Rocking into the Night
The frigid night air of winter was stopped at the door to Beth Shalom Congregation as the Columbia synagogue’s in-house band heated up the sanctuary for the congregation’s second annual concert.
Divine Intervention headlined “An Evening at the Coffee House” Jan. 25, playing through an eclectic program of swing standards such as Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” and Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon” to rock-and-roll classics such as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” among many other songs.
A total of four sets entertained the crowd; the second was made up entirely of ukulele duets played by Randy Dalneoff and Mark Schaffer.
The revelry, however, could not mask the somber background of the evening; just hours earlier a shooter killed two people at nearby Columbia Mall. Steve Cohen, a member of the synagogue’s board of directors who served as the event’s emcee, asked the audience to observe a moment of silence for the victimsbefore the band began to play.
The concert was well attended by congregants, their relatives and friends, young and old. The sanctuary was elegantly decorated for the occasion with most of the guests sitting at large tables and availing themselves of a vast array of desserts and snacks; some even took to dancing.
The band itself is a multigenerational group of professionals in fields other than music. There are doctors, lawyers, government contractors and even college and high school students; some are children of other band members.
“What’s exciting is that we really have a musical culture here at Beth Shalom Congregation,” said Rabbi Susan Grossman. “What’s so powerful about this is that it is an intergenerational effort to bring music into the congregation and to provide an opportunity for people to get together.”
Cohen, a mining consultant, explained that the idea for the evening came from successful performances in another annual musical production at the synagogue called the Silly Symphony, which is in its 17th year.
“We had a really great Silly Symphony and I was like, ‘Wow, we should be able to do something pretty special, have a good evening for the synagogue and for us,’ ” said Cohen.
Cohen and the adults in the band began organizing rehearsals for the concert in September but had to be creative about working around the intricate schedules of the younger students.
“This really is only the third time the whole band has played together,” Cohen remarked, smiling. “It serves two purposes; it is a fundraiser for the synagogue, but more importantly, it is a gathering event to get people in the community and in the synagogue together on a cold winter night so that they can get out of their houses and have a little fun”
The band includes a number of seasoned players, including trumpeter Howard Lessey, who plays in the Washington Redskins’ Marching Band.
Another experienced player, Beth Shalom musical director Rabbi Daniel Plotkin, played trombone with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Marching Band.
After last year’s Silly Symphony, “Steve Cohen talked to Mike Colton, who was the lead trombone player, saying that there are a lot of talented musicians in the congregation,” recalled Plotkin. “So we saw there was interest to get this kind of event going, and I was definitely interested to do what I could to support it.”
Plotkin, who was making his on-stage debut that night playing the trumpet, also spoke about the talent from some of the younger members of the band.
“Some of our younger people have come of age in terms of their musicianship,” he said.
“Add the experienced players into the mix and you’ve got a pretty solid group of musicians.”
The congregation has some big plans for this year’s Silly Symphony on Purim, according to Grossman, which will be themed Esther Goes Rock and Roll.
“They’ll start practicing for Purim as soon as they’re done with this,” said the rabbi.
“We’ve reset the entire Jewish liturgy, the Megillah, to the theme. Every song this year will be a rock-and-roll tune; every paragraph is going to be to a different song.”
Founded in 1970, Beth Shalom Congregation is a Conservative synagogue that serves approximately 325 families.
“We take great pride in our amazing religious school, and we are very creative,” said Grossman.
“We have themed Shabbat programs that transform the entire synagogue into the theme. For example, we did Jewish ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and this place looked a Caribbean island.”