They came to listen, to hear and to learn from one another.  From as far as Oklahoma, Flint, Lansing and Ann Arbor – and as nearby as Bloomfield Hills – they came representing their temples and synagogues, day schools, preschools and camps.

Lisa Soble Siegmann
Lisa Soble Siegmann

They came as cantors, rabbis, cantorial soloists; preschool, elementary and high school teachers. They were day school and congregational school teachers. They were educational directors, teenagers, song leaders, service leaders, music teachers, tutors and camp directors.

They came with their guitars, violins, drums and, of course, their voices. Many could sing. Others preferred just to listen. Some even declared that they were tone deaf.

This was the regional conference of Song Leader Boot Camp (SLBC) and they came for as many reasons to build their leadership skills as there were participants.  They came for the biggest regional conference for SLBC – ever!

They came to learn how to be better: Better listeners. Better speakers. Better players on teams. Better teachers. Better mentors. Better leaders in song and spirit.  They came to learn repertoire, to be inspired – and to learn how to inspire others. They learned how to enhance, make a difference and create spaces for healing, to feel connected to Judaism. They came to make Judaism meaningful, relevant and accessible.

To launch Song Leader Boot Camp in Detroit was just an idea a year ago.  Thanks to Federation’s Alliance for Jewish Education and the Hermelin Davidson Center for Congregational Excellence, ten “scouts” from Detroit were sent to check out the national conference in St. Louis and a regional conference in Chicago. Drawing from what they learned and best practices in the Detroit community, the decision was easily made to hold a conference with its own Detroit spin and homegrown talent, under the direction of Co-Chairs, Cantor Daniel Gross of Adat Shalom Synagogue and Cantor Penny Steyer of Temple Shir Shalom. The Hermelin Davidson Center for Congregational Excellence funded the conference, along with scholarships to help participants get there. The Stephen H. Schulman Millennium Fund also helped recruit teens to the conference with their financial support.


Building leadership in song leaders.

“The community support for this musical initiative has been a dream,” stated Jeffrey Lasday, Executive Director of the Alliance. “Music is just one vehicle for connection and inspiration that is explored in Song Leader Boot Camp. The program is designed to teach participants to build their leadership skills, to create powerful teaching moments that connect, engage and inspire their audience.”

Cantor Penny Steyer
Cantor Penny Steyer

Much to everyone’s surprise, songs without words can have power of their own accord.  Imagine, 56 singers – musicians and non-musicians alike — gathered in a circle, just humming, harmonizing, creating their own melodies and rhythms, completely unrehearsed. The music in the air was a revelation. Beautiful and profound.

The take-away

“I’ve been to lot of workshops. I have sung with people from all over the world. But this experience was unique and something I wanted us to do for a very long time,” says Cantor Steyer. “Our opportunity to sing – to make music together and to learn from one another — is actually rare. We are always in a very structured setting, mostly in performance.  It’s a different kind of experience to be fully present and engaging other leaders from the community. I’m looking to develop the ideas we took away . . . It’s not just about the music; it’s about developing leadership. What’s come from the Boot Camp is the discovery of new voices and new leaders in our community.”

Cantor Daniel Gross
Cantor Daniel Gross

Cantor Daniel Gross agrees: “I think leadership is key.   It is not necessarily musical skills because everybody is at a different level with that.  Leadership – the comfort of communication, of getting up in front of people and teaching them, and inspiring them – is something you can learn. With practice.  And it’s so important. As our technology keeps improving,  we spend so much of our time looking into a screen. The skills of interpersonal communication are starting to disappear. I believe music is one way to get people’s heads up – out of their iPhones, their iPads and start connecting – really connecting again.”

Next steps

With the goal to transform they way we listen, hear, feel, learn, inspire and “instill” the language of music in the Jewish community, another six to eight Song Leader Boot Camp sessions are now in the planning stages.  The program has just begun. So stay tuned. (Pun intended).