BY BRAM BESSOFF / AJT //
Hands down my best Shabbat ever was two weeks ago. A bold statement, I know – we’re talking a span of 42 years.
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I’ve been hearing about Rick Recht since I started Shabbat Rocks. But I had never met him or actually attended one of his song-leading services. He was in town recently to lead the Atlanta Song Leader Boot Camp (SLBC), an intensive weekend workshop.
The focus of the boot camp is to help local teens and adults learn how to become better song leaders for Jewish events and services.
Last Friday (November 1), Temple Beth Tikvah was lucky to have him lead our Shabbat service, and I was even luckier to sit in on percussion along with our full senior and junior choirs and five guitarists.
The place was packed; you would have thought it was the High Holidays. But thanks to a double B’Nai Mitzvah and Rick’s draw we had a full house.
I’m a strong believer in incorporating music into religious services and the success of last Shabbat adds fuel to my fire.
As a live music producer (in training), we focus heavily on teaching artists to love their audience , capture and engage them and offer moments to experience and, ultimately, change their lives with the performance.
It starts with teaching the artist to find their confidence, transfer that to establishing the authority needed to lead the audience (or congregation in this case) and finally capture and engage them with their charisma and talent.
Rick has the charisma thing down pat, and he led us through a spiritual and entertaining service. So what made it so special?
It was all about the music and personal interaction with the congregation.
Rick has a special knack for making a connection with everyone in the congregation and getting them involved in the spiritual side of the prayers and participating in the service. First off, he’s a mensch and makes everyone feel comfortable and included.
He takes time with his songs to explain what he’s doing and then adds something special to important moments in the service, like the sign-language hand gestures he taught everyone when reciting the Shema.
He has an excellent understanding of dynamics and how to arrange his songs and prayers to lift the audience up and then bring the dynamic down so everyone can hear critical moments in a prayer or song. He tells congregants to use “just your voices”. It’s a cue for the musicians to drop out and let the lyrics (prayers) be heard.
The effect was an audience totally engrossed in every minute, many of them surprised to see the time go by so quickly and wanting more at the end of the service. For me as a drummer, it made it easy to nail my performance, even though I never heard or rehearsed the music before.
Personally, the experience was topped by sitting with Rabbi Green (Fred Green, Beth Tikvah’s rabbi) for most of the service. It was a special moment to have our congregation’s leader sitting with me, experiencing the service from the audience’s perspective.
When I was playing, he sat with my five-year-old and watching the two of them read from the prayer book together, while he showed her where we were on the page and her cuddling up to him, filled me with immense emotions that I put into my playing.
Jacob Shippel, song-leader-in-training and lead guitarist of Shabbat Rocks, even remarked at how well-placed parts of my performance were that took the music to another level.
It takes a strong leader to sit back and let someone else take control of their congregation, just another reason, I think, why Rabbi Green is more than an excellent Jewish leader but a true mensch as well.
All in all, these were just a few of the reason why this Shabbat rocked so hard. And the weekend just kept getting better.
Building Up Mitzvah Points
Saturday night we took the girls to Kennesaw States Owl-O-Ween where they trick or treated from hot air balloons; and, yes, they were on the ground.
If this event occurs next year, I highly suggest everyone attends. To see hot air balloons that close up, their burners filling the balloons with a warming glow was a site to be seen.
The only thing better would have been a ride in one.
We met one owner that had once piloted his balloon to 26,000 feet, something he said he’d never do again. That’s only about 3,000 feet short of the summit of Mt. Everest. An oxygen mask and some serious kishkes were required to make the ascent.
Just another moment for my book-of-life experiences (see photos on my twitter feed #initforthemoment).
Sunday was Mitzvah day. I laughed when my colleagues at the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival (AJMF) had never heard of mitzvah points. These were the easiest ones I’ve ever racked up.
AJMF was asked to support the event with musical entertainment for the Dunwoody NORC. Not sure what a NORC is? Neither was I!
Turns out it’s a “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community”, not to be confused with a FORC – a “Forced Occurring Retirement Community” which are all too prevalent these days with new-fangled nursing home-style communities.
NORC members are senior citizens who have chosen not to go the way of the FORC. They remain active and busy with programming that keeps them engaged and entertained.
I sat in with Sunmoon Pie and was asked on a whim to join an accordion klezmer act to rock out a few Yiddish classics.
I’m no stranger to playing with accordionists; my professional touring career with Soup had an accordion as a principal instrument in the band. It was a blast getting back to my roots and providing these wonderful men and women (mostly women) a life experience they will hopefully never forget.
Goes back to those live music production principals – love your audience and change lives.
I brought my eldest daughter to this gig and having her there to interact with the NORC folk was the icing on the cake. It made me the proudest father on the planet to see her spend time with these people and bring smiles to their faces. She’s building up a nice cache of mitzvah points herself!
But this wasn’t the end of the weekend.
The Importance of Camp
We were soon off to my Jewish day camp reunion. Seems Atlanta has a large transplant from my New Hampshire sleep-away camp, Tevya. When I attended it was run by Shelly Shapiro who, along with her daughters (all of us were campers together), has helped build up metro Atlanta’s Jewish community with their involvement with days camps at the JCC.
Mark Lipoff was passing through the area and took a moment to tell us all about Camp Micah up in Maine. Now my daughter has the bug to go to sleep-away camp this summer – thanks Mark, I need to start saving my shekels now.
Jewish sleep-away camp is a true rite-of-passage for any young Jew and critical to building a life-long bond to our culture. It doesn’t matter where you send your kids, just make sure you do. The lifelong memories came flooding back to me and I’m glad I attended and look forward to sending my kids.
Final stop for the weekend, Lola and I were off to the Davis academy to catch Rick Recht’s concert with Billy Jonas and the song-leaders-in-training from SLBC.
If you ever have the chance to catch Jonas, you won’t be disappointed. As a fellow percussionist / drummer, I can report this man has the most unique set up I’ve ever seen. I call it trashcussion.
He had every type of item you can bang on – none of which were professional instruments – from plastic jugs and barrels to wooden bowls, tin pans, school bells and tchotchkes out the wazoo.
He would play all at the same time with the help of special “Vans” he modified with mallets. More than that, he’s a fellow tribesman, songwriter and song leader.
Catch some of the video on my YouTube page, easiest to connect from my tweets and Facebook posts.
Recht once again showed he can lead an audience, whether in prayer or song; and the involvement of the teens and other song leaders made for another special addition to my personal collection of life experiences I like to call Bram’s #initforthemoment.
If you want to learn more about Rick Recht and his Song Leader Boot Camp, then check out www.songleaderbootcamp.com/ on the web.