When singer Diane Kaplan flew from Israel to Phoenix in 2007 to be with her dying mother, she carried with her two important items that were destined to change the course of her life: her guitar and a book.
The book, entitled “The Jewish Way in Death and Dying,” by Maurice Lamm, contains many of the Psalms that are traditionally recited for the sick and the dying.
The folk singer spent hours playing music for her mother, who was in a coma, but who nonetheless “reacted” to the soulful sounds of her daughter, who had put parts of the Psalms to melodies.
“I brought with me the Psalms,” recalled Kaplan, who will be in Pittsburgh, teaching a workshop and performing at Rodef Shalom Congregation, Sunday, July 28. “I was playing her music to soothe her and to soothe myself. I saw for the first time what I did for someone in that position. She was in a coma, but there was movement in her body. When I stopped playing, she fidgeted. When I started again she was calm.”
When Kaplan returned home to Israel after her mother’s death, she was inspired to join with other musicians to perform for hospice patients and their families.
“We would come and present this music, we would sing out in parts and try to let our voices ring out like angels,” she said. “We had in our minds, not our physical presence, but to just be there in that spiritual place with our voices…. We would light a candle and find out how old the dying person was and read the Psalm of the age of the dying person.”
The Psalms that Kaplan has put to music have become central to her repertoire.
“I pick phrases inside the Psalm that speak to me,” she said, adding that she creates a melody to the Hebrew words, then adds lines of harmony.
She has found that the music provides respite for the dying.
“I think those who work with the dying and have a musical talent of any sort find that music can speak to a person in that state — even in a coma state,” she said. “Music of any sort can break the barrier.”
Kaplan, who grew up in Phoenix, was inspired musically as teenager by the folk sounds of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. She moved to Israel following her graduation from college and has lived there now for three decades. A village called Yodfat — situated near Pittsburgh’s sister city of Karmiel — is her home.
Kaplan now leads choirs and workshops throughout Israel and North America, teaching her songs as well as performing them. She is currently on an eight-city tour in North America; her visit to Pittsburgh was arranged by her friend, local artist Sherri Roberts.
“Diane has a big heart,” Roberts said. “She’s always had a bent toward connection and warmth.”
That bent toward connection has recently manifested itself into Kaplan’s efforts to bring Jews and Arabs together in song gatherings, and teaching English and handcrafts at both Jewish and Arab Waldorf Schools.
“I believe the key to peace is education, and the tool can be music,” she said.
Kaplan will be teaching her songs from the Psalms at her upcoming workshop at Rodef Shalom on Sunday morning. The workshop is for those “who love to, or long to, sing.” People with all levels of singing experience are welcome.
Kaplan’s evening performance will feature her Psalm songs as well. Her appearance is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether, Adult Learning at Rodef Shalom, and the Goldstein Entertainment Series.
Want to go?
What: Diane Kaplan appearance
When: Sunday, July 28, 11 a.m.
(workshop), 7:30 p.m. (performance)
Place: Rodef Shalom Congregation
There is no charge for either the workshop or the concert.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)