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8 Questions for Alan Goodis: Jewish rocker, traveling songleader, teen engagement expert

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04/08/2014

8 Questions for Alan Goodis photo

Alan Goodis is a Jewish musician, not just a musician who is Jewish. And writing and performing Jewish music isn’t the half of it.

A Toronto native, Goodis currently lives in Chicago – when he’s not traveling the country to synagogues, summer camps and youth conventions as anartist in residence, developing relationships with communities with the aim of enhancing their communal experiences through music.

Helping teens explore their passion for music with their passion for Judaism is one of Goodis’ unique strengths in the growing landscape of contemporary Jewish music. He has worked extensively with NFTY and the Reform movement, including developing Nashir: NFTY Teen Songleading Institute, a national program that provides songleader training to high school students. He has also led professional development for songleaders and Jewish music educators working in summer camps or tasked with engaging young people through music after the b’nai mitzvah years.

On March 28, Goodis celebrated the culmination of four years of travels and Jewish music experiences with the release of his second album, This Place, which you can now sample and download through iTunes.

While you wait for that to download, check out below what Goodis has to say about contemporary Jewish music, the impact it’s having on communities across the country and what moved him along his path to ultimately become a Jew You Should Know.

1. What drew you tocreating, performing and sharing Jewish music in particular and what hasinfluenced your style?
Summer camp had a major impact of me musically. I grew up at URJ Goldman Union Camp in Zionsville, Ind. Singing was a huge part of the daily routine. I eventually went on to songlead at camp and after college moved to Chicago and started playing Jewish music full time. Writing Jewish music for me began out of necessity at first. I would be working with a community and struggling to find a version of a text that fit the mood I was going for so would try writing one that would fit. I think my style is influenced by the music I listen to. I tend to think practically when writing Jewish music and often get fixated on the application of a song. If I'm writing something that I would want to use in a service I know the energy can only go so far. If I'm writing something I want to sing at summer camps I know I can take it to a different place. The text I might be adapting also influences the way in which I write. 

2. What do you feelis the role of Jewish pop/rock as a genre in both informal and religioussettings?
I think this genre in many ways is a progression of where we can take people musically. The folk-based Jewish music of the ‘60s and ‘70s that was so controversial is considered traditional now in many communities I visit. I was planning services with a Rabbi here in Chicago who said to me, "The liturgy is stale. V'ahavta will always come after the Shema. Our job is to bring this liturgy to life." I think that in a worship setting, new music can make us perk up and listen differently and bring out new meaning to the words of our tradition. In performance settings I think this music can entertain, engage and educate an audience.  

3. What does ThisPlace represent to you and what are you hoping listeners will takeaway from it?
This place is a collection of songs I've written over the last four years of touring, teaching and performing. In many ways the album is representative of where I've been and where I am now. I'm really proud of the production on the album. I was lucky enough to record the album in Nashville at Sound Emporium Studios and to have great producers and musicians play on the record. I hope listeners enjoy the songs and their message.

4. What have youtaken away from all your travels to Jewish summer camps and working with teensacross the country both personally and in terms of the power of Jewish music?
I learn a lot in my travels. When I'm asked to compare one camp to another or one temple to another I often reply that everyone is doing the same thing completely differently. I love working with teens. I think a common thread is their desire to find a sense of connection. Music is my vehicle for building this connection when I visit communities. Sometimes this is through Jewish music and sometimes it is through playing secular music. Both are totally okay. I was a teen who turned my nose up at Jewish music and thought it was lame and uncool. This has served me well in my work in that I can relate best to the kid who is sitting on the outside of the circle wondering why their peers might be so into this "lame and uncool" Jewish music. I see this as an opportunity not to try to convince anyone that Jewish music can be cool but to let them know that it is totally okay to not feel what everyone around them is feeling. On the flip side, the teens who are already engaged are seeking deeper connection. I think Jewish music can have a profoundly meaningful impact on teens and really people of any age. 

5. If you couldchoose a popular artist to do a cover of one of your songs, who would it be andwhich song (and why)?
I am terrible at answering these types of questions – I overthink them. I'll go with U2 covering "This Place." 

6. What do you lovemost about what you do?
I love many things. Getting to play music and travel around the country for a living is something I am really fortunate to be able to do. I'm also looking for deeper connection in my work so the opportunity to not only visit communities, but also to spend time with people and get to know them is really great. I get to be a student too and learn from incredible people at temples and summer camps. The opportunity to partner and always do new things is something I love.

7. In an alternateuniverse where you couldn’t be a Jewish musician, what would you do (and why)?
I would be a lifeguard at a carwash.

8. What’s yourfavorite Jewish thing to do (or how do you Jew?) in Chicago?
I spend one Shabbat a month and the High Holidays at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe. We have an incredible group called Selah that is comprised of 7th-12th graders who lead the services with Cantor David Goldstein and me. While this is work, it is a ton of fun to be a part of. This is the fourth year of the program and it's been incredible to see it grow and impact of the community so positively. I also enjoy the occasional meal at The Bagel in Lakeview.

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