Saturday, March 14, 2009

In Memory of Kalman Bloch

Thursday night I heard that my family's friend Kalman Bloch has just died. Kalman was partner of my mother's close friend Molly Zucker. Kalman is a classical clarinet player. Though over ninety, Kalman had been active playing his clarinet in public performances, social gatherings, and family gatherings. He was like a musical uncle to me.

My family is not musical and nobody plays an instrument. I grew up a rock 'n roller, listening only a little to classical music. Kalman once told me that musicians put all their emotions into playing classical music. I was stunned, thinking that classical music was just like rock 'n roll: emotions put into sounds. Another time Kalman played a Brahms dance. I had always thought Brahms the most boring of composers, but because it was Kalman, I actually listened to the lively dance music--Kalman helped me to enjoy Brahms for the first time.

I remember going about 10 years ago with my mother to hear Kalman play at the anniversary of Skylight bookstore. I, the rock 'n roller, listented with great joy to Kalman play in a clarinet quartet all these classical clarinet pieces. I didn't even know that the clarinet had all this music. Another time I went with my mother to Kalman's house for Thanksgiving. The dinner was excellent, but even better than the food was Kalman after dinner begin to play Hebraic melodies. Then his daughter Michele, who played in the Los Angeles Philarmonic, started spinning Gershwin out of her clarinet. I felt this was one of my greatest Thanksgivings listening to the two of them play. I invited Kalman to my garden birthday party once, and he played a Debussy piece which he dedicated to me. I was very touched because nobody had ever dedicated a music piece to me before.

I often tell my students what I call the Kalman Bloch story he told us once over dinner. In the depths of the Depression in 1936 he was studying clarinet in New York with Simeon Bellison, the first clarinetist of the New York Philarmonic. He was soon going to be needing a job, and thought it was impossible to get a job playing music, so he should start studying to be a dentist. Even in the Depression people needed dentists. His teacher told him to send out 100 resumes to orchestras all over the United States, which he did. He only heard back from one: the Los Angeles Philarmonic gave him an audition. Being poor he couldn't afford to travel to Los Angeles, but then he got lucky. His brother had gone to Los Angeles where he had gotten engaged to a young woman. Soon his brother would have a L.A. wedding, so his family decided to all go to the wedding. He wrote the Los Angeles Philarmonic to ask for his audition. In Los Angeles, he did the audition, was hired, and started in 1937.

He taught clarinet to many students including his daughter Michele who became co-principal clarinetist of the Los Angeles Philarmonic. So the Block family for 70 years has been working for this orchestra. I tell my students this because if there was a job for Kalman in 1937, there is a job for you now!

Kalman has enriched so many lives with his music. He will be missed.

Here is a snippet of Kalman playing Glick's "Circle Dance" and Hebraic melodies from Garageband;


Lyle Daggett said...

I'm very sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. He sounds like he was a beautiful human being.

My mom, who died last month (85 years old), also studied music, taught music to grade school kids for a number of years, wrote music (modern classical, and popular songs of the sort people listened to in the 1940's or so), sang and played piano.

I grew up listening to much classical music. For a long time I was bored with it, though eventually I got interested in listening to it again. Having grown up around so much music was a wonderful gift in my life. It sounds like it was a great gift in yours too.

Dinah Berland said...

What a wonderful tribute to your friend! I especially love the "Kalman Bloch story" -- a beautiful miracle. I only wish I could have heard him play. Or maybe I did! How long was he with the LA Phil?
My sincere sympathy,

California Writer said...

Thanks to both Kyle and Dinah for your kind comments.

Kalman can be heard playing on the Internet at


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