TEN COMMANDMENTS

FOR SONGLEADERS

BY CANTOR JEFF KLEPPER


Know your songs inside out. If they are not in English, know what they mean.
Select only songs which are appropriate for the time, place, and ability (age) of the group.
Plan the mood(s) you will set at each session.
Carefully choose the best key and tempo for each song in each situation.
Create the proper physical space before you begin to sing or teach.
Choose the most efficient way to display the words. (Avoid teaching directly from printed music.)
Establish a two-way communication with the group, using praise and humor when appropriate.
Let the group (not you) be the star, and respect their beloved melodies.
Develop partnerships with your colleagues: fellow songleaders, counselors, advisors, staff, teachers, rabbis, cantors, educators, pianists, organists, etc.
Believe in the power of the music.

Sam Glaser's Addendum to Klepper's Big 10


Brother Jeff has hit on all the main points after 30 years of leading song and watching others do so, I humbly offer a corollary for each one:
  1. Understand not only the meaning of the words but the context in which they appear in sources can you give a d'var about any song?
  2. Branch out! Know what songs will work in all settings: NFTY, USY, NCSY, Families, Elder Hostel, a great songleader can perform for any age audience of any denomination.
  3. Give the mood of the session an ARC-the energy should be like an sine wave-starting one place, peaking at another, coming back down, then peaking at a higher place, etc. By the end of a serious song session (more than 15 minutes) the group should be totally transported.
  4. Plan your setlist but remain flexible, know what keys will flow well into others and modulate frequently. Consider modulating even within a song. Guitarist should invest in a rolling capo Pianists must be fluent in all keys. Segue from song to song without a break as much as possible..
  5. Part of the physical space involves sound reinforcement. Your voice is your livelihood! If possible, invest in wireless headset mics, take voice lessons to strengthen and protect voice, avoid conversation in noisy rooms, etc.
  6. Memorize the words and chord changes-make yourself a list with a few key chords next to the title and tape it to guitar or keyboard. Encourage participants to get out of the songbooks as soon as it is feasible.
  7. Work the room! Move around, get in people's faces, cajole them into participation. If some of them aren't getting into it, it's your problem.
  8. Not being the star doesn't mean becoming like wallpaper. Give out 1000% more energy than you might think is necessary, be aware how profoundly you are influencing the next generation of young musicians, know your instrument like your own smell.
  9. Scatter the staff around the room-all must be participating with intense fervor if they expect their flocks to do the same. Let the CITs all the way up to the director know that schmoozing in the back of the room is unacceptable.
  10. Believe in the power of G-d! G-d chose you to share His/Her gift of music. Take that sacred gift seriously. Use your power wisely and with discretion. Pray with all your might that you have inspiration and ability to take your audience to new heights in their Jewish connection. When you pray, you speak to G-d; when you learn Torah, you hear G-d's voice. Keep the conversation alive and you become a channel for G-d's music.