Musical rabbi uses his talent to help others in upcoming fundraiser
- Published: Thursday, 09 June 2016 10:00
- Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
“Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands ….”
Stevie Wonder, “Sir Duke”
Rabbi Scott White understands just how music can bring people together, “for all to sing, dance and clap their hands.” He’s seen how well it can work and he’s hoping it will work well on Sunday, June 26, when a group of musicians he’s put together called Rabbi Scott and his Musical Friends debuts at the ninth annual Bowling With Barb. (For details, see page 19.)
Rabbi White has loved music since he was a child and lately, for the past three years to be exact, he’s been doing what he calls music for mitzvahs. Specifically, he has banded together with mostly former high school buddies to play at the Bowling With Barb fundraiser, an event put on by his friend Barb Mendelsohn. He first met Mendelsohn when they were both religious school students and members of the same confirmation class at The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah. Their friendship blossomed through high school and BBYO days, and continues still today.
Last year and the year before he was one of the guitarists that played in the Joe Hotrod and the Sparkplugs reunion gigs at Bowling With Barb. The band drew larger than normal crowds to the annual fundraiser.
“In the past two years, the musical performance helped bring more people to the event and more money was raised for the cause. It’s really all about the cause, about supporting this doctor who is conducting research to find a cure for mitochondrial disease that has affected Barb for the past 20 years or so. For me it’s like music for mitzvahs,” Rabbi White explained.
But this year some of the Joe Hotrod out-of-towners couldn’t commit to being in Kansas City, so Rabbi White came up with another idea — perform music from the ‘60s and ‘70s in a coffeehouse setting.
“While people are bowling they should be able to hear the music. If they want to take a break from the bowling, they can come up and sit and watch while they listen,” he said.
Seven musicians will be joining Rabbi White: percussionists Ron Altman and Ron Fredman, keyboardist Jim Appelbaum, bassist Eric Morgenstern, horn players Gordon Fick and Larry Myer, and guitarist Bob Hurst. He has known all but one of these men since his high school days.
“We’ll be playing most of the songs as a full ensemble, but there will also be some duets and trio. Depending on how I manage the time, I may do some solo pieces. But about 90 minutes of that 120 minutes will be the full ensemble. We’re doing mellow rock from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
One song that he knows for sure that has made the playlist is Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” a protest song written by Stephen Stills in the mid-1960s.
“It’s almost 50 years old and it really takes us back.”
In addition to playing the guitar, Rabbi White sings.
“I also have a fancy contraption that lets me play the harmonica at the same time, but not while I’m singing of course,” he chuckles.
Mendelsohn is grateful for his help, along with all the musicians, who are donating their time and energy to play at the fundraiser.
“I can’t thank him enough for organizing all of this. I’m looking forward to hearing Rabbi Scott and his Musical Friends perform at this year’s Bowling With Barb,” she said.
Morgenstern added that, “Scott has assembled a new group of musical friends that will create a wonderful ‘coffee-shop’ ambiance for this year’s Bowling With Barb fundraiser. The crowd will sing along to many old favorites, and enjoy the musicianship of a variety of talented performers.”
Rabbi White recalls his fascination with music goes back more than 50 years ago, when he was a 9-year-old boy watching a group of three brothers give a neighborhood concert on their back patio. It wasn’t long after that when he and his friend, drummer Mike Osadche, began performing together.
“Mike and I would put his drum set and my electric guitar and amp on our back patio and do our thing when we were all of 11 or 12 years old,” the rabbi reminisced.
While he was in high school he played in a band called Kommotion along with Eric Morgenstern, Bart Cohn and Jerry Fehr. For a short time, he was also a member of Joe Hotrod and the Sparkplugs, which mostly played at BBYO-sponsored events.
“I actually took Eric’s place in Joe Hotrod when he graduated. It was really Kommotion that was my band.”
Today he says music “soothes his savage beast.”
“It has a soothing effect. It’s therapeutic. It’s stress reduction and lately it’s been a lot of fun!”
Does he have more than the usual stress because he’s a rabbi?
“No, I think I have normal stress. There’s stress as a husband, father and friend. All the relationships and the responsibilities we have can be stressful. And I think it’s normal to look for ways to manage stress.”
When he can, he’ll use music in Jewish situations. For instance, he’ll be leading Havdalah, most likely with his guitar, at the BBYO reunion on Saturday night, June 18. But many Conservative congregations, such as Ohev, frown on the use of musical instruments on Shabbat. So you will never see Rabbi White with his guitar at shul on Saturday morning.
When the musical rabbi, who will turn 60 on his next birthday, plays for his own enjoyment, he liked what he calls “open tunings.”
“Open tunings is a way to tune the guitar strings unconventionally, re-tuning the guitar strings to a specific chord, which presents fresh creative possibilities,” he explained.
As for his next public performance at the Bowling With Barb fundraiser, “We’ve found ourselves sounding better than we expected, but nobody is going to say we should quit our day jobs!”
Bowling With Barb features Rabbi Scott and his Musical Friends
The 9th Annual “Bowling with Barb” event will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 26, at Ward Parkway Lanes. The event raises funds to support research to find a cure for mitochondrial disease, which is part of the Muscular Dystrophy umbrella of diseases. All funds raised go directly to researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. So far the event has raised more than $100,000.
The bowling will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. A silent auction will also take place from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. A minimum $25 donation is requested from anyone wishing to bowl. Non-bowlers are encouraged to come bid on silent auction items and share in the fun. All donations to “Bowling with Barb” are tax deductible.