Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Guitar Workshop for Cantors

When I came to the School of Sacred Music (of Hebrew Union College) in 1974 and began to conduct services as a student-cantor I used a guitar to accompany myself. How else was I going to do it? Since joining NFTY in 1968 I had led dozens, maybe even hundreds of services, always with guitar. It was like a part of my body - I knew no other way. Thanks to my wonderful teachers, in a very short time I received the training I would need to be able to daven with or without an instrument, and over the years I have become comfortable in a wide variety of synagogue settings. But, given, a choice, I would rather accompany myself on guitar than sing a cappella or with a keyboard accompanist. It just feels right. What's not to like about setting your own key, tempo, rhythm, and dynamics, and being able to change it on the fly!!?? I can sing a prayer over-and-over, build the ruach to a crescendo, or I can pull back to a whisper, and the guitar follows wherever I go every time. (I can also segue from one melody to another without having to make faces or wave my arms to catch the eye of an accompanist.)

How many synagogues in 1974 had guitar accompaniment every Shabbat? Probably very few. But today, "Do you play guitar?" is one of the first questions asked of applicants in cantorial searches. As with any instrument, having the ability to play is one thing, but playing with style and sensitivity is another. At Hebrew College in Newton, MA, I work with cantorial and rabbinic students on repertoire for guitar, helping them develop a technique that will be spiritual, engaging, and tasteful. On June 15 & 16, 2010 the School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College will sponsor the first Guitar Workshop dedicated to music for synagogue worship and celebration, special occasions and sacred moments such as hospital visits and healing rituals. Cantors, rabbis, educators, music leaders and students are invited to take part. We will play, pray, sing, listen, play some more, share, learn...and eat. All the information you need is here.