Last Word: Jenny and David Heitler-Klevans Preserve Survivor Stories Through Music

Jenny and David Heitler-Klevans are standing outside in front of a brick wall with their arms wrapped around each other.
Jenny and David Heitler-Klevans | Photo by Jason Kramer

Jenny and David Heitler-Klevans’ music has found its way to Europe and back on multiple occasions.

Shortly after they began dating at Oberlin College in 1986, David Heitler-Klevans would send tape recordings of him singing to Jenny Heitler-Klevans while she was studying abroad in Denmark. Jenny Heitler-Klevans would send the cassettes back to David Heitler-Klevans with harmonies recorded over his melodies.

The couple — dubbed “Two of a Kind” — have played together ever since. 

Most recently, their endeavors took them to France to visit the relatives of Jenkintown resident Ruth Kapp Hartz, who survived the Holocaust as a hidden child. 

The couple, both 56, met Hartz through David Heitler-Klevans’ mother, as they were both French teachers. Since 2019, the couple has worked on a musical about Hartz’s life. They took their musical knowledge and rusty French from their Cheltenham home to France, learning the survivor’s story and playing a concert at an event commemorating the Shoah’s hidden children. The musical has a complete script and a score of about 30 songs.

“There’s so many movies and books and things about the Holocaust, but each new one carves out some new territory,” David Heitler-Klevans said. “This story and its focus on rescuers and resistance and allies and its location in France — I think there’s a number of things about it that are quite different.”

Jenny Heitler-Klevans also shares a personal connection with Hartz’ story. Her great-aunt Irene, before spending her adult life in the United States, escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto, fleeing to Paris, where she also hid until the end of the war.

“It’s not exactly the same story,” she said. “But there’s some definite connections.”

On Jan. 21, the duo will premiere “Hidden: The True Story of Ruth Kapp Hartz,” a video documentary about the survivor’s life, as well as the plans for the forthcoming musical adaptation of her life, over Zoom.

The video premiere will also launch the couple’s fundraising efforts for the musical, which they plan to host a staged concert reading of in May at Abington Friends School.

“It’s definitely been a reach,” David Heitler-Klevans said. “It’s definitely pushed us to do a lot of different kinds of songwriting and scriptwriting.”

Since making performing their full-time careers in 1996, the Heitler-Klevans have released 12 albums, 10 of which are for children. Though they still create adult music through their quartet Acoustic Blender, they are members of the Children’s Music Network and perform for children at local libraries, schools and summer camps.

David Heitler-Klevans grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, learning to love music from his amateur musician father who made a living as a psychotherapist. His parents were involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and ’70s, and the protest songs from his childhood carried through to his pursuit of a degree in music composition at Oberlin.

David Heitler-Klevans met Jenny Heitler-Klevans — in true Oberlin fashion — at the co-op house where she lived. The two shared an art history class and grabbed breakfast before walking to the lecture together.

Growing up in State College, Jenny Heitler-Klevans was involved in her synagogue and youth group; her rabbi had a deep love of music. Jenny Heitler-Klevans fell in love with the melody of “Hava Nagila” and started piano lessons as a child, which carried through to college. Her childhood dance performances led to musical auditions at Oberlin.

Jenny and David Heitler-Klevans are performing outside on stage, both wearing tall, Cat in the Hat-like hats.
The Heitler-Klevans couple have recorded 12 albums, 10 of which are for children | Courtesy of Two of a Kind

“I never pictured myself becoming a musician professionally,” Jenny Heitler-Klevans said. “And then when I met David, we started singing together. We did some other things before we eventually decided to go full time into music, but it’s been a great ride.”

While David Heitler-Klevans taught music after college, Jenny Heitler-Klevans pursued a master’s degree in public health, but playing music together in their spare time was always a priority. Around the time they had their twin sons in 1995, music gigs started becoming a bigger commitment than their day jobs. The couple wanted to have more flexible schedules to spend time with their babies.

“I said ‘Well, why don’t we just, for a year, try doing this?’” Jenny Heitler-Klevans said of being full-time musicians. 

One year has turned into almost 30.

For the past three decades, the Heitler-Klevans have worked to find the balance of being a couple, parents and colleagues. The development of “Hidden” is a benchmark of their success.

“Jenny is pretty much the only person that I feel 100% comfortable about collaborating with creatively,” David Heitler-Klevans said. “Because we know each other so well, and we’re able to really take the best of what both of us do and combine that in different ways over the course of the years in different projects.”


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