popcorn and a thank-you note to the band.

“People don’t realize how much the band adds to the atmosphere. It would be a weird game without the spirit and music from the band,” said Eckstein. “It completes the college basketball experience.”


International Guitar Night Wows Gordon Center

From left: Brian Gore, founder of International Guitar Night, Maneli Jamal, Diego Figueiredo and Andrew York. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

From left: Brian Gore, founder of International Guitar Night, Maneli Jamal, Diego Figueiredo and Andrew York. (Photo by Marc Shapiro)

When Brian Gore took the stage at the Gordon Center in Owings Mills on Saturday night, it was immediately evident the nearly sold-out crowd was in for a good show as he launched into a fast, percussive song on his acoustic guitar.

Gore, the founder of International Guitar Night, continued his annual tradition of combining forces with three other virtuosic classical guitar players from different corners of the world.

Joining him were Maneli Jamal, who has lived in Iran, Belarus, Germany, the United States and Canada and was the youngest member of the tour, award-winning Brazilian mutli-instrumentalist Diego Figueiredo and innovative composer Andrew York.

The first part of the show included mini-solo sets from each performer. Gore played a selection of songs from his latest album, inspired by California’s Napa and Sonoma wine country. Maneli followed Gore, telling quirky stories about his family and his upbringing in between songs, which featured a fusion of classical styles and techniques, including percussive playing, finger tapping and harmonics.

Figueiredo’s songs drew on samba and bossa nova and featured lightning-fast guitar fireworks. The most animated performer of the night, Figueiredo danced in his chair and moved his guitar around in several positions.

The concert featured four distinctly different guitarists showcasing their own styles and meshing them together as duos and a quartet.

York closed out the first set with a suite of five songs, whereas the other performers played three, showcasing his composing prowess and his jazz chops as the suite moved through different movements and styles.

The second set started off with the four guitarists playing as a quartet to Jamal’s song about his family taking a train ride from Belarus to Germany so he could have a better life. As a quartet, the group was able to produce interlocking and harmonizing melodies, percussive undertones and cover the complete sonic register.

The four performers then played in various duos, the first being York and Figueiredo. The two played one of York’s ballads, which allowed Figueiredo to showcase his soloing ability in a style different than his own.

Jamal and York played together next, which Jamal shared was an amazing experience, having honed his skills to YouTube video of York when he was living in Canada. York got a chance to showcase his versatility as a soloist while playing one of Gore’s songs.

The parade of duos closed out with Jamal and Figueiredo playing a song called “Bee,” which Figueiredo comically shared was inspired by a time he was stung by a large number of bees on his farm in Brazil. The song gave both players room to show off their speedy abilities as well as off-the-fret-board sound effects.

The quartet came back together to play a pseudo-classical piece of York’s that was dark and somewhat dissonant at times but again brought forth a symphonic sound. After a standing ovation and briefly leaving the stage, they returned for an encore to play one of Figueiredo’s romantic songs.

As in previous International Guitar Night performances, the show featured four guitarists with distinct styles, gave them a chance to mesh those styles and showcased enough melody for the less-discerning ears to enjoy and enough guitar theatrics to wow the musicians in the crowd.


Spring into Performing Arts Baltimore’s hot performing arts scene warms up the start of the spring season

Ronen Koresh, artistic director of the Koresh Dance Company of Philadelphia. (Photos provided)

Ronen Koresh (bottom left), artistic director of the Koresh Dance Company of Philadelphia. (Photos provided)

The Jewish community will take an active role in the Baltimore County Dance Celebration, Feb. 1 to March 9, when the Gordon Center of Performing Arts plays host to many events including four major performances, dance workshops, seminars and smaller ensemble and solo performances.

“We are thrilled to shine a spotlight on dance this February with an eclectic array of riveting, hypnotic dance programs,” said Randi Benesch, managing director of the Gordon Center. “From amateur to professional performances, from dance improvisation to hip hop and tap, from modern to jazz to ballet, there is something for everyone and we hope you’ll take a leap with us!”

A series highlight is the Koresh Dance Company of Philadelphia, in residency beginning Feb. 24 and performing on Saturday, Feb. 28. Visiting in partnership with the Baltimore County Public Schools, company members will teach master classes to Baltimore County middle and high school students during their stay.

Koresh artistic director Ronen Koresh, 53, was born and raised in Israel and was first exposed to dance at age 10 thanks to his mother, an Israeli folk dancer and member of a Tel Aviv-based Yemenite folk dance group. Soon Koresh became known as a “street dancer,” dancing at parties and clubs, eventually becoming a student of jazz and ballet. He choreographed his first piece at age 16, with 40 girls who performed the dance at a local soccer field. He later joined Martha Graham’s Batsheva Dance Company, Israel’s premier dance company.

After mandatory army service Koresh immigrated to the U.S. in 1983 and trained with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. In 1984, he began performing with Shimon Braun’s acclaimed Waves Jazz Dance Company in Philadelphia. Koresh taught at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 1985 and was asked to choreograph for an ensemble in 1987.

Koresh, who founded his company in 1991, is not bound by allegiance to any single dance tradition, regularly drawing on modern, jazz and ballet and a range of musical styles to provide audiences a unique and accessible experience.

“We deal a lot with humanity,” said Koresh. “Relationships — person to person, community to community, senses, feelings. We are not too sublime or too abstract. Everything is based in emotion, so you can feel, you can relate to [the dance]. You don’t feel dumb.”

Koresh’s music choice is as eclectic as his choreography.

“We don’t shy away from anything — world music, classical, the mystery of other cultures and languages,” he said. “They trigger the imagination.”

Asya Zlatina has been dancing with the Koresh Dance Company for the past seven years. A Maryland native and Goucher College graduate, Zlatina is looking forward to returning to her home turf. Zlatina, 27, credited Goucher’s dance department with much of her success.

“My teachers invested a lot in me,” she noted.

Zlatina also praised Koresh, who gave her an apprenticeship with the company at age 20, lauding his emphasis on real-life experience and emotional connection, in order to create powerful dance.

“We are always very physical, very emotional,” she explained. “It can be draining because it is about relationships and pieces of our own lives. It is not about fairy-tales. Roni doesn’t do cheesy. He does real life. He is very influenced by his Israeli roots.”

Koresh would likely agree with Zlatina’s analysis.

“In Israel, there is an urgency. We are just trying to survive. Some people think Israelis are rude, but it is just that we are always going to the heart of it, moving forward, dealing with the subject, not going around it,” he said. “Israeli culture has a lot of passion, it is very open, aggressive, in your face.”

Koresh claims that is why Israeli choreographers are at the forefront of modern dance, they straight to the heart. He also believes dance has changed with the times.

“Before, dance was too slow. That’s why a lot of people fell asleep in the 1990s,” he said, pointing to historically diminished ticket sales and the focus dance demands from its audience. But, he added, “they don’t fall asleep in my shows. If anything, they wake you up.”

Amy Herzog (Photo provided)

Amy Herzog (Photo provided)

The Play’s The Thing
In preparation for the spring season, Baltimore’s theater companies unveiled details for their 2015 production schedules. Offerings are diverse and eclectic, with a mix of classic, contemporary, experimental and in some cases, offbeat. And Charm City’s upcoming theatrical season is not lacking in Jewish-themed plays, Jewish actors or directors.

Especially significant is Center Stage’s Amy Herzog Festival. Center Stage’s dramaturge, Gavin Witt, explained the decision to produce two of Herzog’s plays, “After the Revolution” (2010) and “4000 Miles” (2011) this spring. Both plays are based upon the playwright’s own family history, in particular her Jewish Marxist grandparents.

“Amy [Herzog’s plays] very quickly became one of the candidates. Part of it was that [artistic director], Kwame [Kwei-Armah] became interested in introducing Baltimore to an emerging voice in theater,” he said. “Amy just had a surge of productions and performances and her plays suit us. They are rooted enough in psychology, in human relationships but also deal with civic and political issues. That has always been a touchstone for us.”

Witt described how the two family saga plays work well together, even though written in different styles. One is a sweeping epic and the other is an intimate play, featuring a small cast and taking place in one isolated time period. Viewing the two plays, audience members can experience the historical arc of the 20th century from the 1930s, the New Deal, and Jewish left aspiring socialists, and then into the blacklists of the 1950s and the disillusionment of that time. Together, the plays illustrate how much things change and how people experience history differently.

Witt added, “It’s such an interesting kaleidoscope of America.”

Members of Baltimore’s Jewish community will also be pleased by Vagabond Players’ production of “Side by Side by Sondheim,” a beloved musical revue featuring music from legendary Jewish composer, Stephen Sondheim’s most popular shows including “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “A Funny Thing Happened,” “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.”

The play is the directorial debut of Pikesville native and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation board member Shannon Wollman, 46, who is also known for her roles in “Evita,” “Funny Girl,” “Next to Normal,” “Gypsy” and many others.

“With age and experience, I’ve gotten a lot of ideas,” said Wollman. “When you’re a performer, you have to quell those ideas, because you are not the director. Finally I said, ‘It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.’ This will teach me if I really love directing or, I might say, ‘Better leave directing to others.’”

Wollman said it’s perfect timing for “Side by Side” because Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” is now in theaters.

“And I love Vagabond, the intimacy of the space,” she concluded. “I’m very excited!”

Emily Hearn (Photo provided)

Emily Hearn (Photo provided)

Fine Tuning
Now in its third season, Eutaw Place is a unique venue that showcases indie singer/songwriters and local talent.

On March 14, Eutaw Place, located in the lower level of the historic Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill, welcomes Emily Hearn, 24, to its stage. A native of Georgia, Hearn taught herself guitar in her senior year in high school. Her freshman year at the University of Georgia, she began writing songs and has performed professionally for four years. Hearn’s success as a professional musician came as something of a surprise to her.

“When I applied to college I wanted to study journalism,” she said. “But a group of friends at college had a big party every semester and they asked me to play. I got a good reception.”

She said Athens was a welcoming music scene, so she played locally and at nearby college towns, and eventually at bigger regional venues.

Hearn said her music is influenced by indy rock bands, as well as by other women singer/songwriters such as Brandy Carlisle and, naturally, Taylor Swift. She also listens to a lot of jazz, especially the vocal music of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

About her own music, she said, “It’s a mix of Americana, country but it comes out more pop.”

In 2012, Hearn married musician and songwriter Michael Harrison and now the couple writes and performs together.

“I’m very creative and spacey, my ideas kind of float around — and he’s very focused,” Hearn explained. “I actually enjoy writing with him even more than writing by myself. Before, I mostly wrote about relationships and heartbreak. It was draining to perform [those songs]. Michael brought a male perspective. Now we tackle bigger issues.”

In March 2015, Hearn’s first album, “Hourglass” will be released.

“All the songs are based on growing up and life lessons,” said Hearn. “The title, from a lyric in one of the songs, signifies the passage of time.”

Also performing at Eutaw Place on March 14 is singer/songwriter, Luke Brindley and on Feb. 14, Eutaw Place will feature Tony Lucca in a special Valentine’s Day concert, complete with wine-tasting. April 18, indy/ folk/Americana music duo Dawn & Hawkes help Eutaw Place celebrate its third anniversary.

The Jerusalem Quartet (Felix Broede)

The Jerusalem Quartet (Felix Broede)

Chamber Notes
Chamber music fans will enjoy the Gordon Center’s Winter Chamber Music Series: “From Darkness to Light,” featuring two concerts by the Aura Nova Ensemble that traces the history of Jewish music from the 19th Century to modern times.

On Feb. 8, the ensemble will perform music by Ernest Bloch, Jonathon Leshnoff, Gideon Klein, Gustav Mahler and Dimitri Shostakovich.

“After the formation of the German Weimar Republic following World War I and with the rise of Nazism and later, Stalinism, the political and social clouds in Europe grew ominously dark,” said founder and Aura Nova violinist, Mark Singer. “With the Nazi takeover of the German government in 1933, Jewish participation in musical culture came to a standstill. Those that could, fled, but many others perished, and Continental Europe’s loss was Great Britain, Israel and America’s gain as many musicians found havens in these three countries.”

Other chamber music events include a concert by the internationally renowned Jerusalem Quartet on Feb. 15 at Shriver Hall. The quartet performs Joseph Haydn’s Quartet Op. 74 No. 3 in G Minor, “Rider;” Erwin Schulhoff’s “Five Pieces for String Quartet” and Franz Schubert’s Quartet No. 14 in D Minor “Death and the Maiden.”

An annual favorite, International Guitar Night at the Gordon Center returns Feb. 7, and Israeli pop star, Rami Kleinstein will perform there on March 19.



Singer-Songwriter Finds His Voice Jesse Macht gained inspiration from tribulation

Jesse Macht (Photos provided)

Jesse Macht (Photos provided)

For singer-songwriters, tragedy can become fertile ground for creative inspiration. In Jesse Macht’s case, a brush with mortality and the end of long-term relationship was all he needed to jumpstart his career.

After discovering that he had a heart condition that gave him an extra electric impulse that caused his heart to beat at 260 beats per minute, he had to have his heart electro-shocked to essentially short out the extra impulse.

“That experience sort of tripped me up, and I said, ‘OK, if this is what you’re going to do, you have to dive in,’” he said.

Weeks later, his longtime girlfriend broke up with him.

“Two intense punches,” Macht, 31, said. “That was a broken literal heart and a broken figurative heart all in a matter of a month.”

The band he was playing with had recently broken up, and although he was feeling a bit lost in his career, he went back to the drawing board to write songs, wrote with others and attended songwriting workshops to get back on track.

Armed with new material and a producer he met at a showcase, he made the album “Suitcase Heart,” released this past fall, a poignant, emotional album with a big sound. He plays an invitation-only house concert in Baltimore on Saturday, Jan. 24.

011615_rocker2“His voice is beautiful to start with, but his music is really capturing,” said Susan Macht, a distant cousin, who is hosting the house concert. “He doesn’t just play music, he talks; he tells you why he wrote this song.”

For Macht, who grew up in Los Angeles, entertaining runs in the family. His father, Stephen Macht, has been acting since the late 1960s and has been on “General Hospital” and numerous other TV shows and in movies. Jesse’s brother, Gabriel, who is 11 years older than Jesse, stars on the USA series “Suits.” So from a young age, Macht knew his family was in the show biz.

While he has done some acting and still goes to acting auditions, Macht gravitated toward music.

“The guitar gave me an opportunity to express myself at any moment,” he said.

Macht can somewhat trace his singing back to synagogue. He attended a day school from pre-K through eighth grade, and he wasn’t much of a fan of having to attend services three times a week.

“I would harmonize with all the prayers, and that was my way of having fun, I think,” he said. “I was sort of learning that innate way of harmonizing with the ear.”

He played piano growing up and, later, guitar. Although his parents didn’t listen to any pop music, Macht would later discover some of his biggest influences including Billy Joel, Tom Petty and more recent songwriters such as Ryan Adams and Dawes.

011615_rocker3“I really try to be as genuine as possible, trying my patience, my confidence, my creativity,” he said. “I’m looking for things in my life that really do make me feel emotional, do make me feel human. I try to give in to that sensitivity, step on the wound and see what comes out.”

His show at his cousin’s house comes in the middle of an East Coast run that includes shows in New York, Philadelphia, Columbia and York, Pa.

Later this year, Macht will release a Valentine’s Day song with a music video and another single, both of which will be paired with a holiday song he released this past year, “This Light,” on a forthcoming EP.

From there, he is looking to book a European tour since he has some fans there who have only seen him in live streamed performances.

“I’m trying to organize house concerts and venues,” he said. “Whatever comes next.”


Slow … Quick, Quick, Slow

Baltimore native John Dawson, owner and head instructor of dance StudioDNA in Pikesville, teaches a smooth fox trot and a spicy salsa, but some of his students feel they gain more than improved rhythm and sure footing. More confidence, a sense of accomplishment and feelings of grace and pure joy are also what keeps these students practicing and coming back for more.

“Aside from the health benefits,” said Donna Siegel, 62, an executive at the Social Security Administration, “I feel free when I dance. I feel pretty when I dance. I feel graceful, it just feels good.”

Thirteen years ago, Siegel and her husband wanted to dance at their son’s bar mitzvah and started taking lessons. Her husband’s interest fell off after several years, but he encouraged Siegel to continue on her own. Now she can’t imagine a life without dance and, with lessons three times a week in addition to gym visits, massage and acupuncture, she’s also managed to stave off surgery for her spinal stenosis.

Siegel dances fox trot, waltz, salsa, merengue, cha-cha, rumba and tango, but swing is her favorite. She recently danced in a competition with Dawson and won for her age group and dance level. But there are days, she said, that she’s very challenged, such as when she recently worked on a difficult tuck turn. But, she added, “other times when we get in the zone, it’s beautiful. You’re almost outside yourself, listening to the music and moving. … You’re just dancing, it’s pure joy.”

Dawson said clients come to dance for many reasons. It may be in anticipation of a wedding or other event or simply to spend time as a couple. Or clients may be working through an illness or even the loss of a spouse or child.

“But at least for an hour’s worth of time,” said Dawson, “you can get involved in music and movement and forget everything around you.”

Dawson first worked as a mental health administrator at Sheppard Pratt hospital but was laid off after a few years, which, he says, was really a godsend. He answered a dance instruction ad and began formalized training; fortunately, he had a base of many hours spent onstage dancing and singing through high school and college.

He opened StudioDNA in 1994, and now, at an almost perpetually-in-motion 45 years old, he teaches students from ages 7 to 87 and has the reputation of being able to coax and coddle a saucy cha-cha move out of a stiff student. But he also doesn’t shrink from pointing out —sometimes very bluntly — a step that isn’t working, a directive he may deliver with gesticulating arms and a perfect Brooklyn Jewish mother accent.

“Sometimes we’re laughing so hard during the lessons,” said Siegel, “that we’re having trouble dancing and we’re standing there laughing ‘til we cry, and we have to serious up a little bit.

“Other times, when we get in the zone, it’s beautiful. You’re almost outside yourself, listening to the music and moving. You’re just dancing … it’s pure joy.”

Often, people start dance lessons because of the “glitz and the lights,” said Dawson, referencing the TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” “and then you get down to the fact that it’s a lot of dedication, it’s a lot of work. But it’s a lot of fun as well, even if I have to smack someone on the tuchas once in a while [to get them] back on track.”

StudioDNA, which has a second location in Canton, is dedicated to providing safe and comfortable spaces where people can go to move and learn, not feel judged, and be able to laugh at themselves, Dawson said.

Liza Massouda and Patty Simmons also teach with Dawson, and Simmons has been working with her client, Steve Levin, since May.

Levin, a youthful and physically fit 70-year-old, was the primary caretaker to his father, Jake, for more than 20 years. He met Simmons at the Envoy nursing home where their fathers were resident roommates. Over a few years, their friendship grew, and Simmons occasionally suggested he take lessons. But Levin always balked at the idea. Then Levin’s father passed away in March 2014.

“Patty called me maybe a month or six weeks after that and asked me if
I would be interested in trying ballroom dancing,” recalled Levin, who has danced zydeco. “I think somehow she knew it would be a good thing for me, maybe before I knew it.”

He added, “I had the time and was inclined to give it a try, to help with my grief. You can get lost in dancing, you can transcend the moment.”

Seven months into his ballroom lessons, Levin danced a waltz in a showcase at StudioDNA, an event at which students and instructors perform routines for invited family and friends. Levin appreciates the connection he feels with his instructor and other dancers and the sense of levity that pervades the studio, even when improvement is the goal.

“I remember one time after I made a dance move, Patty said, ‘Steve, maybe you should take that look of horror off of your face.’ It was funny, but she was right,” he said, laughing. “I’ve learned to relax my face when I dance, it was a good tip.”

Dawson prides himself in the ability to meet people where they are in terms of how they learn. He may simply demonstrate a step for someone to mimic but can break it down to the mathematical and mechanical elements as well. Dawson also offers group lessons that Marge and Roy Deutschman, both 67, have taken for six years with their friends, Berly and Avi Hershkovitz.

“For us, it’s a date night,” said Roy Deutschman. “It keeps us young, fresh and vibrant and all those things old people need to be. It’s exercise and socialization, and we have a lot of fun with John — we kibbitz, dance and yell at each other.”

Marge Deutschman added, “I feel like a princess, I feel like Ginger Rogers. Anybody can dance with John; he just makes you feel so good. And after every session I thank him for making me feel that way.”

Roy Deutschman said he’s amazed that if needed, John can just grab him and “take the role of the woman” in order to address a step that needs correction. Marge Deutschman said dancing regularly helps her get through some of life’s trying times, and it’s helped with her attitude too.

“It gives me a lot of security to know that I’ve mastered dance,” she said. “I feel confident in the things I do. I just retired, and that took a lot of confidence.”

Siegel admitted it didn’t come naturally for her to let someone else lead, even on the dance floor.

“It’s been a lesson for me to let somebody else be in charge,” she said. “Sometimes I do just need to shut up and let somebody tell me a different way to learn something. And that’s kind of a life lesson. Dance is kind of a microcosm of everything.”