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An education, with a beat
August 21st, 2008
Few are the musicians who will tell you, “It’s not about the music.” Rick Recht, a veteran Jewish rocker who is coming to Milwaukee on Sunday, is one of the few.
For Recht, music is simply his medium, a means to an end. He sees himself as an educator first, musician second.
“My personal mission is to strengthen Jewish identity,” said Recht in a telephone interview from the road, where he spends his weekends and summers.
“I want to take people from point ‘a’ to ‘z;’ that when they walk out they will feel more proud to be Jewish than when they walked in.”
Recht and his band will bring their multimedia show to Congregation Sinai this Sunday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m.
When Recht began his musical career, he did not set out to make Jewish music. In fact, when he enrolled at the University of Southern California, he was a business and communications major who had never played in a band.
Recht had played guitar since he was eight years old, and during his sophomore year as a resident adviser he occasionally jammed with one of the students who lived on his floor. One day the friend signed them up for a talent show, and Recht’s music career was born.
Recht and his friend formed a band called Collage and played gigs at USC and the University of California, Los Angeles, and well-known Los Angeles venues such as The Roxy Theatre, Whisky a Go-Go, and Troubadour.
“It was an awesome experience,” said Recht of his early music career. “It was sort of like a relationship, like your first girlfriend; well this was my first band, and I was in it for six years and it was wonderful.”
After graduating from USC, Recht studied guitar for a year at the Musicians Institute while he played with Collage. After the band broke up, Recht moved back to his hometown of St. Louis and toured solo (“just me and a minivan,” he said), for a few years, playing folk and rock clubs and festivals.
Recht then formed a full band, called The Rick Recht Band, which played clubs, colleges, universities and fraternities. When he was not touring, Recht taught guitar to a few students.
One of the students was the director of a Jewish day camp in St. Louis, and she encouraged him to be a song leader at the camp. Recht obliged, and had such a great experience that he changed his career path and became a Jewish musician.
“I had a life epiphany,” Recht told msnbc.com in 2005. Recht, 37, is now married to that guitar student and is one of, if not the most popular Jewish musician in the United States. He plays 125-150 shows a year, has released eight albums of Jewish music, founded Jewish Rock Records, and made a documentary film about Jewish music.
In recent years, Recht has expanded his reach to other cultural groups, most notably the black community.
Recht’s interest in writing music that touched on racial equality in America started a few years ago after he played at a black church on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
He said that his first several albums talked a lot about changing the world and making a difference, but he was yearning to give young people a path, a “specific directive” to help them change the world, he said.
As he played his music that day, Recht came to appreciate just how universal music is and how it can connect people
“I saw that even when I was singing in Hebrew, and combining with English, the Jews and the African-American Christians who were there were understanding and taking in the messages in almost an identical way. It was really a transcendent moment for me.”
After that concert, Recht created the “Tear Down the Walls” initiative that is both an album and a curriculum of classes about eliminating bias and prejudice in communities. The classes are taught by facilitators from organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and Facing History and Ourselves.
This initiative “gives youth the critical tools they need to go back into their communities and make a difference,” said Recht.
The “Tear Down the Walls” album was released in 2005. Its events are “huge, multi-cultural, interfaith experiences” with choirs, politicians and civil rights heroes participating.
Recht said the initiative is “alive and well” and he is working on a national tour concept for it.
Social justice and connecting people inform Recht’s work to such an extent because he understands that they are so ingrained in the values of living a Jewish life.
“I [believe] our role is to be a uniter, to help bring people together from different communities, and different faiths and ethnicities. That’s part of our job, particularly as Jews — creating change in this world and doing tikkun olam is about not just creating change within our own community, but reaching out and connecting with other people.”
Recht uses not just music but also visual stimulation during shows to help convey his messages. He has two large video screens that show images and text that correspond to the music, with the goal of stimulating thought and discussion.
“We know that using multiple points of interaction is the way to tap into people musically and emotionally,” said Recht. “It’s our goal to bring the experience to a higher level.”
Recht’s concerts are already popular at Steve and Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC, where Recht said he has played for the last nine years.
“Our campers really enjoy singing his songs,” said director Toni Davison. “They make T-shirts [before the show] and buy his gear. He invites them to sing along and play guitar with him on stage, so they feel like rock stars too.”
For more information about Rick Recht, including his discography, store, written and video blogs, audio files of his music, and more, visit www.rickrecht.com.
Cost of the show is $18 for adults, $12 for kids 5-17, children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, contact Nicole Sether at 414-352-2970 or email@example.com.