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MUSIC : Honoring an Old Cause : Folk singer Peter Yarrow will perform at a synagogue benefit. He's optimistic about winds of change blowing in with Clinton Administration.

February 05, 1993|MICHAEL ARKUSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fresh from celebrating a new president in Washington, Peter Yarrow is coming to a Woodland Hills synagogue to honor an old cause--Jewish education.

Yarrow, part of the legendary folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary, will give a solo concert at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Temple Emet to raise money for its religious school.

"I think the work done there is very important," Yarrow said in a phone interview from Boston, where he is editing a new album. "I grew up as a non-observant Jew and am not religious, but I have a sense of the Jewish legacy."

In 1991, Yarrow met Rabbi Wendy Spears, the synagogue's director of education, at a conference in Cincinnati. The two clicked immediately.

"She's got the kind of spirit in Judaism that knocks me out," Yarrow said.

Spears hopes to raise about $15,000 from the event.

"This is such a great opportunity for us," said Spears, who indicated that the money will be used for art and other educational supplies and field trips. "We've never had anything like this."

For Yarrow, 54, the benefit is familiar. Each year, he gives about 50 solo performances and gets paid for only a handful of them. Among his favorite causes are Jewish education and suicide prevention.

As a group, Peter, Paul & Mary hit the road about 60 times annually. The threesome sang at an inauguration ceremony last month at the Lincoln Memorial. Yarrow said the crowd's reaction reminded him of the atmosphere surrounding the burgeoning anti-war movement of the 1960s.

"Justice has been so fragmented the last 12 years, and now we have this window of opportunity to right all these wrongs," Yarrow said. "It's very exciting."

Yarrow said his daughter, a senior at Yale University, attended the Washington concert and became convinced that her father's liberal causes have plenty of supporters.

"She was able to see that I am not hypothesizing," Yarrow said. "She always thought that I could not see the handwriting on the wall, but there she saw something so tangible. The commitment from people has never really been gone. It's just that it needed a catalyst."

Another favorite Yarrow cause is children. He has spent a lot of time recently fine-tuning the trio's new children's album, "Peter, Paul & Mommy II," due out in March. The group's first children's album came out in 1970.

Many of the new record's songs will also be featured on a 90-minute PBS special next month. For the taping, Yarrow said 75 students from the Little Red Schoolhouse in New York City, the same elementary school that Mary Travers attended, sat in the audience and sang along with the group.

"It's not so much a performance as an exchange," he said. "The program is shot and edited in a way to show the sense of family."

The television show and album contain many Peter, Paul & Mary standards, as well as a compilation of new material.

"Our songs have a particular appeal to children," Yarrow said. "We feel it's time to pass the torch to children."

Yarrow said he would also like to set up a network of radio stations devoted to children's programming.

"We worked on it for a long time a few years ago and had stations in a few markets, but ran out of money during the Persian Gulf War," he said. "I'd like to try again."

For his synagogue concert, Yarrow said he will sing "Blowing in the Wind" and "If I Had a Hammer," along with new songs.

Where and When Who: Peter Yarrow in concert. Location: Temple Emet of Woodland Hills, 20400 Ventura Blvd. When: 7:30 p.m. Monday. Price: $12.50 to $20 general admission in advance, $25 at the door. Tickets for fund-raising reception range from $75 to $150. Call: (818) 348-0670.

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