On a recent Saturday morning, Santa Monicans who were out on the Third Street Promenade got to hear the music of The Tishtones, a band from Beth Shir Sholom Synagogue. There’s a different kind of music being made in synagogues these days, and the Tishtones are innovators in this field.
“We started the band 15 years ago,” says Brenda Barrie, Beth Shir Sholom’s Executive Director. “Synagogue bands are fairly common now but we were one of the first.”
Led by Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels and the synagogue’s new cantor, Ken Cohen, the Tishtones play music with a flavor that combines traditional klezmer, the music of Eastern European Jews, and acoustic folk and world music. In addition to the guitars and vocals provided by Cohen and Comess-Daniels, the lineup includes congregation members Matt Davidson on keyboards, Stan Brooks on bass, Bob Pockham on keyboards and Bill Bernstein on clarinet.
The Tishtones played several sets during their Shabbat session on the Promenade, alternating between songs in Hebrew and English, blending their folksy sound with Eastern modes and riffs from classics like “Hava Nagila.’” Some people sat on folding chairs (which they had to keep moving to stay out of the sun), but someone asked the band to play music that could be danced to. The Tishtones obliged with a lively klezmer instrumental and children and a few adults improvised dances.
“It’s a way to bring the synagogue to the Promenade,” says Comess-Daniels. His original songs in English teach Judaism in a contemporary and often humorous way, as in “Avrum” in which the Biblical character who will later become Abraham wants to know who God is, sung to the tune of the old “Banana Boat Song” (“Day-oh! Shabbat come and me want to go home!”)
Ken Cohen recently arrived at Beth Shir Sholom to be the new Chazzan, or cantor. Formerly the cantor for a congregation in Greenwich, Connecticut, he also formed two cantorial schools, The Academy For Jewish Religion, in New York and Los Angeles.
“I came here because of the incredible special community,” Cohen told the Mirror. “Not only because of the special music but because there’s a great deal of love and support. I am here to build that with them. Cantors hold the hearts of the community.”
The Tishtones will be playing at Beth Shir Sholom’s High Holy Days services, to be held at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall, September 12 and 13. They also have a CD, Come Sing With Us. For more information on Beth Shir Sholom, and the TishTones, and for a free sample CD, call the temple at 310.453.3361.