Honoring 'bright spirit,' his gift of song Temple cantor teaches, inspires

November 08, 1992|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

Cantor Melvin Luterman's voice resonates through the sanctuary of Temple Oheb Shalom, filling the empty space with a depth and richness that may surprise someone who has never attended a Jewish service.

Close your eyes and the voice carries you from this Pikesville synagogue to New York's Metropolitan Opera House.

Yet the voice is only part of what makes Mr. Luterman one of his synagogue's valued leaders.

Cantors are generally responsible for conducting the musical portion of the service and singing the prayers, according to Rabbi Donald K. Berlin, a colleague of Mr. Luterman's for 16 years.

"But he has been much more than that," says Rabbi Berlin. "He's just a very bright spirit."

Next Sunday, Oheb Shalom will honor Mr. Luterman for his 25 years of service and dedication.

The 55-year-old tenor, who colleagues say has gone beyond what's considered normal duties for a cantor, is the fourth cantor at Oheb Shalom. The synagogue was founded in 1853.

In his work, Mr. Luterman helps children prepare for their bar and bat mitzvahs. He works with them one-on-one, not just at the end of the training, says Rabbi Berlin. He teaches children how to chant their part of the Torah, or the Hebrew Bible, and the Haftorah, a section of the Prophets read with the Torah. Mr. Luterman also takes a pastoral role in the good and bad times of his congregants' lives.

During the musical portions of the service, Mr. Luterman is accompanied by an organist and a choir.

Orthodox synagogues forbid musical accompaniment for a cantor, as do some Conservative synagogues. Oheb Shalom is Reform.

Singing has been part of Mr. Luterman's life since childhood.

Growing up, his father forbade him from yelling or playing contact sports, fearing strained vocal cords or a broken nose would destroy his son's chance to develop his voice.

"I came from a family where everybody sings," says Mr. Luterman, who attended Philadelphia's Temple University on a musical scholarship.

"I can picture my father, getting dressed and singing cantorial music in the house. And you learn."

Through his father's admiration for cantorial music -- the prayers that are sung during Jewish services -- Mr. Luterman developed his own love for the music that binds his religious and musical backgrounds.

Cantorial music is based on a recurrent melodic pattern within a certain scale, said Mr. Luterman.

Though the music's pattern doesn't change from cantor to cantor, the interpretation does -- like two versions of the same song.

"It's the way you feel the prayer within your own being. It's the meaning of the words that interpret the music," says Mr. Luterman.

"Music is a very important aspect of our lives. It represents our heritage."

Oheb Shalom will honor Mr. Luterman next Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with a program of popular, operatic and liturgical music in the synagogue's sanctuary.

The synagogue is located in the 7300 block of Park Heights Ave.

Mr. Luterman will be joined by a 45-piece orchestra, Cantor Nathan Lam and soloist Gay Willis.

Tickets are $25, $50 and $100. For more information, call 358-0105.

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