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Dual Careers: Music a Passion, School His Principal Calling

June 24, 2010 By:
Rachel Levy Lesser, JEFeature
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Study halls/wedding halls: Ken Silver at the mic

As a saxophone, piano and clarinet player, Ken Silver is a world-class musician; he has played for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Vice President Al Gore and several times for President Bill Clinton, including a recent stint at a Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia event.

He is also a dedicated educator, serving as the principal of New Hope Solebury Lower Elementary School in Bucks County for the last eight years.

Dual careers -- and callings? Silver is part of a legion of professionals making book on multiple talents. Clocking in, clocking out is not their standard, going way beyond the 9-to-5 work day.

Often, the talents complement each other, coming from different perspectives but rounding out the person.

Silver's two greatest passions, besides his family, are music and education -- and he does them both well, says Howard Paull, a drummer who has worked with Silver.

Now a resident of Warrington, Silver, 62, studied music at Temple University, majoring in clarinet in the late 1960s. He went on to teach in the Abington School District while building his music career at night, finding the two callings "compatible."

After earning his graduate degree in education leadership, Silver became a principal in the Centennial School District at the age of 25.

A young principal by day, a musician at night, Silver said that his orchestra's bookings grew throughout the 1970s. His band played at countless social functions, corporate and charitable events. In 1980, Silver made a difficult choice and left education to pursue music full-time.

As an owner in the Entertainment Group, Silver partnered with Eddie Bruce and Joey Roberts to run large-scale events throughout the Philadelphia area. The Ken Silver Orchestra also traveled the country, playing up to 150 appearances per year.

Yet something was missing, according to the musician: All the events "began to lose meaning."

In 1999, almost 20 years after leaving education, Silver returned -- first teaching education courses at LaSalle University, and eventually making his way back to the public-school system, where he felt that he could make the most difference.

Stephen Young, principal of New Hope Solebury High School since 1994, says he believes that Silver's career in music has helped him in his role as an educator. In many ways, says Young, Silver is "always on stage" while at school: "His experience as a performer makes him comfortable with himself and, therefore, comfortable with students, faculty and staff."

It works both ways. Being passionate about education apparently furthers Silver's passion for music. He says that he is energized by his students, and carries that energy with him to all of his performances.

Paull has collaborated on drums, vocals and musical direction with Silver since 1968. And Paull is no stranger himself to having two positions: He maintains a second career in sales and marketing, and knows of other musicians also in the field of education -- but no one, he says, who "has taken it to the level that Ken has."

That level has presented Silver with opportunities he never imagined -- chatting with Al Gore in the back room of Har Zion Temple and watching President Bill Clinton tune Silver's saxophone in the "POTUS" waiting room at the Franklin Institute surrounded by Secret Service agents.

These days, Silver finds balance in being selective about his music, focusing on "sophisticated" and "non-amplified" music, often playing for long-time clients. He has moved away from performing the 75-plus Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, which he used to book on a yearly basis.

Now averaging 35 bookings per year, Silver also uses his musical talent to bring performing arts into his school.

Hoping to help "young people to be literate in reading, writing and technology and to develop a wide variety of talents in the performing arts," Silver says that he tries to maximize his students' exposure to multiple opportunities. "Then they can find their passions -- whatever they may be."

Education seems to run in the family. Silver's wife, Judith, is a guidance counselor in the Hatboro Horsham School District. His older son, Matthew, is a law student at Rutgers University/Camden, and his younger son, Jonathan, is still trying to convince his dad to head out West to make it big.

A literary agent in Los Angeles, the young Silver says he believes that his dad would be a huge hit at all of the Hollywood events.

That may be true, but Silver remains loyal to his roots. Notes band member Paull: "You can't walk two blocks in downtown Center City without someone coming over to Ken to say hello." 

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