School music teacher brings in $1.5 million grant

University High School had plenty to celebrate on May 21: the opening of a new gym, six tennis courts, a parent center and — a contrast to the seemingly endless cuts and setbacks to the arts in public education — a $3 million music facility.

The fact that freshly re-elected Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Steve Zimmer joined Principal Eric Davidson and about 65 people on the West Los Angeles campus to acknowledge the Magruder Music Complex and its state-of-the-art recording studio left no doubt that it was a big deal. 

Less obvious was that the ribbon-cutting ceremony also represented a quiet victory for musician Art Shane, a member of Ohr HaTorah in Mar Vista who teaches music at the school and pursued a $1.5 million grant that helped make the complex possible while facing a serious battle of his own.

Because of a seismic-mitigation program to reassess earthquake safety at University, the music program temporarily moved to an old shop room. While there were plans to build a new space for music, it ultimately was decided to overhaul the interim space into the Magruder complex.

That wouldn’t have been possible to such an extent without Shane, who took the initiative in applying for state funds made available through the voter-approved Career Technical Education Facilities Program. Nearly five years later, the $1.5 million in funding was OK’d by the California Department of Education, matching the school district’s commitment, Shane said. 

Shane has no doubt that the facility will be worth every penny.

“Music making is among the things that best demonstrate the high qualities of human potential,” he said.

The high-tech complex — which Shane said stands as one of the best music and learning facilities in the state — makes possible the rollout of the Recording and Professional Arts Career Technical Education elective sequence. Students will study music fundamentals and contemporary music technology. They will engineer, plan and produce recordings of school soloists and ensembles as well as guest artists and have the opportunity to compose and produce original scores for student films and animation, according to Shane. 

Shane, 53, has taught music at the high school for 12 years. Originally from New York, he worked his way through college as a keyboardist with disco and oldies bands. He moved to Los Angeles in 1986, enrolling in USC’s film scoring program.

Over the years, he has played in jazz clubs, cruise ships and more. He was an accordionist at Universal Studios and performed the instrument on numerous movie soundtracks, he said. 

He’s dabbled in sacred music as well. Every Saturday morning, Shane can be found playing accordion or melodica (a keyboard instrument that is played by blowing through a mouthpiece) at Ohr HaTorah services, accompanying lay cantors Jacob Kantor and Willie Aron. The Mar Vista resident stumbled onto the congregation while shul shopping with his wife, Lori, for their daughters, today 8 and 12.

“Music is one of the gates of prayer, and the accordion has a unique, evocative voice that reminds people of the old country — even if they’ve never been there,” he said.

The once-nomadic synagogue, led by Rabbi Mordecai Finley, has its own restaurant, Sophos Cafe, and a congregation awash in writers, artists and actors. Congregants past and present include Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman and David Mamet. Shane views his Saturday morning sanctuary performances as distinct from his jazz gigs.

“It’s a different audience, a different energy,” Shane said. “You’re not so much playing as a performer but as a co-congregant.”

Meirav Finley, who co-founded the congregation with her husband, said Shane is “quiet and introspective but a brilliant musician.” 

“Art is an amazingly gifted and generous musician who brings so much to our
community,” Kantor said. “He plays with our band for all our holiday programs as well as many special events at the Sophos Cafe. … We are incredibly fortunate to have him.”

Along with Kantor and his singer wife, Julia, Shane has an upcoming French-themed gig at Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood on July 25. Shane will play accordion as the Kantors perform with other musicians in a night titled “Paris at the Catalina Jazz Club! French Music from Aznavour to Zaz.”