Songleader at work

Todd Herzog plays guitar at a 2008 concert at the St. Louis JCC.

Photo by Chuck Hardy

Songleader Boot Camp (SLBC), a national leadership-training program that explores the physiology, psychology, strategy and execution behind Jewish teaching and songleading, is coming to the Valley Nov. 10 and 11.

Launched in 2009 by Jewish musician Rick Recht, SLBC executive director, the program offers leadership-training opportunities for veteran and new songleaders, rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators.

The program, which will take place at Temple Solel in Paradise Valley, features Recht and Todd Herzog, SLBC associate faculty and Solel?s cantorial soloist.

"We teach the methods and techniques that the world's top athletes, entertainers and business people use to perform at extraordinary levels," Recht said. "SLBC has a transformative impact on (participants) and empowers them to be more effective, dynamic and powerful Jewish educators. In turn, this has an exponential effect on the community."

As part of the weekend, Solel will host a Shabbat Shira service, led by Recht and Herzog. The weekend will culminate with a Sunday night concert at Solel, featuring Recht, Herzog, SLBC participants and a community choir of children and adults from Valley congregations.

In the keynote workshop, titled "Star State," participants will learn ways to quickly make radical changes in their physical and mental state to help them be more effective leaders.

"A 'star state' is an important thing to achieve," Recht said. "It's a critical step for a Jewish educator or leader when they're walking onto a bimah, when they're walking into a classroom, or having a one-to-one conversation with a member of the community. If they're in a 'star state' or a peak state, they're going to do a great job."

SLBC participants learn leadership skills and 'tried-and-true' songleading techniques to engage Jewish youth and communities of all ages, according to Recht.

Until SLBC was founded, there were no formal leadership-training programs for songleaders, he said. "Jewish communities, including Phoenix, are challenged to find qualified, well-trained leaders who can utilize Jewish music to cultivate meaningful and relevant Jewish experiences."

In another workshop, participants are taught body dynamics. Using Herzog as an example, Recht said, "One of the beautiful things about Todd, besides his voice and his ability to play the guitar, is his body dynamics. It's the way he tilts his head. It's the relationship he develops with you in the hallway before playing in the sanctuary."

Recht said another workshop helps participants to develop rapport, relationships and respect with the congregation. "I'm not talking about just being nice to someone, but how you dress, how you angle your head, your posture, the speed of your speech. Things that we don't necessarily think about being Jewish, because they're not (exclusively) Jewish. But when you apply it in the Jewish world and Jewish settings, it's incredibly effective."

Body dynamics, rapport and relationship development are all trainable techniques, he said. "What we teach at SLBC is how people can be powerfully effective communicators."

For Recht, music is the most powerful and effective tool for strengthening Jewish identity and connection. "I don't think anything even comes close." That's why he not only plays music, but teaches others how to use music effectively through leadership, he said.

Songleading is a way of "focusing light? on the different gifts and personalities that exist within the community, according to Herzog. It differs from performing, he said, because when performing, you're presenting something and the congregation is passively listening and watching. "What we've seen throughout the Reform Jewish world is that people like to sing along. It makes the services much more enjoyable. SLBC is about encouraging that kind of participatory culture."

Part of the goal of the workshop, Herzog said, is to infuse the community with a sense of song, and song that helps to strengthen Jewish identity, "When you sing together as a community, you feel more bonded."

The workshops are helpful to clergy, Herzog said, because they learn about the contemporary repertoire being created so they can stay current.

"Some of the techniques are very helpful (for clergy) just in terms of how to use your voice and how to use your body to engage an audience, and I think you can apply those skills to a number of different situations, whether it's at a retreat or during a Friday night service," he said. "If you have some of those skills under your belt, then you can use them to energize the worship experience for the congregation."

Recht chose Phoenix for a regional workshop because he sees it as an extraordinary Jewish community with a critical mass of leadership who can benefit from SLBC. "And on top of that, Todd is (in Phoenix) and he's part of the core faculty of SLBC. Having him there combined with this great Jewish community is the perfect equation for having an amazing conference," Recht said.

Herzog said people in the community are excited about different aspects of the weekend, some for Shabbat Shira, some for the workshop and others for the community concert.

"It offers a little something for everybody."


Rick Recht

What: Songleader Boot Camp

When: Saturday, Nov. 10 and Sunday, Nov. 11

Where: Temple Solel, 6805 E. McDonald Drive, Paradise Valley

Cost: $ 295, includes meals during boot camp hours


What: Community Concert featuring Rick Recht and Todd Herzog

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11

Where: Temple Solel, 6805 E. McDonald Drive, Paradise Valley

Cost: $5; free for children 3 and under

Tickets: Temple Solel, 480-991-7414. Tickets will also be on sale at the door.

Rick Recht is a touring Jewish musician who plays more than 150 concerts each year in the United States and abroad. He?s the founder and executive director of Songleader Boot Camp, which now has five regional camps across the U.S. as well as an annual national conference held in St. Louis, Mo. Recht is also the founder and executive director of Jewish Rock Radio (, a 24/7 Jewish rock Internet radio station and is the national music spokesman for PJ Library.