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Jewish Journal

Strike Up the Klezmer

by Beverly Gray

November 29, 2001 | 7:00 pm

Santa Monica High School Band during a Nov. 17 parade in Arcadia. Photo by Doug Campbell

Santa Monica High School Band during a Nov. 17 parade in Arcadia. Photo by Doug Campbell

This is not your grandmother's halftime show. Unless of course, Grandma grew up in a kibbutz or shtetl with a 145-piece marching band in residence.

Santa Monica High School's Viking Marching Band and Color Guard performs at halftime during the school football team's home games. Band members from the school, which is familiarly known as Samohi, also travel en masse to field competitions throughout Southern California.

Under the direction of Terry Sakow, past Samohi field shows have been built around tunes from Broadway shows like "Phantom of the Opera" and from the classical music repertoire. For the just-concluded 2001 season, the band stepped outside the norm to present "Shirim" (the Hebrew word for "songs"), a field show dedicated to Israeli and klezmer music.

Assistant director of bands Carl Hammer, the product of a Mormon upbringing, took charge of arranging such familiar Jewish numbers as "Zemer Atik," "Hava Nagila," and "Jerusalem of Gold" for the marching band.

Among the musicians, Matt Leonard -- who happens to be Jewish -- has won special acclaim for his schmaltzy solo clarinet work. But the Samohi band, which prides itself on its ethnic diversity, attracts members from a multitude of backgrounds. At the last competition of 2001, Muslim band members performed while fasting because of the onset of Ramadan.

Judges have strongly praised the Samohi show for the originality of its concept. Band members have walked off with numerous honors, including a Grand Champion Sweepstakes trophy. The reaction from Samohi students and parents has been equally positive. Doug Campbell, a Christian parent of a band member, relates, "Klezmer music is not something I'd heard before. It's a very pleasant sound. I'm thinking of buying a recording."

Ari Rosmarin, a featured clarinetist, says the show's high point always comes when the musicians, along with a color guard waving blue-and-white banners, arrange themselves in a Star of David formation. The star, Rosmarin says, "usually gets applause ... even in Orange County." Rosmarin is hardly inclined to see the applause as a manifestation of the onlookers' Jewish pride. "I think it's a recognizable shape, and they appreciate that."

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