Cantor Concert Comes Together From Afar


Cantor David Tilman was not used to conducting a choir he couldn’t see.

Though his ensemble members were invisible to him, they were far from nonexistent. They relied on prerecordings of his conductings to guide them as they prepared for “Shir Hadash – A Virtual Concert.” 

On June 13, the Delaware Valley Region of the Cantors Assembly and Ohev Shalom of Bucks County will hold a virtual concert celebrating classical and contemporary Jewish songs. The event begins at 7 p.m.

The concert will feature 20 cantors, some with solos, others singing as part of an ensemble. 

Due to its virtual platform, the concert will patch together the choir parts of each cantor, creating a cohesive quiltwork of song for its audience.

To do this, Tilman, the musical director of the assembly, with the music playing inside his head, recorded videos of himself conducting group pieces, being mindful of his invisible choir’s dynamics, tempo and articulation. Using Tilman’s recordings, members of the assembly then recorded their own parts, some traveling to Ohev Shalom to record their pieces independently, but in-person.

Tilman attributes his conducting ability to his familiarity with the two ensemble pieces he is conducting: Louis Lewandowski’s “Hallelujah”/”Psalm 150” and Charles Osborne’s “Samachti B’omrim Li.”

With the help of a local production company, the discrete videos were transformed into cohesive clips that will be presented at the concert. 

Though they’ve had to jump through several hoops to achieve a successful presentation medium, the assembly is excited to show what it’s all about. 

“Cantors are capable of much more than just singing,” said Cantor Annelise Ocanto-Romo, one of the event’s organizers and cantor at Ohev Shalom. “This is just a part of our Jewish soul that we want to share with everyone.”

Ocanto-Romo hopes that the virtual concert experience will give a broader audience the opportunity to experience Jewish music. Though the cantors are based in different areas, from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to Bucks County, anyone can access the concert.

The Delaware Valley Region of the Cantors Assembly | Courtesy of Annelise Ocanto-Romo

The assembly has prepared for more than six months. Ocanto-Romo hopes it will be an opportunity for celebration following a challenging year for the community. But for some, the concert also will be an opportunity to honor some of the hardships endured over the past year.

One assembly member, Art Katlin, is using his concert piece to pay tribute to his wife, Evette, who died from COVID-19 complications in January.

Katlin will sing his wife’s setting of “Hashkiveinu,” which won an award from Shalshelet: The Foundation for New Jewish Liturgical Music in 2004.

“Hashkiveinu” is a prayer for protection found in the evening liturgy. “It’s as if God is sort of lifting you up, carrying you,” Katlin said. “God is the wind beneath my wings, if
you will.”

He and Evette originally planned on singing the piece together. After her death, the piece took on new meaning for Katlin.

“That was the image that I had of Evette, that she was always with my family, like the wind that just went with us, carried us,” he said.

The couple sang together for 40 years, beginning three years prior to them getting married. They met at a synagogue choir. 

The loss of Evette Katlin was felt by the entire Delaware Valley cantoral community. Katlin’s tribute to his wife and the vulnerability of cantoral music is something that Tilman hopes all will feel at the concert, that the music will “open up the hearts of both the singers as the listeners.”

Cantor Annelise Ocanto-Romo | Courtesy of Annelise Ocanto-Romo

Ocanto-Romo hopes the concert will give the audience not only a window into a cantor’s ability to make music, but also into the deeply rooted impact she believes they have on Jewish culture.

“Cantors play such a pivotal role in synagogue life, but not even just in synagogue life, in the greater Jewish community,” she said. “I mean, we are part of the life cycle; we’re part of tefillah, of prayer within the service; we’re part of our family’s intergenerational connection.” 

To register for the event, visit the assembly’s Facebook page for a link. Though admission is free, there is a suggested donation of $18.

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