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Jewish composers of the 'American Songbook'

Schenectady County Historical Society puts local spin on national exhibit

Taking a trip back into time to discover Jewish American history is easy with a new national exhibit making a local stop.

The Schenectady County Historical Society is hosting the exhibit A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, 1910-1965 at its 32 Washington Ave. building in Schenectady until June 1. This exhibit is being shown at 55 sites through the country during 2011 to 2012. It was developed by David Lehman and by Nextbook, Inc., which is a non-profit organization supporting Jewish literature, culture and ideas. The exhibit was also developed with the American Library Association Public Programs Office. The showing in Schenectady though will feature local ties to national history.

"All the huge Broadway musical writers for this time period are really focused on in this exhibit," said Ryan Mahoney, curator for the historical society. "We were ecstatic to bring this type of exhibit to Schenectady with our theater history here and our tie in with the Jewish community."

The historical society had to apply to get the exhibit showcased locally, which mainly provided the various information panels. Using the provided items, the historical society then built around and added to it a local flavor including old photographs of downtown Schenectady, Proctors and the Van Curler Theatre.

"With Schenectady's history it was easy to write an application up for something like this," said Mahoney. "We wanted to bring it back to the history of Schenectady and have a good local tie, so we really wanted to show off Schenectady theatre literature as well. We are also going to be focusing on the history of the Schenectady Jewish community."

Some of the songwriters during the featured time period are Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein and George Gershwin. There are also songs from the time period that people might still remember fondly of today, said Mahoney, such as "Over the Rainbow," "It Had to Be You" and "As Time Goes By." Classic film and Broadway posters also are featured in the exhibit.

"A lot of people grew up with this music so it is really easy to connect to," said Mahoney. "For a lot of people it brings them back to their childhood and the music they grew up listening to."

Even while looking back on history, Mahoney said there are new plays being drawn nearby at Proctors Theatre.

"We are bringing the history of the Broadway shows, while we are still getting these brand new ones constantly coming out," he said. "You get a good look of where it comes from in this exhibit.""

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