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Local pianist presents songs and stories from Jewish composers

Lex Sloot, an entrepreneur and author from Hazleton, has been playing classical piano since he was six years old.
Haley O'Brien
/
WVIA News
Lex Sloot, an entrepreneur and author from Hazleton, has been playing classical piano since he was six years old.

Jewish composers wrote some of the most popular songs of all time, including "Wedding March," "Over the Rainbow," "God Bless America," and "White Christmas."

Lex Sloot played a special selection for a crowd at the Friedman Jewish Community Center in Kingston on Tuesday.

“Now this is more like wine tasting today,” he told the audience of about 50. “You don’t drink the whole bottle every time, so you’ll get a little taste of the music.”

Sloot researched Jewish musicians and composers and compiled a booklet with 42 of them. For more than an hour, he enchanted the audience with brief stories and jokes in between songs.

The performance highlighted well-known musicians like Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan and Carole King. But he also shared his own family history and played a piece titled "Petite Ida," written by his grandmother, Florence Solomon.

“My great-grandfather, Hyman Gerson, went to South Africa in the 1890s. He ended up building one of the first synagogues in Johannesburg,” Sloot shared.

"My grandmother was a very gifted musician, she learned music while in England and she became a composer and she used to play with orchestras, she was that good," he said. "If it wasn’t for my great-grandfather sending his children to London for their education I wouldn’t even be here today doing this for you.”

Sloot moved from South Africa to the Hazleton area in the 1970s. He is an entrepreneur, author, and inventor, owning more than 40 U.S. patents. He has been playing classical music since he was six years old.

“My grandmother was a concert pianist and because of her my mother was a very accomplished violinist, so as kids growing up, me and my two sisters, we had no choice, we had to learn the piano,” he said. “It was a good thing.”

Billy Joel has a similar story, as he shared during the presentation.

“He reluctantly began piano lessons at the age of four at his mother’s insistence,” Sloot read from his booklet.

Sloot mentioned many musicians who were child prodigies, including Felix Mendelssohn, Maximilian Steiner, Richard Rodgers and Ernest Gold.

"By 13 he had written an entire opera," Sloot said of Gold, who composed the soundtrack for the 1960 film "Exodus" about the founding of the State of Israel.

"That's a very poignant song to be playing these days with what's going on in Israel," he said before playing "Theme from Exodus."

Theme from Exodus
Lex Sloot played "Theme from Exodus" during a presentation at the Friedman Jewish Community Center.

"It was quite a turnout for during the week," Sloot said, noting that he'd like to host the event again on a weekend.

Haley joined the WVIA news team in 2023 as a reporter and host. She grew up in Scranton and studied Broadcast Journalism at Marywood University. Haley has experience reporting in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. She enjoys reporting on Pennsylvania history and culture, and video storytelling.

You can email Haley at haleyobrien@wvia.org