I've always been a back-up singer. It's kind of like "always the bridesmaid, never the bride" syndrome. One of my gifts is the gift of harmony - whenever, wherever or whatever. I won a radio contest on KLBJ in college because I was able to sing harmony to "Ina Gadda DaVida."
I discovered my love for Jewish music at Camp Young Judea - North Pacific Coast Region in White Sulfur Springs, California (thanks, Mom & Dad!) when I was in the 5th and 6th grades. Very shortly thereafter, I became self-taught on the guitar and started writing 8th grade love songs. I still remember some of them.
In Ecotopia (Portland, Oregon) I fell in love with Jewish music when I sang with Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfeld, z'l, Ilene Safyan and Margie Rosenthal in at Havurah Shalom, a Reconstructionist congregation. My Jewish music roots began to grow, and later flourished as I spent four years on the bima of a large Reform synagogue in Austin, Texas, along with amazing music partner, Abby Gostein. Although the music we sang on the bima was traditional melodies, every now and then we were able to sneak some of our original music in. We also started a children's and intergenerational choir, where we had more autonomy musically.
When Abby left for Boston, I was devastated, so I was happy to surrender to the UAHC's Greene Family Camp for Living Judaism. Director Loui Dobin convinced me I COULD be a songleader at age 38. I had my doubts, but needed to move on, so I gave it a go. It turned out to be a life-altering experience. Here's where I met (now Cantor) Billy Tiep and Scott Leader, two incredibly talented songleaders from the heart of the NFTY movement. We sang, taught, led services, did programming, organized bands and composed together that first summer. They were the team - I was the outsider - but I was once again singing harmony. I learned a great deal from them and loved every minute of it. I continued at GFC for six of the last seven years, continuing to compose and impose my new melodies for prayer and worship.
I began leading Kabbalat Shabbat at the Austin Jewish Community Day School (AJCDS) (now the Austin Jewish Academy) at it's inception twelve years ago. That turned into teaching singing classes, preparing for school concerts, involvement in theatre and co-directing the school choir, which I did jointly with Cantor Neil Blumofe of Congregation Agudas Achim and Harold Messinger (soon to be Hazzan Harold). The kids have sung and performed some of my original compositions, including a full-blown original Jewish musical "Ani Lo Yodea" based on stories of Hershel of Ostropol, co-written with David Loewy.
In an amazing twist of events, and currently bimahless, Rabbi Kerry Baker asked me to be the music director and cantorial soloist for a new independent congregation, Kol Halev "Voice of the Heart." I jumped at the chance to be on the cutting edge of Jewish music and I started to compose liturgical melodies to enhance our worship. Twelve years and almost 200 families later, it's still an amazing place to be. I officially retired in 2007.
Enter my first Conference for Alternatives in Jewish Education (CAJE) which was held in San Antonio. Both Kol Halev and AJCDS sent me and I finally met many of my heroes and heroines of the contemporary Jewish music scene. I had been singing their music for many years now and was excited to be a part of the scene. Unfortunately, I had lost my voice at camp from abuse and overuse, and could only sing at night. They made me the Mistress of Ceremonies for some of the music shows on the big stage and I got to know and introduce some absolute legends. There I discovered the magic of the kumsitz, a hang-out time to listen and enjoy everyone's music very late into the wee hours of the morning. I must have bought 20 CDs that first summer at CAJE.
By the time the next conference came around to Columbus, OH, my voice was in shape and I was ready. At some pre-conference sessions, I volunteered to sing back-up and had many takers: Noah Budin, Sam Glaser, Rich Glauber and Yom Hadash, among others. I continued to participate in the late night kumsitz, introducing my music to the network of many excellent Jewish musicians in attendance. The feedback was absolutely wonderful. It was a CAJE that I finally met my idols, one, Steve Brodsky, was going to play a very important part in my musical future - something I would never have imagined that first year. CAJE is not only an education conference, but the largest Jewish music conference it the world. Everyone is there. We all grow and learn from each other. Due to many issues, CAJE has decided not to hold its annual conference in 2008 (and it was in San Antonio again! Wahhh!!) We are all devastated at the loss.
Once again, my abilities to sing harmony got my small foot through a large door. Everyone told me it was time for me to do my own album - I already had plenty of original material to choose from.
Back in Austin, I was discussing this dream with a dear friend via e-mail. His response was "How can I help you get started?" and I was off!
I knew my album had to be something different. I wanted to thank the many, many people, family, friends, musicians, who have gotten me to this point. I decided that I wanted this album to be a collaboration between myself and the many Jewish artists that had influenced my music throughout the years. Austin was absolutely booming Jewishly, so luckily, there were a myriad of events that needed Jewish music. I was able to book many of my favorite Jewish artists here for those various occasions - my "booking fee" - they would come to the studio and record with me.
In the case of amazing Yom Hadash and phenomenal Sam Glaser I came to the mountain - recording in Boston and Los Angeles. Thus, Todah LaChem (thanks, y'all!) was born. The magical Herb Belofsky produced my second album, Aish HaKodesh, as well, another collaborative event with many of the Jewish musicians I admire. This time, Scott Leader, an up-and-coming producer in Phoenix, co-produces Aish. Herb Belofsky continues to be an inspiration in all that I do.
2003 was a banner year for me - after 10 years of study, I was finally certified as a cantor. Jewish music was no longer my avocation. My 10 years of Kol Halev came to an end in 2006, so that I could have more time to follow my music. I became the spiritual leader of Congregation B'nai Butte, in Crested Butte, CO in 2007.
In 2006, Scott Leader, Steve Brodsky & I formally begin "Sababa!" (cool in Arabic/Israeli vernacular.) and record Pray for the Peace in Scott's Phoenix studios. Once again, the harmony soars, and before we could see it coming, our music is winning awards, being recorded by other artists and we are touring and working on our second release, tentatively titled: "Its All Good!"
A friend once told me: "Find a job that you love and you will never work a day in your life."