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Jewish Ledger Review of Katchko Three Generations of Cantorial Art
“Connecticut Cantor Continues to Blaze New Trails”
Published: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 12:57 PM EDT
By Cindy Mindell
RIDGEFIELD – There are a lot of numbers associated with Deborah Katchko-Gray. She is a fourth-generation cantor, the second woman to become a cantor in the Conservative movement, and the first woman cantor at Congregation Beth El in Norwalk. She established the Women Cantors’ Network in 1982, an international organization that now counts 300 members.
This month, Katchko-Gray will log several new firsts among her achievements. The cantor at Temple Shearith Israel in Ridgefield, she has just published “Katchko: Three Generations of Cantorial Art,” a songbook and CD that bring together three generations of cantors in her family. And for the first time, Shearith Israel will host the Women Cantors’ Network annual conference, which features many events that are open to the community.
A Stamford native, Katchko-Gray is the daughter of Cantor Theodore Katchko, z”l, who served in Meriden and New Britain, and the granddaughter of renowned cantor Adolph [Aaron] Katchko, z”l, who served at Congregation Ansche Chesed in New York City, and wrote the seminal collection of cantorial chanting, “Thesaurus of Cantorial Liturgy” (1952).
“I am very excited about this project, which brings together three generations of cantors: my grandfather, a renowned composer, cantor, teacher, and scholar; my father, a wonderful cantor; and me, a guitar-playing cantor who grew up to love this music,” says Katchko-Gray. In addition to her grandfather’s cantorial compositions, the songbook includes family photos, memorabilia, and several lectures and speeches by Adolph Katchko on Jewish music, hazzanut, and cantorial training and life.
The project represents two firsts, Katchko-Gray says. “It addresses a need for modern cantors to use guitar in a new way with traditional music, something never done before in a classical cantorial tradition. It is also the first female-friendly cantorial book, written in keys that women cantors will be comfortable with.”
The CD includes a recording that demonstrates how a woman cantor can sound like a hazzan – “a real cantor,” Katchko-Gray says, “without sacrificing her feminine side.” The CD also features several tracks with all three generations of cantors singing together, thanks to the miracle of the recording studio.
Katchko-Gray credits Shearith Israel’s rabbi emeritus, Jon Haddon, who encouraged her to experiment with acoustic guitar and hazzanut. The project also brought up fond memories of her father, Theodore Katchko, who died in 1997. “When I was growing up, he would sit with a tape-recorder, the siddur open, a yarmulke on his head, and start singing,” she recalls. “It was totally magical to me that he could bring to life this music in such a moving way.”
“Cantor Debbie” is renowned in her own right. A teaching artist for national organizations including Hadassah, UJC Speakers Bureau, CAJE, Chautauqua Institution, and the Wexner Heritage Foundation, Elie Wiesel said of her, “Both perceptive and sensitive, Debbie is well equipped to translate Jewish experience in song and prayer. This she will do with grace and passion. Listen to her. Debbie will enable you to hear and feel the exquisite yet melancholy beauty of Jewish melodies that must never be forgotten.”
IT IS MORE THEN WORTH WHILE FOR EVERY ONE WHO STILL LOVES SOME MEASURE OF HAZZANUTH TO LOOK INTO DEBBIE KATCHKO RECENT PUBLICATION OF HER BELOVED GRANDFATHER,AND OUR MENTOR HAZZAN ADOLPH KATCHKO.
I AM REALLY SO IMPRESSED WITH THE BOOK AND HAVE NOT PUT IT DOWN YET. THERE IS SO MUCH THERE AND ONE CAN GET TO KNOW THIS MASTER LIKE NEVER BEFORE. I MYSELF CAME TO HEBREW UNION COLLEGE SCHOOL OF SACRED MUSIC AFTER HIS TIME AND FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS MANUSCRIPTS AND BOOKS WHICH WERE THE FOUNDATION OF OUR DISCIPLINE THE “ART OF NUSSACH HAT’FILAH” I MASTERED THEM WITH GREAT LOVE. DEBBIE DID GREAT HONOR TO HIS NAME. I MYSELF KNOW HOW MUCH WORK PASSION AND EFFORT WENT INTO MAKING IN HAPPEN.
KOL HAKAVOD AND YISHAR KOACH TO DEBBIE
CANTOR BENY MAISSNER
Holy Blossom Temple
“We are all indebted to Deborah Katchko Gray for this new publication which will preserve her grandfather’s music, complete with modern innovations, for generations to come to grateful practitioners of the art of HAZZANUT.”
Hazzan Jacob Ben Zion Mendelson
Kol Nidre Duet with her father Cantor Theodore Katchko
Accompanied by her mother Rita Katchko on organ.
Adonai Malach with Cantor Theodore Katchko and Cantor Deborah Katchko duet and guitar remastered with guitar added.
Three generations of high cantorial prowess are featured on this recording, from great cantorial composer Adolph to contemporary legend Deborah. Recordings of Katchko classics are featured in a variety styles and arrangements, all with astounding results.
Whether it be a sheet of music or a piece of cloth, whatever CantorDeborah Katchko-Gray touches turns into a work of art and beauty. In addition to her considerable talents as a cantor and teacher, Cantor Debbie is a gifted embroiderer. Over the years she has worked with literally dozens of bar jbat mitzvah parents and has created some of the most beautiful tallesim our entire community has ever known. Like Deborah, her works are colorful, beautiful, dignified and inspiring. I have seen the looks of gratitude and accomplishment upon the faces of our children and their parents, and this remains one of the most wonderful mitzvot and accomplishments of our entire bar jbat mitzvah cultural program.
Rabbi Jon Haddon
Temple Shearith Israel
Ridgefield, CT 06877