Zamir Chorale performed Klarman's composition, "Hallel Shir v'Or (Praise, Song and Light) " at the concert, held at Temple Emanuel here on June 14 to honor Zamir's outgoing chairman, Robert Snyder. Klarman originally composed the piece when he was 16 years old.
Congregants at Temple Emanuel, where Klarman holds membership, know him from his piano playing at Shabbat services and community events, and from his compositions of liturgical music for the synagogue. Few people are aware of the depth and breadth of his musical ability, his atypical journey from childhood and adolescence to adulthood, and his view of music as a unique tool to create sacred space and to contribute in a positive way to the wider world.
"Music can often reach people more easily than words," he said. "As a child, I sometimes used it as an escape, or as a means to express feelings that I couldn't put into words. But as I matured, I also recognized the power of music to elevate words and to give them new meaning."
Klarman, who began composing as a 6-year-old, described his childhood urge to play the piano when he heard one of his sisters practicing. He felt drawn to the instrument and often made up songs or tried to recreate the melodies he heard on the radio or on television. He said his parents recognized his musical gifts and were supportive from the beginning.
Another early influence on the young composer's life was his maternal grandfather.
"He made everyone, including me, feel special and we were very close," Klarman said. "He was especially creative and loved to fix things. When he didn't know exactly how to repair something, rather than get upset, he would simply wait and say he knew a solution would eventually show itself. As I get older, I identify more and more with him and find his philosophy speaks to me and the challenges I face when composing."
Klarman composed "Larger than Life" as a tribute to his grandfather.
He also credits teachers and music education programs with nurturing his talent and helping him grow as a person. His teacher Angel Rivera, pianist and director emeritus of The Rivers School Conservatory in Weston and former director of the New England Conservatory's Preparatory School, helped him expand his personal relationship to the piano in particular and to music in general.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without Mr. Rivera," Klarman said.
Rivera's message was that musical excellence and expression are not limited to technical mastery, but require a sensitive reading of the instrument, the composer and oneself, Klarman noted. Rivera stressed the importance of curiosity and the asking of questions such as, 'What was Beethoven thinking when he wrote this piece?' Or, 'How would this piece sound if played by an orchestra?'
"I don't want to lose my curiosity and that special relationship with music that I developed during the years I studied with Mr. Rivera," Klarman said.
In addition to The Rivers School Conservatory, Klarman described his high school experience at Gann Academy as especially meaningful. He credits the school with reaching out to him and to all its students to promote inclusiveness and to accommodate what he described as "different learning styles and challenges," as well as to encourage each student's special talents.
"They recognized what I had to offer," he said. "I was able to participate fully in school life."
Today, Klarman pays tribute to his alma mater by accompanying the chorus.
His experience at the New England Conservatory preparatory school, which offers extracurricular music classes, helped Klarman decide what he wanted to do with his passion for music. He realized he wanted to use music to give back and make a difference. This decision would find musical expression in his piece, "Elegy," which he dedicated to the memory of the victims of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
He wrote a second piece, an orchestral tribute to the city of Boston, "Boston Strong," after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Eventually, Klarman matriculated to NEC for college, where he worked with many professors, including acclaimed composer, musician, ethnomusicologist and chair of NEC's Contemporary Improvisation Department, Hankus Netsky.
Klarman also played with the Jewish Music Ensemble at NEC, solidifying his love of klezmer music, one of Netsky's special areas of expertise.
Klarman said NEC helped shape his current creative process. He said when he started the NEC Prep program, he remembers walking down the halls and seeing all the closed doors.
"Inside each room was an individual student practicing or composing," he recalled.
Klarman described the isolation and solitary space required for creative expression, describing it as being in one's own "musical bubble." He later realized the need to balance this desire for solitude with social time, connecting with other people and engaging with the world.
As a regular performer at Temple Emanuel's Friday service Shabbat Alive, Klarman compared the response of Jewish congregants to worshippers at a Baptist church.
"It's wonderful to see the members of the congregation interact with the music and with each other as an expression of joy and a feeling of community," he said.
Since his graduation from NEC in May 2016, Klarman continues to embrace a variety of musical activities, saying he does not like to be pigeonholed. He composes, plays the piano, dabbles as a percussionist, and surprisingly, works in an improvisational comedy group, Catalyst Comedy.
"I love comedy; I love musical theater; I love improv," he said. "It has been a wonderful learning opportunity."
Klarman's compositions have twice appeared on the National Public Radio show, "From the Top"; most recently, the Boston Pops played his "Symphony in C" on the radio program's 10th anniversary show in 2015. His compositions, which often fall into the categories of Jewish liturgy, pop and choral music, have won multiple awards and been performed by several local orchestras.
Klarman has no plans to narrow his focus. He continues to embrace every opportunity to learn and to expand his musical self-expression. Even as he explores his musical potential, though, he affirmed his commitment to the Jewish community and its music.