by Barrett Seaman
Like the corner office he occupies on the third floor of a modern office building on White Plains Road, Rob Clarfeld is big, bright, expansive, guileless.
He’s also a highly successful money manager. His Clarfeld Financial Advisors was ranked fourth among the top independent wealth managers by Barron’s last year, and Forbes singled out his penchant for “looking beyond asset allocation and catering to clients’ every personal finance need.” In addition to making a lot of money for his clients ($5 million minimum investment), the firm is willing to pay their bills, handle paperwork, even find lawyers if necessary. Clarfeld, like the company he runs, is hands-on.
As a board member for nine years and chairman for the past year, he has brought that same hands-on approach to Tarrytown’s venerable Music Hall. Bjorn Olsson, the theater’s longtime manager, recruited him. “We knew we needed some hard-hitting businessmen on the board,” sais Olsson. “We’re theater people but not necessarily business people.”
In some ways, according to Olsson, Clarfeld, 65, has served as his mentor during a decade in which the Tarrytown Music Hall has undergone significant change—physically and organizationally. Two years ago, the theater, which was built by chocolate-maker William Wallace in 1885, underwent a $1.5 million makeover that included rebuilding the drainage system, shoring up walls, restoring the roof, dormers and windows. “Lots of unsexy work,” remarked Olsson, “but we’ve secured the building for the next one hundred years.”
Organizationally, the theater has moved from being a small town, “Mom and Pop” non-profit to one preparing to act on a larger stage, as it were. They have their own grant writer, who recently worked with Assemblyman Tom Abinanti to secure a $125,000 state grant to provide ADA-compliant wheelchair access to the hall. And just recently, they hired a full-time development officer, Sheila Emory Murphy, who brings her fundraising experience for Smile Train, Sesame Street and New York Presbyterian Hospital with her to the Music Hall position. Next on the to-do list: upgrading the bathrooms to accommodate up to 843 patrons during intermission.
The Music Hall is beginning to play more of an educational role as well, using rooms in its annex to teach classes, hold rehearsals and house the Random Farm Kids Theater, among other community groups. Engaging children means engaging families, which bring long-term relationships.
Clarfeld has played a hand in much of this progress. Fellow board member JoAnne Murray, President of Tarrytown’s Allan Block Insurance Agency, speaks of his high energy and optimism. “He’s a big picture guy,” said Olsson. “Whenever we get down too low in the weeds, he’ll step in and say, ‘Look, guys, that’s not important. Look up here.’”
“Up here,” to Clarfeld, includes engaging with more people in the community. Currently, the Music Hall has about a thousand members who pay anywhere from $75 to be basic members, to $500 as a Marquee Member on up to $10,000 to be a Platinum Premium member. With his extensive connections, both in Tarrytown and in the larger world of finance, Clarfeld is well positioned to bring more community leaders into the fold. “I’d like our patrons to think they’re very much a part of the Music Hall, which itself is so very much a part of the community,” said Clarfeld. “We’re part of the soul of this town.”
The soul of the Music Hall itself is reflected in decades of high caliber performers. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers once floated across its stage; Mae West and Antonin Dvorak appeared there. More recently, Kris Kristofferson, Bobby McFerrin, Bruce Springsteen and the late Leon Russell were featured. Norah Jones test-drove her show in Tarrytown before taking it on the road. Talent-wise, the Tarrytown Music Hall has always punched above its weight.
Sticking with that formula, centered on singer/songwriters, is part of the strategic plan. Clarfeld talks about doing “more, better, but not different.” There have been variations on a theme: evenings devoted to musical eras—a Twenties Night, a Disco Night, a Sixties Night. The Hall recently hosted NPR’s The Moth, which will return again in the fall. Olsson sees the growing world of podcasts as a way to extend their reach. Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics fame will give a talk at the Music Hall.
Olsson said Clarfeld is “passionate about the theater.” Truth be told, what Clarfeld is really passionate about is rock‘n roll music—and not just any rock‘n roll music.
Unprompted, he pulls out a black and white yearbook-style head shot of himself from his days as a student at Brooklyn College. The Seventies look—shoulder length locks, mustache and a slightly goofy grin—is a long stretch from the silver-maned financier holding the photo.
“There’s a part of me that hasn’t moved on from believing that all good music was written before 1975,” he admitted. Behind his desk, incongruously, are two metal stands—one propping up an acoustic guitar, the other an Xaviere electric guitar he bought at an auction. The instrument itself, he allows, isn’t that good, but it is autographed by Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders, Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees and Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits.
Asked to name his favorite musician, Clarfeld doesn’t take long to answer: “The Rolling Stones.” With those words hardly out of his mouth, however, he confesses that for a while, he was a Grateful Dead “Dead Head,” then ticks off four or five other iconic bands of the 1960s and 1970s.
Today, Clarfeld, his wife and two King Charles Spaniels live in a graceful, century-old house with a commanding view out over Tarrytown’s rooftops and the Hudson River beyond. He said he feels less like an owner than a caretaker of the old house—which is also how he describes his relationship with the Tarrytown Music Hall. It’s less than half a mile from his home to the Music Hall. That’s where you can be sure to see Clarfeld in the audience on June 2, when Donovan (you remember those haunting 1960s tunes, like Mellow Yellow, Hurdy Gurdy Man, and Catch The Wind) takes the stage.