Installation of Cantor Katie Kaplan
What an amazing concert and installation last night, For those who were unable to be here or to watch online, a special Shavuot treat! You can watch the entire concert by clicking here and inserting the password 6911175; although sharing this concert is our gift to you, for those who wish to honor the cantor and her installation with a donation, of course that would be most welcome. I hope you'll enjoy the cantor's inspirational "Long and Winding Road" as much as I did.
Here are my comments delivered at the installation concert last night for Cantor Katie Kaplan:
In a few days we’ll usher in the festival of Shavuot, and once again relive that moment at Mount Sinai when the covenant was signed, sealed and delivered. The scene at the mountain is one of the most dramatic in all of history. And as it reaches the climax, in Exodus 19: verse 19 we read:
וַיְהִי֙ ק֣וֹל הַשֹּׁפָ֔ר הוֹלֵ֖ךְ וְחָזֵ֣ק מְאֹ֑ד מֹשֶׁ֣ה יְדַבֵּ֔ר וְהָאֱלֹהִ֖ים יַעֲנֶ֥נּוּ בְקֽוֹל׃
"And the sound of the shofar was very strong; Moses spoke, and God answered him 'b’kol.' " What does that word "Kol" mean? It’s most often translated as “voice” or “sound” in Hebrew, but what kind of sound?
Some say it means the roar of thunder. God replies to Moses in thunder. Rashi suggests that it’s the crackling of a fire. Or perhaps that sound is the shofar’s cry itself. We often feel like we are hearing God’s voice in that sound.
Here’s another possibility – one that I first heard from my childhood rabbi, Manuel Saltzman, when he spoke at a testimonial honoring my father’s 20th anniversary as cantor at Kehillath Israel in Brookline. It always stayed with me.
“Elohim Ya’anenu b’kol,” means God answers not with voice, but with instructions about voice. God’s reply to Moses raises the topic of voice. Why? “Metzaveyhu l’shorer,” the midrash answers. At that moment, God commands Moses to chant. God commands Moses not to speak the Commandments into existence, but to sing them into existence. L’shorer. Shir. A song. To sing a Shir hadash. A new song.
מֹשֶׁ֣ה יְדַבֵּ֔ר וְהָאֱלֹהִ֖ים יַעֲנֶ֥נּוּ בְקֽוֹל׃
“Moses speaks and God says, “No. Sing.”
That is why the role of the cantor is still so important to Judaism. That is why music has always been a top priority here at Beth El, why we’ve always placed a premium on musical excellence and had such remarkable cantors. "Good enough" was never good enough. Why? Because there are places where music can go that mere words can barely penetrate. There are heavens that music can pierce that words can only approach.
Moses talked and God said: No – not enough. Don’t just lecture them. Aim for the emotional jugular. Aim for the soul. Aim for the song.
Cantor Kaplan does that. God blessed her with magnificent talent, as a musician with inordinate technical skills, as a teacher, with boundless love and infinite patience. (Well maybe not infinite.) And beyond those technical skills, as an artist, with a God given voice. A “KOL.” And while others take their talents and run with them, Cantor Kaplan knows that her voice is on loan, and she readily returns to its source, as an offering to God.
A mitzvah is like a musical score and its performance is an artistic act. But the music in a score is only open to those who have music in their soul. Cantor Kaplan has that.
It’s not enough to play the notes. One must be what you play. It is not enough to do the mitzvah. One must live the mitzvah. From early childhood, Cantor Kaplan has had the music of the synagogue in her soul. She’s a quick study. And with each year she’s added a new generation of Jewish music to her repertoire. The music of the past and of the present are synthesized in her. The music of Sinai and the coffee house and the kibbutz. All of them are important to our eclectic vision. Not only does she make beautiful music, but she arouses song in the hearts of Jews of all ages – she brings out the music in us. We are very lucky to have her here.
I feel fortunate to have known known her and Eric since they came here 20 years ago, at a time when Cantor Jacobson was bringing her wonderful voice and joyous heart to the service of our community. So it is fitting that Cantor Jacobson is here tonight and, along with Cantor Kaplan’s mentor Rabbi Hazzan Luis Cattan, they will now officially install her as our cantor. He as president of the Cantor’s Assembly, a position both my father and uncle once held, is charged with strengthening a noble profession that has faced many challenges. But he did himself and the cantorate quite a favor by taking in Katie Kaplan and preparing her for this moment. I can report back to the C.A. that she has learned her lessons well and is now an exemplary shlichat tzibur, a custodian of sacred music. She is, in a true sense of the word, a Bat Kol – a daughter of the divine voice.
We’ve waited so long to do this because of the vicissitudes of Covid. Her tryout was our last major Shabbat service before everything closed down in March of 2020. But those challenges never got Cantor Kaplan down for the past two years. She only proved her mettle even more. And now, although the dangers are still real and at times we are overwhelmed with sadness, we can take a moment to breathe – something she loves to remind us to do with intentionality – and to utter a prayer of thanksgiving – a shehechianu, for this is a true shehechianu moment for our congregation. May her sweet voice be heard on this bima for many years to come.
Post a Comment