/BY BRAM BESSOFF/ // AJT CONTRIBUTOR //
Shalom Rav is one of my all-time favorite prayers during Shabbat; the tune just gets to me. I’m convinced there is a science to creating certain musical tones that cause your hair to stand on end or to feel that tingle up your arms and spine.
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If I did college all over, I would perhaps make this my thesis and take a scientific route to my studies rather than creative.
Instead, I’m sitting on stage at the Temple in the heart of Midtown Atlanta, a gorgeous synagogue with rich history and a strong connection to the black community. I plan to attend next weekend for the annual MLK service where the congregants of Ebenezer Baptist Church share Shabbat with The Temple.
I was able to share an awesome moment a few years back when I played with Soul Aviv for this very same service. It was an experience that has even deeper personal meaning since I discovered my two degree separation to Dr. King himself (see my column story “Music Opens Up Jewish World of Prayer”).
Back to sitting onstage. I’m getting ready to play a Shabbat service with a duo called Kol B’Seder.
Service is about to begin and it hits me, I’m about to play with Jewish music legends performing their famous setting to one of my most favorite prayers (actually two, as Modeh Ani is a top five for me and can be counted as their second “hit.” When hundreds of congregations use your melody for a prayer, it’s a hit).
Kol B’Seder have a fun lighthearted service. With a Smuckers Brothers banter between the two, they led a service filled with impactful melodies, comedic parodies and personal stories about their times with Debbie Friedman.
This was a special Shabbat Service, as it was the second Yorzheit of Debbie Friedman and the reason why Kol B’Seder was the featured guest.
As I am hearing these stories of writing music together with Debbie, I couldn’t help but see the parallels to what happened in the late 60s at Laurel Canyon: musicians coming together for extended periods of time and creating music that will affect generations to come.
If you know the story of Laurel Canyon, many of the pop artists of that time fled to the outskirts of L.A. to live an anti-suburbia life in the hills outside of Hollywood off Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
But most don’t know that a group of young Jewish song leaders were collaborating around the same time at the Kutz Camp Songleader Institute.
While Joni Mitchell (the undisputed “Queen of Laurel Canyon”) and Graham Nash opened their home to many musicians and put their experience to song like CSN’s legendary “Our House,” A young Jeff Klepper was studying song leading alongside Debbie Friedman and Jim Schulman.
Jeff, one half of the founding members of Kol B’Seder grew up in Manhattan on a steady diet of Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs and mostly influenced by Bob Dylan.
Dan Freelander, the other half, grew up in Worcester, Ma. and the two met at U.A.H.C. Joseph Eisner Camp and developed a strong bond years later when they road-tripped to Colorado as song leaders for the NFTY winter retreat in 1971.
Upon their return from NFTY convention, Jeff and Dan decided to take their show on the road, writing their most famous works, including “Lo Alecha,” “Tov L’hodot,” “V’yashvu Ish” “Modeh Ani” and later “Shalom Rav.”
Kol B’Seder became the official name of the group when Jeff started Cantorial school at the Hebrew Union College (HUC) School of Sacred Music in 1974, later rounded out by musicians Steve Samuels and Steven Puzarne.
The band played frequent events, colleges and high profile gigs like performing alongside Shlomo Carlebach for Israel’s 30th birthday celebration in Central Park. By 1981 – when they recorded their first album “Shalom Rav: Kol B’Seder in Concert” at Kutz Camp – Jeff Klepper and Dan Freelander were the only remaining members.
Although the two went on to be leaders at separate congregations, they could be found performing across the country. They continued to gain notoriety from their performances at the Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education, which not only influenced the next generation of song leaders like Craig Taubman and Doug Cotler with their published works, “The Bridge” (1985) and “Sparks of Torah” (1989) but paved the way for these upcoming song leaders to garner national attention.
Anyone who says that music does not shape a generation should look to what happened in Laurel Canyon and Camp Kutz.
Meanwhile, a new sense of Jewish community – one instilled by music, was born out of the collaboration of alumni from Camp Kutz and HUC, including Kol B’Seder members, Dr. Michael Isaacson, and of course, Debbie Friedman who now holds her name in front of the University’s School of Sacred Music.
I was honored and humbled to share the stage with two of such greats and pioneers, and whole heartedly suggest you keep your eye for the next Shabbat Shira service held by any of the wonderful congregations here in town – it just may change the way you experience Jewish prayer and “going to temple” for the rest of your life.
Bram Bessoff is a drummer and musician. When not onstage, Bram is a performance coach and music industry entrepreneur helping artists get the most out of their live shows and chart on Billboard. He sits on the board of directors as VP for The Atlanta Jewish Music Festival. Follow Bram’s experiences on, off and backstage @bram_rocks. #InItForTheMoment .