Sing Unto God, Sing a New Song! A Reflection from the Kutz Songleading Major

By Eva Turner

This summer at URJ’s Kutz Camp was the second year I chose the Songleading Major. Many people asked, “why do the same major again?” to which I always responded, “I need new music.” In truth, I decided to participate in songleading for a second time because I believe you can never learn everything and there is always room for improvement. And I was completely right. The most important lesson I’ve learned in my two years as a songleader I learned this past summer. That lesson is as follows: The most important part of songleading is education.

When our teachers Spike (Jacob Kraus) and Ryan Leszner first said that, it took a minute to sink in. Before that I believed that the most important thing in the songleading universe was to be a regional songleader. I realized I was wrong after I thought about what Spike and Ryan had said. The most important application of the skills and techniques that I had spent four weeks learning is to teach the next generation of committed Jews — to teach them how to pray, how to celebrate in song, and how to engage in the text of our heritage.

I remember taking a moment to center my thoughts before preparing a rebuttal for Spike and Ryan. Then it hit me. How have our customs, culture, and traditions survived for so long? How have stories been told? What is the single common thread that has connected us to Torah, prayer, and each other? Music.

As a songleader, my job is not just to lead and engage others, but to educate and pass on the thread of music l’dor vador, from generation to generation. This, in turn, made me realize that songleaders don’t only teach. In order to be the best songleader you can be, you must be open to learning — from others and yourself. I debated with myself over whether learning or teaching is more important, since it is hard to have one without the other. My thoughts circled around and back, and it took me a bit too long to realize that the idea of having one without the other is the point of the lesson.

On the last day of the session, as I stared out over a steam-covered Lake Rolyn, the yellow sun started to peek out from behind the blanket of trees in a grand entrance of pinks, purples, oranges, and blues, and it hit me square in the face. There isn’t a right answer. There is no right or wrong way to be a songleader. There are no strict guidelines or rules as to how to be the “best.” The “right way” is your own way. And, I think, it’s that way with anything you are passionate about. The only right way is your way. And as I watched the sun rise and the geese swim in their uniform V-shape, I knew I had learned what I was supposed to. I am songleading my own way and I couldn’t be more proud of where this discovery will take me!


Eva Turner is an active member of NFTY-Southwest and resides in Scottsdale, Arizona where she attends Temple Emanu-el. Eva is a two-time Kutz alum and a committed song leader for NFTY, the Reform Jewish Teen Movement.


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2 Responses to “Sing Unto God, Sing a New Song! A Reflection from the Kutz Songleading Major”

  1. avatar

    Excellent observations, Eva.

    Learning & teaching are 2 sides of the same coin. You learn, you teach; You teach, you learn.

    Interestingly, it has been my experience that the more you teach, the more you realize there is to learn. It is truly humbling to ponder that, no matter how much we know (or think we know), there is so much more to learn.

    Wherever your future may take you, I fervently hope you keep your feet firmly on the path of continuous learning (and teaching).

    Life is an adventure of discovery when you approach each day as something wondrously new…an opportunity to learn and to share what you have learned with others on the path.

  2. avatar

    I loved reading this, Eva. I loved songleading at Kutz so much I also took the class twice — once in 1985 and once in 1986. What I learned I tried to share with others when I was the songleading teacher. I realized it was about leadership more than musicianship. It helped to shape how I was going to be a leader long after I stopped being the Songleader. Continuous learning, focusing on your strengths and weaknesses, and focusing on the community more than the chords were helpful to me to create a special kind of harmony. Thanks for reminding me of those lessons!

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