Jonah Hertzman’s love affair with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra began very simply. It began with a clap.
Hertzman remembers attending a Pittsburgh Symphony concert as a three year old; he doesn’t remember who the soloist was, but he does remember that the concert was excellent. [His mother, Monica, believes it probably was a Holiday Pops concert.]
“I wondered how everyone could clap that loudly, and I wished I could clap that loud,” he laughs. “I remember thinking about the clapping because the concert was so good that I wanted to be able to clap louder in appreciation of it.”
That Highmark Holiday Pops concert may have been the first, but it wasn’t the last symphony concert that made a huge impact on Hertzman. He also points to Yo-Yo Ma’s performance during the “Once Upon a Time” gala, which opened the 2013-2014 season, as having a huge impact on him.
“It was amazing,” says Hertzman. “It was the first time I realized how blessed I was to have such a great symphony in the area.”
It was only a short journey from fan to player, especially for a member of a music loving family — the Hertzmans are BNY Mellon Grand Classics subscribers. Today, Hertzman, who is 12 years old and lives in O’Hara Township, plays both the viola and the oboe. He has been playing viola since the summer before third grade and started oboe lessons the summer before fourth grade. It’s obvious when talking with him how much the young man loves playing the viola (“I have loved the viola since the day I started playing!”), but he explains that he still can’t choose between the two.
Luckily for him, he doesn’t yet have to choose. He credits his school district for allowing him to explore his love for both instruments, playing the oboe in the school’s honors band and the viola in the honors orchestra, just like his brother did (though his brother, who is now in high school, played French horn and cello).
“I don’t think you’ll find many places outside Pittsburgh where the school district would allow students to do this,” says Hertzman, crediting the influence of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on music education programs that encourage students like him.
Hertzman also plays oboe in the Youth Chamber Connection, where he has been coached by Pittsburgh Symphony musicians Jim Rodgers, principal contrabassoon, and Jennifer Steele, flute. He is also a violist in the Three Rivers Young People’s Orchestras (TRYPO) string orchestra, Symphonette, where he is coached and conducted by Pittsburgh Symphony viola Andrew Wickesberg, as well as an oboist in TRYPO’s symphony orchestra, where he is coached by Rodgers as well as Pittsburgh Symphony musician Scott Bell, oboe.
“I get to be coached in these great organizations by world-class musicians — and that would not have happened without the PSO,” says Hertzman. “That’s why it’s so important to me to be supportive of the orchestra and that everyone else is too.”
At the end of September 2016, the Pittsburgh Symphony musicians began a work stoppage, which in the end would last 55 days. For Hertzman, the strike was very upsetting, putting on pause the music and the interaction with talented musicians that mean so much to him.
The timing of the strike coincided with Hertzman’s Bar Mitzvah planning, and he had been searching for a project for the event. Hertzman decided to combine his passion for music and his love of pogo sticking to help the symphony during the strike.
“It was really important to me that we keep music in Pittsburgh,” says Hertzman. He briefly became an international media sensation for his Crowdrise project, “Pogo for the PSO,” which made headlines around the world.
Hertzman could often be found on the picket line with his mom and grandmother, though unlike those two, he was bouncing along Sixth and Penn on his pogo stick.
“The only thing attracting more attention than a person carrying a big sign is a person jumping on a machine making a lot of noise while carrying a big sign,” says Hertzman. “If I was able to inspire one person to donate one penny to the musicians then it was worth it.”
Hertzman inspired more than just “one penny”; his Crowdrise efforts have raised nearly $3,000 to date in support of the Pittsburgh Symphony.
His Crowdrise page states “The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra helps the economy — it makes people want to live here. It provides entertainment for a lot of people. And there wouldn’t be as much music education in Pittsburgh if it weren’t for the PSO. That’s why I chose supporting the PSO for my Bar Mitzvah project. Even though the strike is over, the PSO is still in debt, and I want to help out! Please make a tax-deductible donation to show how much you value world-class music and the arts in Pittsburgh and around the world.”
Hertzman explains that he was inspired to help the Pittsburgh Symphony get through the strike and return to financial stability and health so that the orchestra can remain a “destination orchestra” for superior musicians from around the world.
Despite his youth, Hertzman seems to have a solid understanding of the resources and work that are required to keep a high-quality symphony in the Pittsburgh region.
Along with his Crowdrise project, which is still taking donations, Hertzman organized a “Penny War” between his school’s band and orchestra, raising another $400 for the Pittsburgh Symphony. (He laughs that the 50-pound jar of change was “50 pounds of excellence.”)
“People can donate to the symphony directly, or donate to causes like mine, or help out in the community…it’s all great,” he says. “Music is important to Pittsburgh and that’s why you should support the PSO.”
To support Hertzman’s Bar Mitzvah project to raise funds for the Pittsburgh Symphony, please visit https://www.crowdrise.com/pogo-for-the-pso-2.