Name: Hindy Ausch
Location: Boro Park, Brooklyn
Dream: Use music to help girls shine
I grew up in a happy, fun-loving, chassidish home. My mother, a creative soul, encouraged us to use our talents, and our house was never too messy for yet one more project. Our bedroom, crammed with four beds end to end, was further crowded by loads of masterpieces and keepsakes from our various artistic endeavors.
The most desirable pursuit of all, though, was the one avenue that was closed to me. In our principled home, the practice was not to play music, as a sign of mourning for the Beis Hamikdash. That was incredibly hard for me, and I desperately grabbed every opportunity to play and listen to music at friends’ and relatives’ homes.
When I was in seventh grade, my parents relented to my entreaties and purchased a cheap keyboard. The agreement was that I’d play it only on Motzaei Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, or other special occasions, and never merely for fun.
I kept my end of the deal. The moment Havdalah ended, I’d run to my beloved keyboard and play for six or seven hours straight, not stopping for so much as a drink of water. On Rosh Chodesh, I’d skip the special activities in school in order to be able to spend more time at my keyboard.
During those marathon sessions, I actually managed to teach myself music. I listened to classical music and learned to play it by ear, then began reading up on music theory. Every time I attended a school play or event that featured a band, I’d approach the pianist for tips, and I’d record her playing in order to study it later.
I learned a lot with this do-it-yourself way, but eventually prevailed on my mother to send me for a real lesson.
It was a disaster. A rigid, authoritarian maestro from the former Soviet Union, the instructor told me bluntly that I knew nothing about music, and I’d have to start from scratch. I was so far from being a music student, in her estimation, that she even refused to take my money. Deeply hurt by her callous dismissal of my years of hard work, I ran out and cried and cried.
Sensing how crucial learning music was to me, my mother suggested I call a pianist I’d met in camp. This time, I found someone who understood the different forms talent can take, and wasn’t hung up on one particular inflexible structure. From her, I was able to learn the rules of music in just a short time.
I launched my music education career just out of high school. I learned how to teach music, how to break down the concepts so girls can absorb them. I messed up the first few lessons; I later realized that I’d been trying to teach ten lessons’ worth of material in a single session, and the girls had walked out with their heads spinning. Learning how to get into the student’s brain was a challenge.
Eventually, I learned how to pace my lessons, creating an original curriculum that uses contemporary music the girls already love. Once I’d mastered that, I was able to start branching out, launching my business, Harmonies, which provides private music classes. I train each of our nearly two dozen instructors in my original methods, provide individualized lesson plans for every student, and personally track their progress.
The next frontier was finding a venue for my girls’ talents. It started with a call from Satmar Bikur Cholim of Monroe; they needed entertainment for an event, but couldn’t find anything suitable. Could I possibly put together a chassidish band?
It snowballed from there, and I started receiving requests from many other organizations for different events. I assembled a great band, with guitars, violins, a cello, a clarinet, a flute, drums, harps, and the occasional accordion. My Yiddish-speaking musicians range from first grade through their sixties, though most are in high school.
What makes this band, Harmonies, special is the care we take to maintain the participants’ high level of religious sensitivities. The students aren’t allowed to use smartphones, and anyone who listens to non-Jewish music is out. The sounds and atmosphere are authentically, uncompromisingly Jewish.
Up until now, a heimish girl with musical talent had to choose between a professional setting for her talents or a Torahdig one; my goal was that one shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other.
To maintain our professionalism and high standards of frumkeit, I work carefully to ensure total respect for the girls’ schools and mechanchos. If I know a principal doesn’t want her girls performing, I won’t accept anyone from that school, even if the students beg. We can only do what we do if it’s enhancing the girls’ chinuch, not chas v’shalom, undermining it.
In general, though, mechanchos from most communities have begun to see that music can reach students in a way no other lesson can. My own grandmother, a mechaneches for over 30 years with a family minhag proscribing music, came to appreciate the value of a musical outlet. By the end of her life, she’d begun recommending some girls come to me for lessons, because she recognized the healing power of music and the self-esteem it can bring.
I’ve witnessed girls who were nerdy and unkempt transformed into confident, poised members of the chevreh when they learned to play. I’ve seen anxious, shy girls become calm and friendly when they create music onstage.
I myself had been a less-than-perfect student in need of a math tutor, so I know that girls need to have one area in which they can shine.
And shine they do. Despite the noise and static and sometimes jarring popular music that surrounds us, neshamah-music speaks to every soul,and brings out the best in us.
The earliest dream I remember: I grew up in a home that was happy but not wealthy. I remember wishing my parents could afford to refinish our scratched parquet floors. My father told me it would cost about $1,000, so I asked a professional musician what her hourly rate was; she told me $100 an hour. “One day, I’ll play for ten hours and give you the money,” I pledged to my father — and it really happened. At the time, the idea of making that much money from music seemed absurd, but through hard work and siyata d’Shmaya, I was able to build a career and repay my parents a little for all they did for me.
My dream vacation: If I could somehow balance it with the needs of my family, I’d lock myself up for a few weeks and immerse myself in music, learning the things I’ve never had a chance to master.
If I had unlimited funds: I’d do what all Boro Park residents dream of doing: buy a house for myself and homes for my children. But even if I had $5 million, I’d still do what I do, since I do it out of passion, not just to make money.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 643)
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