Wearing Ug boots and draped wool scarves, a chatty clique of Milken Community High School girls slumped into their seats in a packed auditorium. About 600 had assembled to hear the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra's (IPO) KeyNote Brass Ensemble perform with the school's Chamber Ensemble and Concert Choir.
The teens seemed unenthusiastic at best. But then the KeyNote players explained how the shofar was the ancient ancestor of the brass instrument family. They also performed "The Simpsons" theme song with the Milken student musicians. Slowly, scowls turned to smiles, feet started tapping and through the IPO's KeyNote program, the Los Angeles teens learned about instruments, music and the joy of playing.
"The assembly was amazing, and it was great to see my friends play with a professional orchestra," said Jessie Levine, a Milken 10th-grader. "Plus, I had no idea that brass instruments had Jewish roots. That's really cool."
In 2002, The American Friends of the IPO received a grant from The Jewish Federation's Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership to support the KeyNote Program, a 4-year-old outreach program that has benefited more than 14,000 Jewish and Arab students in Tel Aviv. The grant required that the IPO conduct a reciprocal program in Los Angeles. Milken Community High School, which has both an in-house music academy and a sister school in Tel Aviv, was chosen for the program.
The Dec. 11 program consisted of a joint rehearsal session between the IPO Brass Ensemble and the Stephen S. Wise Music Academy students, a joint concert, lunch for the professional and student musicians and Q-and-A sessions in the general classrooms The day was designed to integrate the high school students with the visiting musicians.
"We wanted our kids to have the experience of hearing the IPO, playing with the IPO and working with the musicians in the classroom," said Dr. Russell Steinberg, director of Stephen S. Wise Music Academy. After the assembly, musicians visited English, Hebrew and science classes where students who had just attended the concert asked questions about music, the position of a Jewish orchestra in Israel and general social, political and cultural concerns.
The IPO was in Los Angeles in December, giving a dazzling sold-out performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall and Dec. 11 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa (for more on the performance, see next week's Circuit).
Since its inception in 1936, the IPO has played at the Proclamation Ceremony of the State of Israel in the Tel Aviv Museum (1948) and on Mount Scopus in liberated Jerusalem after the Six-Day War (1967). The orchestra has enjoyed associations with artists like Leonard Bernstein, Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. But the current musicians, who hail from around the world and tour at prestigious concert halls and festivals throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, relish the opportunity to teach the young.
"We love playing with high school students because they are the next generation of music lovers," said Micha Davis, IPO's bass trombone player. "When we were in school there were musicians who played with us. It's an ongoing tradition."
The Milken student musicians were thrilled to partake in the tradition. After hearing the IPO perform at Disney Hall the night before, the students were delighted to join the professionals on stage in their campus auditorium.
"It was a really humbling experience. They are a world-class orchestra, said Elizabeth Erenberg, a 12th-grade flautist who plans to major in music next year at college. "I feel really honored to have met them and played with them. They're great people as well."
The IPO, which travels the world as a cultural ambassador for Israel, generated a new appreciation for music and a strong sense of Jewish pride among the Milken students.
"I go to a Jewish school. I love music and I love Israel. So today, was an incredible experience," said Jason Abrams, a 10th-grade pianist with the Chamber Ensemble.
"Knowing the current situation in Israel, it must be very difficult for them to continue functioning like other major orchestras," Erenberg said. "I think it's very admirable that they continue to make music."
For more information on the KeyNote program, visit www.ipo.co.il/list/keynote.asp .