fbpx

Getting to Know
Cantorial Soloist Jake Harris

As we begin to return to in-person services as well as so many other meaningful programs, we are so happy to give you the opportunity to get to know our new cantorial soloist, Jake Harris. You will be able to hear his beautiful music and speak with him in person. We are so fortunate to have this incredibly talented young man join us, and we are excited to share more about him with you.
Cantorial Soloist Jake Harris, Temple Beth El

A New Career During the Pandemic

The pandemic hit during Jake’s first year of his professional cantorial career in 2020. By the time he joined us at Temple Beth El in July 2021, Zoom and virtual services seemed like the norm and he was feeling rather used to it. Still, he looked forward to the opportunity when he could get to know our congregation personally, and to have our members learn about him as well.

Before he was officially on board at Beth El, Jake spent time here getting familiar with both campuses. “One of the things that was so special to see was the Mausoleum. I sang just a few notes inside of it… because anytime I go into a space that looks like it’s going to have some sort of character or a beautiful sound to come out of it, I like to make some noise. I experienced this unbelievable feeling when I stepped inside…it was very moving to me,” he says.

Upon visiting the Beck Family Campus, he saw the joy in the eyes of the children and the dedication of the teachers:

I realized everything that’s part of Temple Beth El is part of life…from birth to death …all the stages of life…and that’s the commitment …that’s the promise …for everything in between those moments. When I think about being part of a temple and its role in people’s lives, I think about the foundation of truth. That’s so very important.

Jake Harris

The Moment He Knew He Found a Home

On his first day working at the temple, he thought of the lyrics from the Broadway production of Annie that he loved from his childhood. He kept singing to himself “I think I’m gonna like it here!” He remembers how organized everything was for him upon his arrival.

But there was one specific moment that Jake knew he had found a home at Beth El and that is when he heard Rabbi Dan speak in the” Schmuly Dalmationwitz” voice during the Rosh HaShanah Young Families Service skit, “101 Dalmationwitz’s.

“I said to myself, Jake…I have to do whatever I have to do to be a part of this community. Once Rabbi Dan started speaking in the dog voice, and the rest of the clergy team joined in laughing and singing in character – that was it. After all that we had gone through with the seriousness of prepping for the High Holy Days, the fact that the head rabbi would put on a Dalmatian costume and start barking …that was pretty amazing.”

Jake went on to note that all of our clergy have their own individual talents, interests and gifts, and a tenacity for great work. “I’m inspired by them, and so honored to work with them and learn from them.”

Meeting the Early Learning Center Children in Person

Jake’s experience with the Early Learning Center Tot Shabbat on Virtual Beth El was great, but he was far more excited to meet the children in person at the Beck Family Campus.

“A teacher told me “the kids have only seen you on a screen in their classrooms… they can’t wait to meet you! Was I happy to hear that! I went inside of the classes and everything I always dreamed of…was right there for me.

The children were adorable. One student stared at my guitar in awe…his facial expression was priceless. He looked up at me excitedly and said, ‘That’s a guitar…that’s a really big guitar…it’s really cool!’ and those words touched my heart.”

Those experiences are why I got into this as my life’s work. When you have the opportunity as an educator and a musician to introduce music to children at a young age, there’s a feeling of freedom and inspiration. It reminds you why you do what you do, and what keeps you going, especially during the hard times.

Jake Harris

Music & Mentors

Reflecting back to the music that motivated him in his youth in Massachusetts, the group that stands out was Queen. He was so impressed with their harmonies as well as how Freddie Mercury would sing tracks on top of one another to make Bohemian Rhapsody and the choir sound. “When it was time for me to make music I naturally gravitated towards rock ‘n roll.”

In high school, Jake took band and vocal ensemble classes, private guitar lessons, joined Paul Green’s School of Rock Music and even started a band with his friends. He was not yet a strong vocalist, and at age 17 took his first set of voice lessons. The coach was excellent and enabled him to relax and learn how to sing better, but he still was not a music reader yet.

When it was time to attend college, his journey took many turns from Boston University, the New England Conservatory, The Longy School of Music to Hebrew College. His goal was to be proficient in every aspect of music…composing, performing vocally and playing instruments.

 

While attending the Longy School of Music in Massachusetts for composition, he began secondary voice lessons with an unforgettable opera singer/musician from Memphis, Tennessee, the late Robert Honeysucker, who had the distinction to have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Under his tutelage I found boundless inspiration and encouragement. He had such a distinct voice that I will never forget. It broke my heart when he suddenly died a week after I gave my senior recital at Longy. I still have the last text message from him telling me that I overcame so many obstacles, how proud he was of me and how he was looking forward to going on the next journey with me.”

A Pivotal Moment

Then something happened that changed Jake forever and truly broke him …until he found a way to heal through music.

Incredibly, Jake attended high school with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers. Jake thought, “How could someone who I once considered a friend choose a life like that and cause so much heartache and destruction?” He was just incensed and livid about this and the only way he could cope was to make music. “I began a composition, but before I completed it, I took a trip to Zion National Park in Utah with my parents. It was ironic that we would wind up in a place with the name Zion,” he says with amusement.

“We went to The Narrows…where you hike up the river and the water is rushing against your waist. “You go up against it – and that is the metaphor. I thought, I have been shown some of the ugliest parts of life –what happens when a person is corrupted by evil and what they are capable of doing with that. I knew that I needed my purpose in life to be the antithesis to that and to use the music as a tool”.

While there enjoying the scenery, a little white butterfly flew near him and then disappeared. Back home again he found white butterflies suddenly appearing and fluttering around him outdoors. “Perhaps when we’re in our more vulnerable states we experience them as miracles, he said.”

He felt this was some sort of a “sign” as shortly afterward he was approached by NPR through a mutual friend to record his composition of piano music called, Elegy for the Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing. There was also an article about the healing power of music written about his composition.

As he journeyed to the recording session not far from Harvard University, a second butterfly appeared. Following the recording, as he wandered through the city, he heard church bells from the Memorial Church, and a third white butterfly appeared.

The day of the release of the Elegy for the Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev stood up in the courtroom and apologized for what he did. He said to the jury, “If there’s any doubt in your mind that I did it – I did do it – it was wrong of me and I’m sorry.”

Upon learning of the events that transpired in the courtroom, Jake went out into his backyard to clear his head. “I was in awe and said “this is enough…Dayenu, no longer can I doubt the existence of God.” At that moment, a fourth white butterfly fluttered over the fence, danced around him, and disappeared. “After that moment my life was changed forever.”

Following that, Jake’s first year in a cantorial role was at a 113 year-old synagogue that was about to close due to changes in the Jewish demographics in the area. He worked very hard to bring honor to the temple in its last moments. This included writing a piece of music for a choir concert that the Boston Globe featured in a front-page article.

Looking Ahead

Here at Temple Beth El, Jake is hoping to let his creativity continue to soar. He wants to establish genuine relationships with everyone, and looks forward to meeting all of you and sharing more details of his story. You will surely be impressed and moved by this wonderful new addition to our clergy team.

Links to Selections of Jake Harris' Music

Search by Category
Related Posts
Unity and Light: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Dan Levin
03Dec

Unity and Light: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Dan Levin

Michigan vs. Ohio State.  One of the longest and most passionate rivalries in college football. Last Saturday, more than 111,000 people crowded into Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor to watch these two storied teams battle for a shot at the Big Ten Championship. Nearly 16 million people watched on television. The passion of Michigan Wolverine […]

Righteous Thanksgiving: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Dan Levin
24Nov

Righteous Thanksgiving: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Dan Levin

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite pieces of what scholar Charles Liebman called American Civil Religion. In addition to the turkey and stuffing, which I love, and the desserts I enjoy even more, and of course a few Black Friday bargains, it is the spirit of the holiday that I particularly value. Thanksgiving is a […]

Banjo Torah:  Shabbat Message by Rabbi Jessica Spitalnic Mates
22Nov

Banjo Torah: Shabbat Message by Rabbi Jessica Spitalnic Mates

I just started studying the field of Judaism known as musar. It deals with what are called Middot, various ethical qualities of God that we try to emulate. These qualities which include kindness, patience, humility and enthusiasm. As Sam Glaser explains “Middot comes from the word “measure.” We are measured by our middot. Alternatively, each of […]