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A Q&A with Cantor Lance Rhodes and
Mike Winkleman


Mike: I know you were still traveling last Friday night. Were you able to catch any part of the tribute to Cantor Jonathan during services? 

Lance: Unfortunately, I didn't get home in time to watch it live, but I did take a quick look at the section that the Woodlands Singers did for Jonathan with the Hashkiveinu. I thought it was really well done. It’s the sort of thing that could potentially be another vehicle we could use, whether it's part of our Shabbat services or for parts of the High Holy Days, something similar to that as one of the ways we present our musical selections to the congregation.

Mike: When Jonathan made his closing remarks at the end of the service, he talked a lot about you and how lucky we are to have you and how the temple should accept you with open arms. 

Lance: That’s really sweet.  It's passing the torch. We want a smooth transition, and that's part of my job too. Jonathan is passing the torch well, and I'm going to do my best to receive it and move forward with it. 

Mike: Have you been doing a lot of thinking about how to smooth that transition? 

Lance: I've already been so grateful for the Transition Committee. I've been in communication with them every week. I've also been in communication with Jonathan, with Billy and Mara, and with Andy and Jenna. I've been talking a lot with different people and having Zoom meetings just to get things going because not only do I feel it's necessary because I'm the incoming cantor, but also because of the situation, the pandemic and all the big adjustments that need to be made, including ways that I can meet the congregation. We're also talking about what can we do with the Woodlands Singers. How they can be involved as much as possible. 

Mike: What sorts of solutions have you come up with?

Lance:  We haven't made anything official yet. But it's going to be something different, but very exciting in the sense of trying new things and potentially being able to use that for the future when we're through with this pandemic. There are different programs online that allow you to record multiple tracks, for example, whether it's vocals or instruments and I'm exploring those options. We're trying to synchronize everything so that we can have it played for certain parts of the service. We’re talking about options of maybe if we had a background track where we already had some of the music pre-recorded and then we would sing on top of it and then other options where the whole choral part is pre-recorded and then there’s the potential for live video.

Mike: I guess a lot of your musical technology background is coming to the fore.

Lance: That's a really great point. And, I love that aspect of it. I'm excited to be able to do more with musical technology. I’m certified in audio engineering, and I’m hoping to be making use of different programs I've had experience with, such as Finale for pre-production, including composing and arranging; Audacity, for sound engineering and editing, post-production; and Pro Tools for live recording and post-production. I'm excited about putting together something really beautiful for the High Holy Days.

Mike: How else are you approaching this transition?

Lance: A great place to start is knowing what the congregation has done in the past, where they're coming from, so that you know where you want to go. The clergy has been so helpful in terms of passing along music that has been used on the High Holy Days and sharing the Shabbat line up and thinking it through in terms of what is considered a standard for Woodlands, so that I know that this is what we want to meet, but this is how we also are looking to grow. I like to be sensitive when it comes to bringing new concepts in, where I would do it gradually. 

Mike: With that in mind, are there specific new things you're anticipating being able to introduce in the near term?

Lance: Well, there are different niggunim that I've developed in my repertoire. And one thing that's very similar with Jonathan and me is that we both had Conservative training from the Jewish Theological Seminary. So, we both have that background in addition to all the Reform repertoire, so I like making use of not just the contemporary melodies but also preserving some of that traditional flavor, and just being able to find the right places to bring that in. That's where I've been really studying: This is the structure of what Woodlands has done, but again, one of the things I love about Woodlands is the flexibility, the variety that you have between all your different types of Shabbat services.

Mike: Can you give me a preview of what your first Friday night might be like?

Lance: Well, I can tell you there's going to be a very special Adon Olam: in past years, I have done a patriotic medley. I'm also looking into doing more work with segues in terms of musical flows. I'm not sure where we'll be for this Friday night, but moving forward, the interest is to have a musical theme that goes from one place to the next. So, let's say I introduce a melody without words, and the congregation learns it, whether perhaps I send it out or it's on the website or I teach it at the beginning of services, but different ways to learn it so that it then flows throughout. And, it would also parallel the iyyunim as those connect throughout the service. I know that recently there has been a lot of guitar in services, but I'd love to be able to utilize a variety of instruments, so there would be some keyboards, in addition to the guitar.

Mike: Are you brushing up the clarinet?

Lance: Yes. I know that there's some Klezmer focus going on with services, so I'm thinking that's something I would like to bring back.

Mike: Are there other things you're looking to do in the first few services that you're doing not to shake things up but to establish your personality?

Lance: I've been grateful that I've served different congregations and different atmospheres where I've utilized a lot of different skills, so I would like to bring that variety forward and see how it goes. I want to try things out, Whenever you try something new, it automatically gets great attention from the congregation, because even if it's something that congregants might feel like, well, I'm not sure if I'm going to like this, they may still be curious to see what that new thing is. And, I expect there are going to be things that will not be the best and things that will be great. But I'm grateful to be able to bring in variety, and my plan is to utilize that.

Mike: I know that with the pandemic, working with B’nai Mitzvah students and their families will be a challenge. What’s your plan?

Lance: For B'nai Mitzvah families, I'm going to be meeting everyone. I want to provide as much attention as possible because I know transitions aren't easy, especially for B'nai Mitzvah families who might have been working with Cantor Jonathan and with others. I want to make sure they're 100% comfortable and feeling great about the upcoming experience. I'm going to be meeting both in group form, where I'm meeting with clergy teams and others to go over B'nai Mitzvah information, and I'm going to have a general meeting with B'nai Mitzvah families, but also individually, where I will make sure I have individual get togethers with families, and then of course, my ongoing lessons with each student.

Mike: Are there other kinds of music programs, say from an adult-ed perspective, that you're hoping to be able to develop soon?

Lance: Well starting August 1st, there’s Hevra Torah. I'm going to be leading that and getting to know what different types of things different congregants enjoy. 

Mike: Are there other things you’ve reflected on about Woodlands in the months since you accepted this job?

Lance: Well, I’ve got to say, this is a team. This is a community and it's a team. Extending outwardly, it's a community. Internally, it's really a team. I'm talking about how the clergy team works together and how volunteers on the board and in different committees work together. It really feels like a team where everyone is working together in such a beautiful way. I feel so grateful that I can be a part of that. 

Mike: Have you seen the temple yet?

Lance: I did have a chance to swing by the temple on my way here from Florida. It looked really beautiful, and I can't wait to actually get inside the building. I've never had an experience where I would interview for a pulpit and never have visited it in person. But I can tell that it clearly matches the tone of the interactions I've had with people. It has a humble, giving type of atmosphere. This is a beautiful place where people are going to come together to do great things for the world.

Fri, January 22 2021 9 Sh'vat 5781