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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
and draws on a large variety of musical sources with Jewish roots.
Included are selections from both the traditional and the modern
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
as well as the Adath Israel adult choir and its youth choir. The
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
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
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
The national organization of which the NJCCE is a part, the New
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,
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
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
he goes on, "loved cantorial music, opera, and theater. Over
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
which produced two musical parodies based on what they were reading
in English class by rewriting the lyrics to Broadway tunes. BLOC
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
in "Introduction to Judaism," sponsored by the Jewish
From 1998 to 2000 he was chairman of the NJCCE, the New Jersey group
he characterizes as "many talented participants coming
"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
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
implies that there are many ways in which the human message can be
— Elaine Strauss
Lawrenceville Road, 609-896-4977. The concert is to honor Adath
Israel’s Cantor Arthur Katlin. $18; $15 seniors; $10 students.
June 10, 7 p.m.
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