Posted on October 20, 2012 at 4:44 am

I first met Dan Sklar in 1992 when he was an intern at the Goodspeed Opera House and I was there orchestrating “John and Jen.” Both of our lives have changed considerably in the past twenty years; Dan is now the new cantor at Temple Israel in Westport, and he invited me up to do a Friday night concert and meet his congregation.

The weirdest part was Dan asking me to sit in with him for the Shabbat service. I grew up in a Conservative shul, where playing instruments was forbidden and the entire service was spoken in Hebrew. Dan’s temple is a Reform shul, and Dan plays the guitar and sings along with the organist while the Rabbi and the congregation speak mostly English all night. The melodies they sing are also entirely different from what I grew up with – I’d say there were only three points in the whole forty-minute service where I recognized the music of my distant Jewish youth. But Dan had printed out lead sheets for me, and I had a fun time playing along on the Fender Rhodes while the whole room sang these cheesy Debbie Friedman songs. We Jews talk about tradition a lot, as you may have noticed from “Fiddler On The Roof”; even when I’m not much of a fan of the traditions (and I always found Shabbat services growing up to be punishingly dull), it’s hard adjusting to different ones.

It shouldn’t have been such a surprise to me; the mere fact that I was doing a concert at a shul on a Friday night should have tipped me off that the rules in this place were not the ones I’d grown up with. But when a crowd of about 200 people appeared in the social room to hear me play, all of the differences faded away. You’d think that I’d be used to crowds of northeastern Jews, but in fact my New York audiences are rather more heterodox than that. Here, the room was largely populated by the kind of people I grew up with and the kind of people that made up my family. That had an immediate effect on my performance; suddenly, I knew that the smallest nuance would be read exactly the way I intended because these people were the ones who had taught me that nuance in the first place. Usually, the audiences at my shows are pretty familiar with my work; in Westport, I don’t think that was the case, but this audience knew me. I spoke in a language that was utterly familiar to them. And the end result was that this was a very moving and very unexpected evening.

One final note: I told the audience before “Caravan of Angels” that they would have to sing extra loud tonight because it was my ninth wedding anniversary and we had to make sure Georgia could hear us all the way across the country in Los Angeles. I am proud to say that they delivered the goods! Happy Anniversary, Georgia!

It All Fades Away
I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You
Long Long Road
The Old Red Hills of Home
(from Parade)
I Love Betsy (from Honeymoon In Vegas)
Out Of The Sun (from Honeymoon In Vegas)
Wondering (from The Bridges of Madison County)
Nothing In Common
Caravan of Angels
All Things In Time

Thanks so much to Dan for inviting me, and to the lovely Shirah who joined us in the service; and thanks to Lisa Goldberg and everyone at Temple Israel who made me feel so welcome.