Composer/singer to bring her music, passion to JCC
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Composer/singer to bring her music, passion to JCC

Teplow says Jewish music has enhanced her observance

Rebecca Teplow of Teaneck didn’t start composing until her son Joe, now 22, was 10 years old.

“I felt that having children sparked within me a new creative energy,” said the musician, who will perform some of her songs on March 9 at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades’ Eric Brown Theater.

Ms. Teplow has quite a musical history.

After taking up the violin at the High School of Performing Arts in New York -she already had studied piano as a young child – Ms. Teplow went on to pursue a degree in music performance, attending both the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem and Brooklyn College. The renowned violinist Yitzhak Perlman and the composer Robert Starer were among her teachers.

One of her early piano teachers was a Holocaust survivor who had played with underground orchestras and “developed a unique system of teaching music. I would come every Sunday morning and wouldn’t leave till night.”

As she worked on a master’s degree in musicology, Ms. Teplow – by then married and expecting her first child – “dropped out” of the music world.

“I stopped performing,” she said. “It wasn’t part of my life. It was impossible to pursue a career in musical performance and remain observant.

“I spent the next 15 years focused on raising kids. I have no regrets and it was the best time of my life.”

Still, her love for music did not diminish.

“When my son, Avery, was 7 and my youngest child, Tamara, was 4, I started composing,” Ms. Teplow said. Then, in her mid-30s, she began taking voice lessons, recording her first CD, “T’filot/Prayers,” in 2004.

“The CD was very successful,” she said. “It sold out.” She credits her husband, Josh, an art director, with helping her market her music. “Powerful things happened,” she added. “I did a second CD, ‘Kaveh/Hope,’ four years ago.”

Ms. Teplow said she always has been drawn to Jewish music, particularly to the composers, such as Mahler and Bernstein, who intertwined Jewish melodies into their compositions.

“Jewish music has enhanced my observance,” she said. “As a child, I had a hard time connecting to God in yeshiva, but singing zemirot in front of the campfire at sleepaway camp evoked the core of my neshama and sparked my belief.”

The importance of music cannot be overstated, she said. Her husband echoed that sentiment, who cited a teaching of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “If words are the pen of the heart, then song is the pen of the soul.”

Suggesting that spirituality is integrated with music, Ms. Teplow said that while “God’s words of Torah flow down to our minds and actions, joyous song carries our souls upward to connect with the Almighty.”

One of her concerns is that many Jewish women today “are not tapping into the spiritual core of ecstatic singing that Rabbi Zalman spoke of.” She expressed these concerns in a recent blog post she wrote for JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

“I was looking for an organization to donate the proceeds of the concert to,” Ms. Teplow said. “I went on their website and saw excellent articles on spirituality and the issue of women singing publicly that I would not have had access to.”

“There really is a spectrum of thought on this,” she said, addressing the issue of kol isha, which holds that men should not listen to women’s voices. She noted the teachings of several rabbis who have held that women may sing publicly.

Rav David Bigman, rosh yeshiva of Maaleh Gilboa, for example, writes that “there is no prohibition whatsoever of innocent singing; rather, only singing intended for sexual stimulation, or flirtatious singing, is forbidden. Although this distinction is not explicit in the early rabbinic sources, it closely fits the character of the prohibition as described in different contexts in the Talmud and the Rishonim, and it is supported by the language of the Rambam, the Tur, and the Shulchan Arukh.”

Quoting Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, an Orthodox rabbi in Washington, D.C., Ms. Teplow said, “If we deny the girls of our community the ability to express themselves through song, we run the very real risk of allowing them to be serenaded by an alternative influence.”

Noting the biblical precedents of Miriam and Devorah performing music, Josh Teplow said that for him, “it’s not about the sex of the singer but about context and what is appropriate.”

“Women really provide more than the majority of strength and education in a Jewish home,” he said. If they can’t help their children connect to the passion of Judaism – through music, for example – then “they’re not raising their kids in the best possible way.

“It’s a mitzvah,” he said, noting the irony of permitting children to listen to performers such as Jay Z but not to the spiritual music of Jewish women.

Reflecting their devotion to Jewish spirituality, Rebecca and Josh Teplow – parents of Joe, 22, Avery, 20, and Tamara, 17 – have hosted a Carlebach minyan in their home every Friday night for the past seven years.

“It’s such a blessing,” Mr. Teplow said. “I look forward to it. It gives me strength.”

The singer/composer ““ who also teaches voice and piano in Teaneck – said that her music has been described as “intense, which stems from the fact that [when she’s singing or composing] I’m completely focused on recognizing God’s presence in my life. The listeners hear this and reflect it.”

One example, she said, can be found in her rendering of “Ani Ma’amin,” which speaks of belief in the coming of redemption. After singing the word “wait,” she changes the rhythmic structure, adding three extra beats “as a reflection of waiting.” Her tendency to use technical devices to help illustrate the words is not done consciously, she said.

“I notice it after the process of composing. Magical things happen because of the deep connection.”

At her March 9 concert, Ms. Teplow will be accompanied by a cello and piano, with a guitar used for some songs. She also will tell the story behind her music, explaining, for example, the psalms she’s interpreting.

“I want the audience to be uplifted,” she said. “But when I’m singing sadder music, I want them to feel the sadness, not to try to escape from that. There’s a joy in yearning, in feeling lovesick for God.”

Information
What: Rebecca Teplow in concert

When: March 9 at 8 p.m.

Where: Eric Brown Theater at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly

For more information: rebeccateplow.com

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