When Stanley Silverman was a kid, his mother told him there was one thing he needed to do.
“You’re going to play an instrument,” she said to him. “Choose one.”
At the time, Silverman enjoyed singing cowboys, an archetype in early Western films where characters sang about the hardships of their journeys. So he chose to learn guitar.
After that, Silverman’s own journey to musical success began as he studied classical and jazz guitar, while also learning to compose music.
This one request from his mother became the catalyst behind Silverman’s career as he navigated through college, graduate school, and eventually a chance to work with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and The Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center on a regular basis.
“They would hire me whenever they needed guitar, mandolin, lute, and then I would play around the orchestra circuit,” he said. “So whenever they needed guitar or anything plucked, I was the go-to guy.”
Looking back on that time, Silverman has fond memories of what it was like to collaborate with an orchestra during a performance.
“There’s a kind of eye contact within an ensemble,” he said. “You know who you’re going to play with, and you nod and line up your beats, and that’s just wonderful.”
Silverman went on to create a name for himself with a long list of professional credentials as he composed several theatre productions of Shakespeare plays, Broadway and off-Broadway shows, television programs, and movies. He’s even collaborated with famous musicians like Paul Simon and Sting.
Now, the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will honor Silverman at its annual gala Oct. 25 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
“It’s personal,” he said. “It’s very moving, in fact, to get this award.”
Silverman turned 80 on July 5 and has spent a majority of the year simply celebrating that milestone by attending birthday events such as the 50th anniversary celebration of “Elephant Steps,” an opera he composed with playwright Richard Foreman.
For Silverman, being 80 doesn’t feel any different for him.
“I think (if) you think young and you feel pretty healthy and you stay active, you don’t notice,” he said. A birthday “is just on the calendar.”
Looking back on his life, Silverman has roots in the Bronx from growing up in Norwood, to even living in Riverdale from 1995 until last year when he moved to California.
When it comes to memorable moments, Silverman has plenty to choose from in his career, including when he composed a piece for a White House concert in the early 1960s and had a chance to meet then-president John F. Kennedy.
Silverman remembers feeling “just dazzled” by the president, and that Kennedy’s youth and intellect “was going to be the future of the world.”
Despite all of his success, Silverman still acknowledges some of the things he’s learned he doesn’t like the “pressures of more formal settings,” such as opera houses, Broadway theaters, or Hollywood in general.
“It’s not been as much fun as sitting at home at my desk and on my own time, writing what I want to write,” he said. “I’m just not as comfortable in that world.”
Silverman also is far from done working, and although he says his family remarks that he’s done it all and that it’s time to help other people, he still plans to publish a book of 70 songs composed to Shakespeare next year. And he wants to work on an old-time Broadway musical.
But at the end of the day, when Silverman looks around his room and sees the notable names he’s worked with and things he’s accomplished over the years, there’s only one response he has to that.
“I got to do all that I wanted to do.”