Jeff Klepper - Interview with Mark Slobin


Jeff Klepper

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This is a personal interview with Cantor Jeff Klepper conducted by Mark Slobin in 1986. Klepper's mellow presence, long pauses, and frequent chewing and sipping provide the listener with an idea of his laid-back, informal personality. Klepper skips over his childhood and youth and begins his story in college. In 1973, Klepper dropped out of Clark University thinking he might become a rabbi. Due to his love of folk music and his work with NFTY, Klepper soon changed his mind and enrolled in the School of Sacred Music at HUC-JIR to pursue the cantorate. He frequently describes HUC-JIR, both building (on 68th St.) and institution, as a "cold, forbidding place." Klepper cites Lawrence Avery as a mentor, someone who provided him with both musical, intellectual, and emotional support during his tumultuous years in cantorial school. The interview was conducted early on in Klepper's career, but he had already held multiple pulpit jobs: three jobs during his student years, one year post-graduation at the Leo Baeck school in Haifa, and four years at his current (during the interview) pulpit back in the states. Klepper cites his widespread musical influences, ranging from Chassidic melodies, folk music, Jewish music of his contemporaries (i.e. Debbie Friedman and Michael Isaacson), jazz music, and Israeli folk music. Throughout the interview, Klepper sings snippets of various musical influences, including a spot-on imitation of a jazz trumpet. While he does try to make music for synagogue and prayer use, Klepper says that he mostly creates music in order to fulfill himself musically and spiritually and he hopes most cantors do this for themselves, as well. Despite his struggles during cantorial school, Klepper concludes by stating that he thinks the cantorate is an appealing career and shares his belief that the clerical position of the cantor is certainly growing in significance. It would be interesting to hear a follow-up interview with Klepper now, eighteen years later, to hear how his story and viewpoints have changed.

Summary by Emma Goldin (April 2014), 4th year cantorial student in Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, HUC--JIR, NY


Access to archival quality sound files is restricted. For permission to obtain copies of these, please contact Mark Slobin at mslobin@wesleyan.edu.

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