Interlochen World Youth Symphony Orchestra

There are memories abound among Jewish talent who attended Interlochen Center for the Arts back in the day.

Featured photo courtesy of Interlochen Center for the Arts

As the Interlochen Arts Festival gets into full swing — with concerts, comedy and dramatizations — memories about the Interlochen Center for the Arts abound.

Personal recollections are held by former campers and year-round students, some going on to pursue successful careers in the arts and others deciding on different fields but maintaining their artistic interests. Personal recollections also are important to those who have been in the audience for one or more programs.

Training and entertaining at the northern Michigan enclave began in 1928.

Pianist Roman Rabinovich, who recently appeared at this year’s festival, is likely to have heard about the center from his father-in-law, clarinetist Franklin Cohen, who was a camper encouraged by his New York family and returning much later to teach master classes.

Both are representative of talented members of the Jewish community who have enjoyed participating as well as watching those achieving stardom.

Still to take the northern Michigan stage this summer are singers Reba McIntire and Diana Ross, writer Aja Gabel, the World Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Pacifica Quartet and comedians making up The Capitol Steps, among many others.

Pianist Miriam Guten of Dallas attended summer camp during the 1940s with her sister, the late actress Charlotte Rae, and still takes to the keyboard. Her memories have been communicated over many years to daughter Keri Guten Cohen, story development editor for the Jewish News.

“I’ve been involved with music most of my life,” says the pianist, who was raised in Wisconsin and started playing piano at a very young age. “I entertained the military during the Korean War; I compose music, and I’ve been a musical director for the professional stage.

“The classes at Interlochen were really good, and many of our teachers were famous. I learned so much from composer Ferde Grofé, who wrote the “Grand Canyon Suite”, and pianist Percy Grainger.

“I got to perform at Interlochen and take part in outdoor sports during the afternoon — and I gained 10 pounds each summer there. My mother was not too happy.”

Aaron Jonah Lewis on the fiddle.

Aaron Jonah Lewis, who grew up and still lives in Michigan, went to Interlochen in the 1990s and has built a career playing fiddle and banjo, both solo and with groups, such as The Lovestruck Balladeers.

His summer performance schedule this year ranges from an appearance at The Ark in Ann Arbor to a performance at The Frontier Home in Seattle.

“The people at Interlochen are so passionate about art,” says Lewis, who was a violin performance major later introduced to folk styles by a friend met through a Habonim Dror program in Israel.

Lewis, who has been part of dozens of recordings, from bluegrass to contemporary, also teaches. His workshops have been held at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and the English Folk Dance and Song Society in London.

While he started a square dance experience that fits in with his music, another Interlochen alum, from the 1970s, has moved through various step styles into salsa. Calling herself “Mambo Marci” Iwrey, she performs, teaches and plans corporate events.

“My best memory of Interlochen is that of a typical but magical day,” says this arts enthusiast. “After a whole day of dance classes (heavenly), I could sit back under the outdoor pavilion listening to live classical music as the trees swayed back and forth.”

Using the company name Mambo Marci Productions, she will perform July 14 at the Concert of Colors in Midtown Detroit, Aug. 16 at the Salsa Dance Party at Orchestra Hall and Nov. 7 at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, where she works as b’nai mitzvah coordinator and assistant to the cantors.

Sara Zivian Zwickl was very serious about studying vocal performance at Interlochen during the 1970s, but she ultimately decided to become a lawyer, now with an office in Farmington Hills. Her singing talents, however, have been heard in synagogue programs.
While working in the Interlochen admissions office, Zwickl was chosen to be a tour guide for Imelda Marcos, first lady of the Philippines for 21 years. Zwickl thinks of that as a very exciting time.

Sara Zivian Zwickl rehearsing at Interlochen in the 1970s; Zwickl is a lawyer today.

“My strongest memories involve different experiences — symphony concerts, art shows and the outdoors,” she says. “I loved the smell of the pine trees. I’ve since been in pine forests and think of Interlochen.”

Ari Axelrod grew up in Ann Arbor, but he is establishing a career in New York. His vocal performance is centered around cabaret music. He has performed at Feinstein’s/54 Below and has developed the show “A Celebration of Jewish Broadway.”

Ari Axelrod is now performing cabaret shows in New York.

“I felt I was treated as a professional at Interlochen,” says Axelrod, 25. “I took a master class from Heather Headley, who starred in Aida on Broadway, and she went into how to make a song your own and be yourself.”

As an actor, he has appeared in New York productions of Milk and Honey, Fun Home and Children of Eden.

His brother Robert Axelrod, 27, also attended Interlochen summer camp and studied musical theater there. “It remains one of the most fulfilling artistic and developmental experiences of my life,” he says.

He now is a writer in Los Angeles and is the winner of the 2019 CineStory TV Fellowship as well as being a current semifinalist for the Sundance Episodic Lab and a finalist for the Humanitas New Voices Program. He also was a writer for the 2017 CBS Diversity Showcase.

Many entertainment notables with New York acclaim have deep recollections of Interlochen. Among a long list expressing these feelings to the Jewish News have been actress Tovah Feldshuh, Next to Normal composer Tom Kitts and violinist Pamela Frank.

Feldshuh has said, “Michigan is dear to my heart because of Interlochen.”

Kitt remarked, “Sometimes, I actually think of being in practice rooms at Interlochen.”
Frank commented in 1995, “Practically every friend that I’ve ever had has been to Interlochen. I never had the pleasure of going there, but, by association, I feel very connected to the area.”

The Interlochen Arts Festival continues through Aug. 21. For schedules, prices and tickets, call (231) 276-7200 or go to

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Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.


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