Arts

Oshman School Brings
Performing Arts to Palo Alto

A new performing arts school is opening in Palo Alto
Oshman Scool EN GARDE: The new School for Performing Arts at Palo Alto's Oshman Family JCC will teach theater and music to children and teens.

At a timewhen arts and drama departments are disappearing from public schools all over the country, a new private school is opening in Palo Alto specifically tailored to the performing arts.

The Oshman Family Jewish Community Center's School for the Performing Arts aims to provide a diverse and innovative approach to teaching music and art for Silicon Valley residents, both children and teens, according to Ronit Widmann-Levy, the school's director of arts and culture. Starting in Fall 2015, the school will offer a wide variety of classes, ranging from music-oriented courses, such as song-writing, piano and choir, to stage-oriented instruction, such as improvisation and stage make-up classes.

The Oshman Family JCC's new program boasts numerous classrooms, a recital hall, a professional soundbooth and other facilities specially designed for children and adults. At the end of each semester, the school also plans to hold final performances to showcase what students have learned. The ultimate goal, Widmann-Levy says, "is for the department to collaborate on an end-of-semester performance where everybody has their hand in the craft."

While special attention will be paid to the works of such artists as Leonard Bernstein and Gustav Mahler—in order to emphasize the enduring influence of Jewish musicians and composers—the curriculum will be inclusive and a measured balance between Jewish and non-jewish music, according to Widmann-Levy.

Even before the official opening, "kids from the entire community have come and contributed to the final product," says Widmann-Levy. This year, during the school's test phase, students performed a rendition of the play Variations on the Death of Trotsky by David Ives.

The Oshman JCC has a long history of education and community work in Palo Alto. Beginning as small meetings taking place in the 1960s on El Camino Real, The Oshman Family JCC has since grown into a multi-generational community center and school on the grounds of the old Sun Microsystems campus in Palo Alto.

The School for the Performing Arts is the organization's newest educational contribution to the mid-Peninsula community. Although the idea behind the school has grown more complex in scope, according to Widmann-Levy, it began with the goal of teaching kids about music, with an emphasis on the relationship between the arts and Jewish culture. Now with a brand-new space and experienced staff, Widmann-Levy is confident in the school's ability to "facilitate an environment in which kids can artistically thrive."

The school put on a number of high-caliber performances prior to its official opening. However, now the School for the Performing Arts is more focused on getting people excited about the arts than selling tickets. "Were interested in the process of learning about the arts and being a participant," Widmann-Levy says.

The OFJCC School for the Performing Arts is headed by Edna Koren, Yale graduate, award-winning soloist and chamber musician. Her performance credits include the San Francisco Symphony, The Pittsburgh Symphony and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Along with her duties as head of the school, Koren has been the principal pianist with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony since 2003. The rest of the teaching staff are also noted musicians and music teachers in their own right. For example, Widmann-Levy is a professionally trained opera soprano who has appeared on PBS and performed alongside Michael Tilson Thomas for almost a decade.

As STEM (science, technology engineering and math) programs are emphasized more in the nation's schools, little room has been left for art, music and drama departments. Although not an intentional response to the rise in STEM-dominated school curricula, Widmann-Levy says she hopes the JCC's new program can "fill that gaping hole as well as provide a space where kids can be involved in the arts."

Currently, the program only offers afternoon classes, but Widmann Levy says there are plans to eventually introduce morning sessions. She hopes the school will ultimately become a community hub for music and arts education. "We'd like young people to come and experience what personal growth can be achieved by being involved in the arts," Widmann-Levy says.

Classes begin in September and tuition discounts will be offered to those who register before July 16. For more information, call 650-223-8605, or visit paloaltojcc.org.


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