A legacy in the arts

The aspirations of the Jews who founded Dayton’s major arts ensembles enrich us to this day

By Burt Saidel, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

June 1999

Dayton’s rich arts life is the envy of many cities that are much larger and more metropolitan. We enjoy and support fine orchestral music, world renowned dance, great theater and visual arts.

Even the most casual observer needs no hidden clues to feel the presence of Jewish leadership and support for all of the arts in greater Dayton. Every arts organization has Jewish board members. There is no organization that has not had several Jewish presidents.

As the generations succeed each other, some of the most illustrious roots, while not forgotten, are taken for granted. In the vanguard of what we enjoy today, four of the greatest leaders on the Dayton arts scene were Jewish. Each of them — Dr. Paul Katz, Josephine and Hermene Schwarz, and Miriam Rosenthal — founded and developed major legacies for today and the future.

Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra
Dr. Paul Katz

Katz is best known as the founder of The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and was its music director from its inception in 1933 until his retirement in 1975. In light of these accomplishments, it is often forgotten that Paul Katz was considered a child prodigy on the violin.

He made his debut, in Dayton, at the tender age of eleven. While still in his teens, he became a member of the Cleveland Orchestra violin section. It was this experience, coupled with the influence of great teachers such as Leopold Auer and Nadia Boulanger in France that inspired Katz to create his own orchestra. Our present maestro, Neal Gittleman, studied a half-century later with Boulanger.

Founding a symphony orchestra in a depression-ridden city in 1933 was no small task. But Paul Katz was no small man. He used his considerable skills as a musician, organizer and pedagogue to develop the fine orchestra that we enjoy today.

He was not alone in his efforts. Katz’s loving wife, Phyllis, was his great support for all of those years. She is a noted piano teacher and assisted him in so many ways. One of his six brothers, Maurice, an attorney, was the Philharmonic’s music annotator for all of its early years.

No tale of Paul Katz and the Dayton Philharmonic would be complete without the contribution of Miriam Rosenthal. A Daytonian since age 10, Rosenthal began her multi-faceted career as a journalist. At the suggestion of her publisher, Governor James Cox, she began raising funds for Good Samaritan Hospital.

Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra
Miriam Rosenthal

Her natural ability for public relations and organization led her to become Dayton’s first true impresario. She became the manager of the fledgling Philharmonic in its second year, 1935. The orchestra needed money, stability and management leadership. Rosenthal supplied that for all of her 30-year tenure until her untimely death in 1965.

In addition to her activities with the Philharmonic, Rosenthal was the prime mover in bringing grand opera and theater to Dayton. She became a national booking agent, always saving the prize plums for her own beloved city. Her fund-raising endeavors were also critical to the growth of Dayton in so many ways. She established funds for the University of Dayton and was a dossier for other community agencies and projects. She is venerated at UD by the beautiful building aptly named Miriam Hall.

Both Katz and Rosenthal were involved in Jewish activities as well. Rosenthal served on many Jewish agencies as a board member and as a fund raiser when called upon. Katz was devoted to Temple Israel and served as its music director for three  decades.

The thrill of hearing Paul Katz play Kol Nidre on his violin during Yom Kippur services will never be forgotten by temple members fortunate enough to have experienced it. He lovingly nurtured the choir and presented many musical programs including orchestral and choral concerts featuring Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service.

The early decades of this century provided a nourishing climate for great artists. During the same years that Paul Katz and Miriam Rosenthal were preparing for their great contributions to the arts, a pair of sisters felt the inspiration that was to make them national icons in the world of dance.

Josephine and Hermene Schwarz were the daughters of Joseph and Hannah Schwarz. Raised in a nurturing atmosphere that combined Jewish values with cultural and artistic inspiration, the girls discovered dance as the means of their life’s expression.

Dayton Daily News
Josephine and Hermene Schwarz

From their humble beginnings giving dance lessons to neighborhood children at 10 cents each, they evolved into the founders of The Schwarz School of the Dance and The Dayton Ballet.

During the lean years of the depression, artistic longing led Josephine to New York and to Europe to study the evolving art of dance. She became a member of the New York City Ballet under a recent émigré from Russia, George Balanchine.

Her career as a dancer was cut short by a knee injury while dancing. Undaunted, Josephine returned to Dayton and rejoined Hermene as a dance teacher.

In 1937, they founded a company that was to become the Dayton Ballet. In addition, they stretched their influence from the unlikely confines of Dayton to the entire nation in the field of dance.

As they grew in stature and influence, they both poured their art and resources into their company. The Dayton Ballet, now more than 60 years old, is firmly rooted in the integrity, art and loving devotion of both Josephine and Hermene Schwarz.

Even with this saturation of artistic endeavor, each of these giants lived proudly as Jews. I was privileged to know each of them personally and felt their fidelity to Jewish ethics and the beauty of our religion in their acts and in their personalities.

Katz and Hermene Schwarz passed away in the 1980s. Josephene Schwarz, or “Miss Jo” as she is known to generations of dancers, now lives in Colorado. Others will follow; these are our idols. Their examples can never be forgotten. They stand as inspiration for us to continue to enrich the lives of others.

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