Don’t look for a common theme in Cantor Ben Rosner’s recently released CD, Songs of Strength and Spirit. There isn’t one.
“There is not a common theme to this album,” Rosner, the chazzen of Congregation Beth Shalom, told the Chronicle in an interview via email. “As my first full album, my goal was to show a diversity in my abilities and styles. These include liturgical and secular forms of classical, rock, folk and modern.
“It is my goal that this CD is not only beautiful to the ears, but it is compelling and spiritually uplifting through many different styles,” Rosner continued. “Such is the goal of the modern cantor.”
The CD, much of which was recorded in Pittsburgh at Mr. Smalls Recording Studio (seven tracks were recorded in New York before the cantor moved here), features Rosner singing all 15 tracks — mostly liturgical renditions with some folk music and
meditation. Rosner composed four of the pieces and arranged and wrote parts for all the instruments with the exception of the piano segments.
“While only I play guitar (I have a classical guitar degree) on this album, I have performed with mandolin, recorder, blues harmonica, hand percussion and a few more instruments.” Rosner said.
As added attractions, the Beth Shalom Choir sings with the cantor on two of the tracks, while Beth Shalom congregant Maggie Levinson sings a soprano solo.
The Beth Shalom Band plays on three tracks plus a bonus track on Rosner’s website.
“I wanted to show the amazing talents and passion which participants of the Beth Shalom Band and the Beth Shalom choirs bring musically to our community,” Rosner said.
The tracks recorded in Pittsburgh were arranged previously for services such as Selichot and Shabbat Alive.
Rosner said he got serious about completing the CD locally following the High Holy Days.
“I searched for a recording engineer and found the facilities at Mr. Smalls recording studio with Larry Luther to be excellent,” he said. “I then contacted all the choir members and recorded each of them individually. My sister-in-law, Abby Kaplan, who owns a design and advertizing agency, did the graphic design and layout of my CD. In addition to her beautiful work, it includes my Hebrew calligraphy and photography. The CD was finalized at the beginning of January.”
The CD showcases many musicians Rosner has worked with in the last five years while exploring, he said, “new colors and exciting combinations of instrumentation.”
For instance, “while at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, I was curious to see what would happen if I included an Indian drum, called a tabla, as I did in tracks 4 and 5. In track 9, I also included a tabla, but it was a meld of a traditional Israeli music with Bossa and Indian music.
“Track 15 is a very modern exploration into harmony set to a medieval liturgical poem called a piyyut,” he continued, “which was once inserted into the Maariv service for Shavuot dramatizing the giving of the Ten Commandments.”
All of which makes for a CD that’s a feast for the soul as well as the ears.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)