Fairfield County seems to be raising a crop of young Jewish musicians who find ways to merge their passion with tikkun olam. Recently, the Ledger received word from three separate sources that unusual things were happening on the local music scene. A 10-year-old pianist is organizing a benefit concert for his school. A 12-year-old guitarist wears his kippah and tzitzit in gigs. And a 15-year-old violinist is donating all proceeds from his debut CD to a charitable organization. The three explained what inspires them to share their music and values in these unique ways.
Westport teen’s new CD promotes tolerance
Sam Weiser has been called a violin prodigy but isn’t sure he likes the term.
“I love that people are enjoying what I do, but at the same time, I’m not sure if I love the word ‘prodigy,'” says the 15-year-old Westport musician. “There’s this connotation that it’ll die out, like people saying, ‘He’s good because he’s young.’ I’m sure they don’t mean that, but it’s almost like extra motivation. I don’t want to be labeled a ‘child prodigy,’ I want to be a musician. I was a musician then, and I’m going to be a musician in a hundred million years.”
A musician since he was three, Weiser started with Suzuki violin, then added fiddling to his repertoire at age five. At eight, he and friend Cameron Bruce founded “Fiddlers 2” and have been playing local gigs ever since. He studied with famed ethno-musicologist and klezmer musician Yale Strom, who played at Weiser’s bar mitzvah two years ago at The Conservative Synagogue in Westport.
Weiser just launched his debut CD, “Sam I Am” on Disappear Records. The album includes compositions by Carlos Santana, Bill Monroe, Eddie Vedder, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Eddie Palmieri and George Shearing, among others. He will donate all proceeds to the Daniel Pearl Foundation and the Friends of Daniel Pearl’s FODFest, a nonprofit organization that works to promote and strengthen community through the universal language of music.
Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered in Pakistan in 2002 for being a Jew, was a violinist. After Pearl’s death, Maine-based violinmaker John Cooper crafted a violin in his memory and gave it to violinist Mark O’Connor, a renowned musician and teacher. O’Connor began the annual tradition of passing the instrument on to a student at his Fiddle Camp every summer, naming it the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin. Since age nine, Weiser has attended the summer camp in Nashville, Tenn. and San Diego, and was the 2008-09 recipient of the violin.
“We felt like a tribute to Danny was a very good thing to do. It’s very important to me to use the power of music to promote tolerance and inspire respect for differences,” says Weiser.
Weiser is currently studying at Manhattan School of Music, where he is the first pre-college student to double-major in classical and jazz violin.
To learn more about Weiser’s music and sample “Sam I Am:” www.myspace.com/samweisermusic
Stamford pianist plans fundraising concert
Seth Blumer of Stamford was in the mall last summer when he got the idea. “He had been performing in recitals,” recalls mom Dionne, “and he said, ‘What about doing a show at school?'” It would be a going-away gift to his peers, teachers, and principal, the 10-year-old decided, and a way to inspire kids his age to engage with music.
“He’s always been taught that, whatever he does, to give back to those who help him,” Dionne says. “He’s giving back the way he knows how.”
Seth has been studying piano since age six, and began studying with Svitlana Fiorito, now director of Long Ridge Music Center in Stamford, in 2008. That year, he won his first competition, at the Shubert Club of Fairfield County. And yes, he’s played at Carnegie Hall.
In the six years he has attended Northeast Elementary School in Stamford, he has become frustrated with the lack of support for the music department and with so few of his peers showing an interest in music. “He wants to tell kids his age that music is a good and fun thing and can help them, and that if he can do it, surely they can as well,” says Dionne.
Earlier this month, Seth was awarded first prize by the Connecticut State Music Teachers Association (CSMTA) and first prize by American ProtÈgÈ. Between now and May, Seth will compete in seven more competitions. “He loves to perform,” says Dionne. “We will wait and see how the season progresses. First sign of fatigue, stress, or burnout and we will have to call it a wrap. He still has a lot of growing and learning to do.”
Dionne says that, despite Seth’s demanding practice and competition schedule, his life is that of a normal, active 10-year-old, including Hebrew school at Temple Sinai in Stamford.
Fiorito is working with the Blumers on a program for the May 21 concert, the first-ever such fundraiser at Northeast Elementary. “We’re trying to get the kids and the community involved in their school,” Dionne says. Every dollar raised will go to the music department.
Dionne recalls a recent conversation with a friend that best sums up Seth’s passion for music. When the woman quoted the common belief that classical music is an acquired taste, Seth said, “Why? Classical music should be for everyone.”
For more information on the May 21 concert: email@example.com
Fairfield guitarist finds harmony between faith and his music
Ben Gorenstein’s bandmates think nothing of his kippah and tzitzit. They used to ask about them but now, when the 12-year-old guitarist practices or performs with the other kids, the symbols of his family’s Orthodoxy are no big deal.
They were, last June, when the group was playing at Bear & Grill on Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield.
“A man approached me and asked if the guitarist was my son,” says Alan Gorenstein, who was videotaping the performance. “The man was visibly moved and proud to see Ben playing rock music out in the secular world while wearing a kippah. The man explained that he was not religious and that, in fact, he hadn’t even known he was Jewish until he was 13. For him, the concert seemed to turn into a very meaningful experience.”
It was Ben’s first gig. A student at Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy in Orange, Ben has studied guitar at Turnpike Music Garage in Fairfield for the last two years. Last year, he joined the school’s band camp, which gives students the opportunity to play live at a professional venue.
Ben became interested in playing music at a friend’s viola concert. “I thought I should play something classical,” he says, but was more intrigued by guitar. Ben was a student at Hillel Academy in Fairfield, where music teacher Rhea Farbman taught recorder. When Ben expressed interest in guitar, Farbman gave him private lessons and then suggested the Turnpike Music Garage. After six months of lessons, owner Don Smith invited him to join band camp. “It takes the kids to the next level,” he says. “They learn how to play with others.” Smith organizes three performances a year, each followed by a feedback session for audience members to offer evaluations to the musicians.
Ben played again in January; his bandmates voted to name the group “The Ben Gorenstein Experience” for their second performance. “Ben thrives being on stage, says Ben’s mom, Lis Gorenstein.
Smith has been very flexible to allow Ben to participate and perform, Lis says. He schedules Saturday-night performances after havdallah and makes sure that shows don’t fall on Jewish holidays.
Gorenstein’s band will perform at a Battle of the Bands on May 1 to benefit the Janus Center.
For more information: www.turnpikemusicgarage.com