Rediscovering musical passions

Ari L. Goldman
Ari L. Goldman

An interview with Ari L. Goldman by Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

Twenty-five years after he put down the cello, Ari L. Goldman decided to pick it up again.

The Columbia University professor of journalism returned to the instrument in his 50s, when his son began playing the cello.

“And as I was approaching my 60th birthday,” Goldman says, “I figured I’m going to give it one last shot, to see if I could learn to play well enough for this milestone event.”

That’s when Goldman knew he had the topic for his next book.

In The Late Starters Orchestra, Goldman tells how he managed to reach his goal, to be good enough to play in public.

Goldman will talk about his musical adventures on Nov. 13 as part of the JCC’s Cultural Arts & Book Fest.

At first, Late Starters appears to be a departure from his three previous religion-related books: Living a Year of Kaddish, The Search for God At Harvard, and Being Jewish: The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today.

For 20 years, Goldman wrote mainly about religion for The New York Times. At Columbia he directs the Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and Spiritual Life.

On his path toward cello proficiency, Goldman joined the Late Starters Orchestra, which rehearsed in an abandoned coat factory in lower Manhattan.

Goldman’s spiritual approach to his musical journey imbues Late Starters.

“For me, the two are very intertwined, religion and music,” he says. “I think some people go about this as if it’s a religion that demands devotion and practice and structure, like you might have in a religious context.”

In Late Starters, he writes that playing the cello is his way to connect with the cantors of his youth. To Goldman, the sound of the cello recalls his memories of cantors’ voices in the synagogue.

“I don’t have the voice, but I have the ability to evoke that sound through my cello.”

A significant influence on his life as a boy was rabbi/folksinger Shlomo Carlebach. Goldman was even his roadie for a while.

“And his great cantorial piece, Mimkomcha, is my favorite piece on the cello. So I try to keep his spirit alive through that.”

One of the pleasures of putting this book out there, Goldman says, is hearing from others who have had similar journeys. At every book reading and constantly via email he hears from readers who want to get back to the clarinet they played inlatestarters high school or the violin they played in third grade.

“And they didn’t think it would be possible, that they couldn’t find a community of musicians who would accept them at a place where they could start playing again.”

They ask him how to connect with other musicians. He tells them the first step is to find a teacher, who will connect them with other students at their level.

“I tell them to go to a music store in your community, just ask around. And increasingly, the Internet is becoming a forum for that. People put the word out that they’re looking to form a trio or a quartet.”

He’s put together a trio of late-starting musicians that has played at several book stores in New York when he does readings.

In Dayton, a group of late-starter adult string students will play after his talk.

“It’s a book about rediscovering your passions, and it’s not only about music,” Goldman adds. “For me, it was getting back to the cello; for someone else it might be learning a language, learning to garden or learning to build model airplanes — or fly an airplane.”

It’s a story, he thinks, a lot of parents can tell: about their kids bringing them back to a love from their youth.

When asked if there are any other projects he put down when he was young that he’d like to take up again, Goldman says he would love to learn Daf Yomi, the study of a page of Talmud every day over a seven-and-a-half year cycle.

“But I don’t have the discipline or the time right now. But maybe someday I’ll be in a Daf Yomi orchestra.”

The JCC Cultural Arts & Book Fest, and Economy Linen present writer Ari L. Goldman on Thursday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Boonshoft CJCE, 525 Versailles Dr., Centerville. The cost is $5 in advance, $8 at the door and includes a dessert reception following Goldman’s talk, along with a recital featuring local musician Linda Katz and adult Suzuki students. R.S.V.P. here

To read the complete November 2014 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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