Songleading Major Spotlight: Building Community, Leadership Skills, and Confidence

Songleading Major Spotlight: Building Community, Leadership Skills, and Confidence

By: Max Chaiken and Debra Winter, Songleading Major Teachers

Kutz Spotlight Articles outline what our Majors are, how they run, what their goals are, and a little bit about the Major Teacher and participants.

Over the past three weeks, thirty-six teen songleaders from around the country have come together to learn and practice the craft of songleading. From the very first days of our major, we teach our students to see music as a means, and not just an end. While the music we sing at camp and in our synagogues can be fun for its own sake, it is even more powerful when we use it as a means to engage our community, build a stronger world, and foster a strong sense of Jewish identity one person at a time.

Our teen songleaders actively engage and participate in tefillot (worship services) and shirim(song sessions) with an eye towards not just enjoying their time at camp, but learning how to begin to craft the same kind of experiences for their temple youth groups, NFTY regions and religious schools. We sing every day, learning new songs and reviewing old favorites, and we participate in activities that help us think about the different aspects of what makes a good songleader or how to craft a song session or service. Perhaps most importantly, throughout the summer the teens have the opportunity learn through practicing: every one of our 36 teens has had the chance to teach a song to their peers in the safe space of our major, and to work together in groups to lead camp in shira or tefillah.

We have been incredibly lucky to have a great number of faculty members join us this summer to sing, teach, and learn with us. We learned about the value of improvising with Alan Goodis, learned music and participated with Dan Nichols and Josh Nelson in concert, and benefitted from experienced songleader and Cantor, Rosalie Boxt. Each one of our visiting faculty bring a sense of professionalism and a fresh set of eyes to the work that we are doing in our major, and help us as well in the day-to-day teaching songs to each other and working on guitar skills.

Another particular highlight of the summer was our trip to the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City on July 7. We spent the afternoon touring the school, learning with musical rabbinic students and singing in the beautiful chapel that the New York campus graciously offered to us.

Perhaps most importantly, as songleaders we focus on the idea that our students need to remember the phrase “da lifnei mi atah omed”—know before whom you stand. It was these words that God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, and though we understand them in a slightly different context, we teach our teens to remember them in every decision that we make as songleaders and participants at Kutz, and ultimately as Jewish leaders more generally. Strong songleaders take care to spend time developing strong relationships amongst their co-leaders, bunkmates, peers and with the camp community at large. By making the effort to know each other, respect each other, and acknowledge the holiness present in one another, we learn to grow as leaders and can learn to harness music as the powerful tool it can be for our Jewish community this summer, and back home.