Music Update

Music Director Search Update

July 21, 2014

For those who like just the facts, we present a short version. For those who appreciate details, we share an expanded version.

The Short Version

We are pleased to announce our musical plans for the coming year. Coleen Dieker, our current lead accompanist, will serve as our interim Music Director through June, 2015. She will coordinate all the musical needs of the congregation for Shabbat and holidays. She will be aided by a group of volunteer and paid musicians, allowing us to create a new collaborative style of music for B’nai Jehudah.

Beth Hamon will be joining us as a Musician-in-Residence for our High Holiday season. Beth, Coleen, Krista Blackwood, Octarium, and our returning group of instrumentalists and vocalists will create a vibrant and moving High Holiday experience.

For Shabbat mornings when our young people celebrate becoming B’nai Mitzvah, Rachel Black will join us as our soloist. Rachel is an up-and-coming Jewish musician, with a beautiful voice and presence. She will be accompanied by Natalia Rivera (who has been our Shabbat morning accompanist for the last two years).

Our B’nai Mitzvah students will rehearse with Suzy Rieber, one of our Hebrew teachers, who will be there to support them as they stand before the congregation. Our current group of music educators will continue to work within our various educational programs.

Finally, during this interim year, our Music Director Advisory Task Force will continue their work, as we search for the best Music Director for the congregation. We have learned many lessons from our process so far, and will incorporate them in the coming months. This will be a year of musical exploration for the congregation.

The Expanded Version

As you know, we are moving in a new musical direction within the congregation. From the work done through our Tefillah Team in 2011-2012, as well as the experimentation that has happened on Erev Shabbat and High Holidays, we are convinced that a collaborative, participatory, and integrated model of music and tefillah is the right direction…one that will inspire those who participate.

With Cantor Kohn deeply involved in her Clinical Pastoral Education – and her subsequent work leading our Chesed/Pastoral Care efforts – our need to find someone else to lead the musical life of the congregation became necessary. Towards that end, we engaged a group of committed congregants to serve on a Musical Director Advisory Task Force, to help us find the right individual to become our new Musical Director.

Following is a report on the results of our efforts.

Our Music Director Advisory Task Force is chaired by Lisa Schifman, and co-chaired by Neal Schuster. Members include: Andrew Green, Kim Lewis, Tracey Litwin, Steve Rosenberg, Ken Sigman, Ira Stolzer, and Donna Thalblum. This group of dedicated volunteers has been working closely with Rabbi Nemitoff and Rabbi Shuval-Weiner in our recruitment process.

Since early February, we received 32 resumes. As we went through the process of reading resumes, listening to music samples, and holding conversations, our experiences taught us several lessons:

  • We are looking to fill several roles, including Music Director, High Holiday/Shabbat soloist, and music educator. We may not find one person who can do all 3 jobs. We may be more successful trying to hire for 2 of the jobs, and fill in with part-time work for the third.

  • “Selling” Kansas City and the Jewish community is an important part of our work. Many talented folks in the Jewish music world do not have Kansas City on their radar. We will need to actively pursue qualified candidates.

  • We actually have lots of local talent upon whom we can rely, at least for the short term.

  • And most importantly, we realize this is an opportunity to change the way in which music is done at B’nai Jehudah. Up until now – and for the last 50+ years – it has been a single voice, center stage on the bimah (supported at times, of course, by other vocals and instrumentals).

There are other very successful models that this juncture gives us an opportunity to explore.

None of the applicants met the criteria we felt were necessary to become our new Music Director. This presented us with the opportunity to apply the lessons learned above. After speaking with the Music Director Advisory Task Force and with our congregation’s Board of Trustees, and receiving their unanimous support, we have decided that these months ahead be considered our “interim” year of music. 

We will keep our advisory task force operational for the coming year, exploring other candidates who can fulfill our needs for a full-time Music Director. In addition to advertising a more refined job description, our intent is to reach out to individuals who have the gifts for which we are looking. We are confident once they experience our congregation and community, the right candidate will emerge. This coming year will be an extraordinary opportunity for musical exploration for the congregation, as musical guests and potential candidates join us periodically for our regular Shabbat celebrations.

To serve our needs during this transitional year, we have engaged Coleen Dieker (our current lead accompanist) as our interim music director. Her job will be to coordinate all the music for Shabbat, Festivals, and High Holidays. Her musical skills and gifts are extraordinary and she is willing to share them with us more fully. Coleen attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA and plays piano and violin. She teaches and performs throughout the Kansas City area and is proficient in music theory and arranging. We will support her own vocal gifts with volunteer and paid vocalists. This presents us with the opportunity to experiment with a new collaborative music style, where most services will have more than one instrumentalist and/or vocalist participating. This style is one used successfully in many dynamic congregations nationally. We will also be changing the physicality of the music. The music of our tefillah will occur in a collaborative style on the bimah. Rabbi Shuval-Weiner and I will lead services from the center of the bimah together, with both of us singing as a way to encourage congregational participation.

Our High Holiday music will be coordinated by Coleen, in collaboration with Krista Blackwood. Coleen, Krista, the octet of Octarium, and our returning group of instrumentalists and vocalists will provide our High Holiday music. In addition, we are delighted to announce that Beth Hamon – whom many know from her work at Machane Jehudah for two years, as well as her participation in 3 of our Shabbat in the Park services and her time with us for Sukkot last year – will be our Musician-in- Residence for a month, beginning September 15 and continuing throughout our entire High Holiday season through Simchat Torah. Her participation will lend a special quality to our tefillah for the coming High Holidays.

For Shabbat mornings, during which our young people are called to the Torah as B’nai Mitzvah, we have engaged Rachel Black to serve as our soloist. Rachel has been the soloist for the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, and is pursuing a career in Jewish music. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, is a composer and performs in venues regionally. We are delighted that Rachel will be joining us as one of our tefillah partners for the coming year. She will be accompanied on the keyboard by Natalia Rivera, our talented Shabbat morning accompanist for the last two years. 

For those Shabbat mornings, during which we hold our regular services in the round, we will continue to pray “a capella,” relying on the vocal talents of volunteer musicians to sustain our voices as we sing and pray together.

To handle B’nai Mitzvah rehearsal tasks, we have engaged Suzy Rieber, one of our Hebrew teachers. She has agreed to shoulder this responsibility for all of our B’nai Mitzvah students through June, 2015. Her responsibilities include conducting rehearsals for each of our B’nai Mitzvah students, and being on the bimah with each of our students, as they chant Torah and Haftarah when they celebrate becoming B’nai Mitzvah.

Finally, to handle the “music educator” needs, we will continue to work with our various specialists who currently work with us in Pre-School, Religious School, Machane Jehudah, and Hebrew School.

We believe that this model has strong merit to it. It gives us the time to find the right person and to better articulate what we are seeking. It gives us stability for the year musically, along with the possibility of being exposed to new and creative musicians. It gives our own congregants an opportunity to step forward and share their musical gifts, to support our efforts. And with Beth’s residency during the High Holidays, we are excited for the musical creativity we are able to infuse at this important moment in our calendar. This year will be the year of music exploration at B’nai Jehudah.

In the coming weeks, we will share biographies and resumes of our tefillah partners this year, so you can get to know them and discover their gifts, just as we have. We look forward to the music we will share, the tefillah that will inspire, and the moments of holiness that are created when we join together in creative, uplifting prayer.

Call or write if you have questions or would like to help in any way musically. We would love to speak with you. My phone is 913-663-4050 x111. My email is 

– Arthur P. Nemitoff, Senior Rabbi