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Harry 'Elly' Saltzman, longtime Long Beach High band director, dies at 95

Longtime Long Beach High School band director and

Longtime Long Beach High School band director and music teacher Harry "Elly" Saltzman died Sept. 15 in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 95. Photo Credit: Saltzman Family

He grew up tenement poor, son of a steam presser, in a family that his daughter said moved on a constant basis — one step ahead of the eviction notice.

Amid the hardships, Harry "Elly" Saltzman heard music. Heard it in his head, heard it in his heart. Heard it in the daily rhythm of life, no matter how hard.

"He had a syncopated rhythm with nature, with family, with my mother, with gentleness and with his passion for humanity," daughter Sarra Joy Saltzman-Kaplan said of her father, a longtime band director and music teacher at Long Beach High School. "To the very end that man heard music in his heart."

Saltzman died Sept. 15 in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 95.

His family said his passing came five years to the day after he lost his son Steven, a leading Conservative rabbi in Toronto, to cancer.

Born in Coney Island, Brooklyn, on March 7, 1924, Saltzman was one of six children of Avram and Etel Rivkah-Saltzman. And despite the nonstop trials of family life, the moves from one place to another, from one neighborhood to another, it wasn't long before Saltzman found his stabilizing force: religion.

Through religion, his daughter said, Saltzman found purpose.

"My father found music through prayer," Saltzman-Kaplan said. "He was a very religious man . . . and he played an amazing amount of music. It was part of how he saw the rhythm of life."

His instrument of choice was the clarinet. Soon, Saltzman was studying at the new High School of Music & Art, which is now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Classmates included Bess Myerson, who would become the first Jewish Miss America and serve as New York City Commissioner of Consumer Affairs and, later, Commissioner of Cultural Affairs; as well as two future editors of Mad Magazine..

Graduating with the Class of '42, Saltzman served with the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. Then he attended the Juilliard School of Music, the private performing arts conservatory in New York City now known as The Juilliard School.

Though alumni officials at Juilliard said Saltzman never graduated, his daughter said he became a concert clarinetist, sitting in with two legends — famed conductor Leonard Bernstein and the "King of Swing," Benny Goodman — before landing with the fledgling Denver Symphony [now the Colorado Symphony].

From Denver, Saltzman and his wife Ruth and their young family went to Nashville, Tennessee, where Saltzman played and became a figure in the historic Vine Street Temple, his daughter said. Then, it was back to New York, where Saltzman studied at Columbia University, before the family ended up in Long Beach. There he became an administrator at Lido Elementary School in 1958.

The Saltzmans first lived on East Market Street before settling finally on West Olive Street in Long Beach. By then Saltzman had left the elementary school and had become a music teacher and band director at Long Beach High School. He became active at the Temple Beth El in Long Beach, as well as the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, and became a prominent figure in the American Jewish Society for Service, traveling the country during his summer vacation as a teacher to build houses and donate charitable time to groups and organizations, like a summer spent with son Steven volunteering at an Apache reservation in Arizona.

A 1959 article in The National Jewish Post and Opinion noted that Saltzman had headed a summer work camp for the AJSS, his group of 18 teenage volunteers developing a park in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Previously, the article said, Saltzman and his group "aided in rebuilding an area in the slums of Indianapolis; helped repair flood damage at Winsted, Connecticut; constructed recreation facilities at Falsington, Pennsylvania; and built a two-room school building at a nature preserve" at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Saltzman went on to become the executive director of the AJSS and is listed in a file found in the Yale University library archives with an AJSS group doing charitable work in Israel in 1963.

Records show he retired from Long Beach in 1988. The middle school band later had a symphony piece commissioned in his honor called "Bristol Bay Legend."

Following his retirement, Saltzman and his wife Ruth moved to Greensboro, where they lived with Saltzman-Kaplan and her family for 23 years, then moved with them to Boca Raton.

Saltzman, who was interred next to his father in the New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon, is survived by Ruth, his wife of 71 years, as well as Saltzman-Kaplan and her husband Robert, and twins Dr. Ned Saltzman and his wife, Sonia, and Dr. Brian Saltzman and his wife Isabelle, all of Newton, Massachusetts. All the children play musical instruments, Saltzman-Kaplan said.

Saltzman also is survived by 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

With Joan Gralla

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