Out of Pikesville Comes Cantors
Longtime Pikesville High School music teacher Richard Disharoon can’t say for sure that he pushed students to the cantorate, but it’s at least an interesting coincidence that four former members of the Pikesville choir are now cantors.
“I don’t know how much that had to do with [it],” said Disharoon. “But it’s a proud thing to be able to say that their choir experience may have had some influence of them.”
Opera singer and cantor Benjamin Warschawski attributes much of his path to blossoming at Pikesville, where Disharoon introduced him to classical music.
“Dr. Disharoon really was instrumental in creating all of this,” said Warschawski, a member of the class of 1993. “I ate it all up.”
Warschawski spends his time these days as a traveling opera singer and is a cantor on the High Holidays at Ezra-Habonim, the Niles Township Jewish Congregation in the suburbs north of Chicago.
He played percussion in the high school band and would spend his free time in the band room learning how to play “just about every brass instrument.” He performed in a musical and realized that he had a big voice that might be well suited for classical music. Having been born in Switzerland, he decided to look into classical music that could draw on his multilingual abilities. Disharoon showed him pieces that fed this interest.
It was at that point he decided he’d study singing.
“I actually really just wanted to study opera. I have cantors in my background, and coming from an Orthodox background, it was a natural fit,” said Warschawski. “I became a cantor because I studied opera.”
Disharoon got him into the Beth Tfiloh choir, where he would later become assistant cantor. Soon after, he got an offer from Ner Tamid, so he went and got his ordination quickly.
“I kind of had this little cantorial concert career going at 19, 21,” he said. “At 39, I’ve now officiated 20 years of High Holidays, which is kind of weird to say.”
Cantor Mike Shochet, a 1980 Pikesville graduate, took a more circuitous route to the pulpit. He was very involved in Temple Emanuel of Baltimore, where his father was president and his uncle was a founding member, and sang in the Pikesville High choir. But his involvement in Pikesville’s communications program and an internship at WJZ put him on the path to being a television reporter.
“Music gave meaning to my life, but it didn’t direct my life at the moment,” said Shochet. “But the impression that the choir and Dick Disharoon had on my life was actually pretty meaningful.”
Shochet worked for several years as a general assignment reporter at WMAR, became a Baltimore City police officer for two years and then spent some more time in television. However, it was when Temple Emanuel Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl pointed out that Shochet’s synagogue life made him the happiest that Shochet gave serious thought to becoming a cantor.
He enrolled in Hebrew Union College and got to be Temple Emanuel’s first student cantor. After graduating in 1994, he spent four years at a congregation in New Orleans, and then found his way back to the area. He has been cantor at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va., for 16 years. He’s even brought Disharoon and the Pikesville choir down to sing with him at the temple.
“He was such a supportive mensche,” Shochet said of Disharoon. “He cared about every single student and instilled in all of us a love of music and a love of choral music and a desire to really strive for musical perfection.
“A lot of things contributed, I think, ultimately to what I do now,” Shochet continued, “Pikesville High School and the choir specifically.”