Corrections or additions?

This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the June 6, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Cantors: Bima to Broadway

Succinctly, Lawrenceville cantor Arthur Katlin sketches

out the traditional division of duties between the rabbi, spiritual

leader of a Jewish congregation, and the cantor, its chief musical

leader. "Rabbis," he says, "brought the teachings of God

to man. Cantors brought the prayers of man to God."

A concert on Sunday, June 10, at Lawrenceville’s Adath Israel honors

Katlin for his 10 years of cantorial service there. Recognizing that

a cantor’s territory abuts liturgy at one of its borders and musical

theater at another, the program calls itself "From Bima to

Broadway"

and draws on a large variety of musical sources with Jewish roots.

Included are selections from both the traditional and the modern

cantorial

repertoire, music of folk and Israeli origins, Broadway shows, film

scores, and popular standards.

The core performers are the men and women of the New Jersey Cantors

Concert Ensemble (NJCCE); they are joined by cantors from Mercer

County,

as well as the Adath Israel adult choir and its youth choir. The

composers

include Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein. The languages are Hebrew,

English, and Yiddish.

"The program has two goals," says Katlin, "entertainment,

and allowing the community to realize that the contributions of the

Jewish community to American musical life are very varied. The concert

appeals to all ages, and is not only for Jews. I’ve invited clergy

from the interfaith community."

The principal performing group, the NJCCE, is the chorus of the New

Jersey region of the national Cantors Assembly. The New Jersey

performing

group consists of men and women with a base in New Jersey who are

professionally active in Jewish synagogue life. Members come from

as far north as Bergen County and as far south as Toms River, and

represent Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, and unaffiliated

segments of Judaism.

At their approximately twice monthly meetings, the NJCCE

not only rehearses, but acts as a clearing house for the many concerns

that engage cantors. "In the Jewish religion," says Katlin,

"the cantor, or hazzan, is the visionary of the synagogue. For

the last 50 years Jewish communities have benefited from a

knowledgeable

musical leader who is involved in all aspects of the synagogue. The

cantor has pastoral duties, he visits the sick, and is involved in

life cycle events, and in education. A cantor wears a multitude of

hats. He’s constantly being called to serve. This is not a 9-to-5

job."

The national organization of which the NJCCE is a part, the New

York-based

Cantors Assembly of America, is under the auspices of the Conservative

Jewish movement and is the largest organization of cantors in the

world. Now half a century old, it includes members from Israel,

Argentine,

Europe, and Canada. Its president, Sheldon Levin, of Metuchen’s Neve

Shalom congregation, will participate in the concert honoring Katlin.

Katlin was born in New York City, in 1957, and grew up in Silver

Spring,

Maryland, the younger brother of sister Robin. "My parents love

music," he says. "My mother played piano and pushed us to

learn instruments." He learned clarinet and piano. "My

father,"

he goes on, "loved cantorial music, opera, and theater. Over

dinner

we would listen to music with a great deal of singing." Katlin’s

parents have now retired to Florida and avidly pursue travel and golf.

His sister is a real estate agent in Florida. In a warm display of

family spirit, she and her daughter, along with Katlin’s parents will

travel north for the concert honoring Cantor Katlin.

Katlin remembers starting to sing in kindergarten and vocalizing his

way through school and summer camp. In junior high school he and three

schoolmates formed "BLOC," the "Boys Light Opera

Company,"

which produced two musical parodies based on what they were reading

in English class by rewriting the lyrics to Broadway tunes. BLOC

performed

in the school assembly programs. Once in high school, Katlin joined

conventional choirs. Over a period of 20 years he sang in both sacred

and secular choirs, including the Great Synagogue Choir of Jerusalem.

His concert appearances in both the United States and Israel have

included a musical range that runs from opera and Israeli music to

Broadway classics and popular standards.

He earned his University of Maryland degree in an innovative program,

no longer in existence, that enabled him to concentrate on performing

arts and interior architecture. The degree in general studies aimed

to bridge gaps between academic departments and to permit students

to go on to graduate school without a traditional major.

"Actually,

it went beyond a bachelor’s degree," Katlin says. "It was

unusual and gave me a lot of different areas to look at."

Katlin went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sacred music

from Jewish Theological Seminary. He also earned certification in

Jewish Special Education from Philadelphia’s Gratz College. "I

was fascinated by special education," Katlin says. "When I

work with special education students my goal is to be a guide and

a tool for them to find success within themselves. I try to present

as many different opportunities and options as possible so they can

discover their own successes. One of the goals of training in special

education is to find methods and techniques that maximize your ability

to unlock the learning capabilities of kids who can’t learn in

traditional

ways."

Katlin’s interest in becoming a cantor coalesced while he was living

in Los Angeles, where he studied with Cantor William Sharlin. "I

grew up with a great love of Jewish music and the Jewish heritage.

It was a great love and passion for singing and for being involved

with people. The cantorate is a wonderful way to express yourself

musically, to touch people, and to make a difference in people’s lives

and the community."

Katlin’s wife Evette, trained, like her husband, as a cantor, has

a PhD in Health Studies and works as a counselor for the Princeton

office of Family and Children’s Services of Central New Jersey. As

a cantor she officiates at weddings and high holidays, though she

does not serve a congregation full time. The couple has performed

since 1983 as a concert duo. Evette is a soprano; Arthur is a lyric

baritone.

The couple has two children, seven-year old Shara and her three-year

old brother Aaron. Both are musical, says Katlin. He explains how

he knew that Shara was musical. "When she was a toddler,"

he says, "she would be on the bima with me. When I sang Kiddush

I’d sustain the final note, and she would sustain it with me, on

pitch."

Shara has already made her debut as a performer, appearing with her

parents in a trio for a small concert at her school. As for son Aaron,

Katlin says, "He loves to sing and dance. He dances along with

radio and TV. We sing and dance together. He has excellent pitch."

Katlin was drawn to Adath Israel 10 years ago because of Rabbi Daniel

Grossman’s welcoming philosophy. "Within the congregation,"

he says "I have been working with the rabbi to provide a place

of inclusiveness. We take care of students with special needs, we’re

barrier free, and we use sign language in our services. The synagogue

is recognized as one of the more open congregations in the country.

We’ve won awards. All this is the rabbi’s vision. It’s one of the

reasons I came to the congregation."

Among his major accomplishments at the synagogue, Katlin lists first

having trained close to 200 bar and bat mitzvah students. He has

conducted

choral groups and run interfaith programs. "I seem to have an

ability to bring people back to Judaism, and get them to rediscover

love for their musical heritage. I help people discover in themselves

talents and abilities that they might not have otherwise

recognized."

Katlin’s general leadership appears to echo the goals that attracted

him to the field of special education.

Katlin is visible in Lawrenceville outside the synagogue. He helped

coordinate the interfaith concert that marked Lawrenceville’s 300th

anniversary. He has lectured at churches on the Jewish seder. He

teaches

in "Introduction to Judaism," sponsored by the Jewish

Federation.

From 1998 to 2000 he was chairman of the NJCCE, the New Jersey group

he characterizes as "many talented participants coming

together."

"We recognize that each person in the group has rich talents,"

says Katlin, "and we pride ourselves on being open and flexible

enough to learn and grow from each other. That translates, in

concerts,

to many soloists and many different conductors. We share different

versions of a particular song setting. Over a period of two years,

the same piece may be done in slightly different versions, with a

different conductor bringing to it his own interpretations of text,

tempo, and dynamics."

By implication, Katlin’s sketch of the NJCCE amplifies his description

of the traditional roles of rabbi and cantor. Traditionally, the rabbi

brings the teachings of God to humans, while the cantor brings the

prayers of humans to God. The functioning of the Cantors Concert

Ensemble

implies that there are many ways in which the human message can be

sent.

— Elaine Strauss

Bima to Broadway, Adath Israel Congregation, 1958

Lawrenceville Road, 609-896-4977. The concert is to honor Adath

Israel’s Cantor Arthur Katlin. $18; $15 seniors; $10 students.

Sunday,

June 10, 7 p.m.


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