While covering the Edlavitch DCJCC’s Washington Jewish Music Festival (WJMF) over the past few months, I had the opportunity to speak with several musicians from Levine Music, and see their performances. After listening to their music and talking with them, I became curious about the institution they belong to. So, I decided to speak with Ms. Lois Narvey, head of performance at Levine Music, to figure out what makes Levine Music so successful, and better understand their connection to the WJMF.
Daniela: This year’s WJMF featured several concerts and shows by the Levine Music School. Tell us about the 2018 Levine performance series and the collaboration with the WJMF.
Lois: For a number of years, Levine has had a very unusual concert series of its own. It presents only our faculty, who are both teachers and performers. The series covers all of our genres: classical music, jazz, rock, and musical theater. We develop a central theme each year, and arrange the performance around that. Last year was a slightly political theme, called “The protest propaganda and promise. The power of music”. This year is an anniversary year for Leonard Bernstein, so the theme is about him and his iconic influence. It makes for a very interesting, eclectic but unified series.
A few years ago, we started to partner with the EDCJCC. This started as a very small partnership, but when Ilya Tovbis – Director of the WJMF – took over, he revitalized it. Ilya was very interested in having some of our concerts presented under the umbrella of the WJMF. I give him choices that I think he may be interested in, and he choose them. I thought he would have definitely been interested in the “Quartet to the end of time”, and “Strange Fruit”, which was performed twice as part of the WJMF.
Daniela: What’s the story behind the Levine Music school? When and why was it created?
Lois: I can definitely tell you about that since I’ve been at Levine for 30 years! It’s about 42 years old, and started in 1976 by three women from New York who came here with their husbands and young families, and couldn’t find music schools for their kids in DC. Around that time, a woman, who was a good friend of theirs, a prominent lawyer, and amateur chamber musician, was tragically killed in an automobile crash. Her friends decided to create a music school in DC named it after their lost friend, Selma Levine. It started very humbly, in a church basement, with volunteer teachers. Today, we have five campuses, ~3,500 students, and 160 faculty.
The founders had a very particular idea about what this school would be. They wanted to have the most excellent teachers, and to bebe absolutely welcoming to anybody who wanted to study music. You didn’t need to be “good” – there were no auditions.We have continued with this mission, which we call “excellence and opportunity.” Today, two of the three school founders are still on the Board, and everybody can study at Levine Music school in any part of the city because we have five campuses, like this wonderful venue [I’m at now] in Southeast DC called The Arc. We have a very strong tuition assistance program, and age doesn’t matter. Our youngest student is – believe it or not – a 4 month-old, and the oldest just turned 100.
Daniela: You are part of the Levine Music faculty. What is the educational goal of the school, and how has your experience been so far?
Lois: We have a core of very talented students for whom we provide a conservatory form of education. The majority of our students will always be amateur, and that is fine with us. My experience with Levine Music has been varied. I came on as a faculty member teaching harpsichord and piano. Then, I became head of the Piano Department, then acting Dean, then Director of Programs and Admission. I’ve done pretty much everything, but I’ve never stopped teaching. I teach as much as I can. I love being part of the faculty and part of the school.
Daniela: In addition to education, the other two principles of the Levine school are performance and community. What does the Levine Music community look like, and who is part of it?
Lois: A few years ago, we realized that we do so much more than just teach. We do a lot of performing: our teachers perform, our students perform, we have master classes, competitions, and workshops. We want to offer our faculty the chance to perform and we want our students to be inspired by them and perform too.
Community is part of our mission. We want to reach out to our musical community, welcome everybody and shape ourselves around it. We talk a lot about how we can make people feel welcome here.
Daniela: Is there an event during your years teaching at Levine that you remember in particular?
Lois: One of the most memorable moments for me was when Yo-Yo Ma came to visit. The reason it was memorable, beside the fact that he is a very famous musician, is that, like other musicians that came to visit us, he just came and mingled with the students and made them feel comfortable. What visitors like Yo-Yo Ma offer is life changing for these kids. To see them interacting with the visiting artists is, for me, the best part of the job.
About the Author: Daniela is a part of our “Gather the Bloggers” cohort of talented writers who share their thoughts and insights about DC Jewish life with you! She is a “retired philosopher” who works as an executive assistant and loves to write about Italian and Jewish events happening in DC. She was born and raised in Sicily (Italy) in an interfaith family and moved to D.C. with her husband after studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they met. They have a wonderful Siberian cat named Rambam! Daniela loves going to work while listening to Leonard Cohen’s songs and sometimes performs in a West African Dance group