Classical music was always present in the family home, from Itzhak Perlman on Sesame Street to Mozart, Prokofiev, and her father’s favorite, Beethoven. There was always something playing. It wasn’t unusual that this would lead Jephta to the violin when she was five years old. At the time, living in Princeton, New Jersey, she pestered her mother to let her begin to play. There was a Suzuki violin program at the university where her father was teaching, and Jephta and her mother enrolled going together. “I soon surpassed my mother; as children do. Little sponges, they just learn so fast. They soak it up. She was excited about learning violin but (after seeing me pass her by so quickly), quit soon after. I feel horrible about that now, but was a little unforgiving about then.”
This relationship with music became part of all aspects of her life. Jephta explains: “I think music has been one of the biggest influences in my life. It’s had a huge effect on the way I think about the world, interact with people, and how I approach problems. It’s been one of the major influences in my parenting of both of my children.” As a result, both of Jephta’s kids are enamored with music. Her son loves classical music, is a dynamic pianist; her daughter, who has played the violin since the age of three, has a passion for technical theatre, voice, and still plays the violin.
Before Off the Hook Arts became the non-profit entity that produces two, thought-provoking music festivals featuring world-renowned artists like guitarist Eliot Fisk, the Miami String Quartet, and pianist Carlo Grante, Jephta created Project Youth and Chamber Music (PYCH). This initial music education program focused on bringing learning opportunities into the public schools. The organization would augment already-existing orchestra programs and add to their curriculum by inviting students to play chamber music during the school day. PYCH grew and transformed into Off the Hook Arts, taken from the summer music festival originally created as a fundraiser for PYCH education programs during the year, which strives to achieve its two part mission: provide a passion and enthusiasm for the arts through quality public performances, and offer affordable music education to the Fort Collins community.
Perhaps the most visible addition to Northern Colorado’s cultural landscape, SummerFest, in it’s ninth season, began even before the official start of PYCH’s education programming. Established as a fundraiser, it has blossomed into multi-week celebration of the arts, sciences, and creative thinking. WinterFest, added in 2014, brought another dimension of high-quality, musical excellence paired with interesting interdisciplinary themes. Both festivals welcomed good friend, composer Bruce Adolphe, as artistic director, from the very first SummerFest concert in July 2012. The role of the festivals as fundraisers still stands today as one of the major financial supports of their growing free and low-cost music education programs. Jephta believes OtHA’s festivals serve a social function by presenting different forms of art through which to express and discuss issues from a variety of disciplines.“Bruce writes pieces that have relevance to math, neuroscience and brain studies, as well as humanitarian issues that reflect the world.”
Today, Off the Hook Arts continues to hone its music programming every year, bringing a greater eclectic range of artists, topics, and experiences during the festivals. “I am especially excited about this year: the power of music to heal and to bring us together. If there’s a year to start looking at that message- that relationship of music to a community- it’s this year. The start of a new decade.”
When asking this founding Executive Director what she has found most uplifting from her time at Off the Hook Arts, she concludes: “Every time I see one of our Chamber Music Academy recitals, particularly at the end of a school year, I am reminded of why this all matters so much. For example, one of our students has grown immensely as a musician over the four or five years he’s studied in the CMA. Initially shy and not seeking the limelight, he now seeks performing opportunities — improvising on the street, composing his own music —- just because he’s excited about playing and sharing his music with others in the world. Watching that happen, makes it all worthwhile.”
A sincere thank you to Jephta Bernstein for taking the time to talk about her life and all she has done to create what Off the Hook Arts is today.
Written by Chloe Chandler