Singing rabbi, cantor take traveling show to Los Altos Hills

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The two spend a bit of time on the road but touring has its challenges, since Freelander is national program director for the New York-based Union of American Hebrew Congregations and Klepper is cantor of a Reform congregation in Evanston, Ill.

The relationship is like a long-term, long-distance marriage. Whatever the method, it seems to work. Kol B'seder has six albums out and one more on the way and some of composer Klepper's melodies — notably "Shalom Rav" and an alternative version of "Oseh Shalom" — have become standard in Reform congregations across the nation. On all their recordings, they augment their own guitar accompaniment with instrumentals by world- renowned Chicago jazz musician Howard Levy, who frequently performs with Klepper at services in Evanston.

Klepper tries out his material at Beth Emet by teaching the songs to the congregation. "They are very good about it, as is the rabbi," he said during a phone interview. As a result, Beth Emet has become one of the most tuneful synagogues in the Chicago area.

Growing up in the '60s, Klepper, 41, and Freelander, 43, were heavily influenced by the folk music craze sweeping the country. "My dream was to be the next Pete Seeger," Klepper admitted, "but by the time I was ready to embark on a career, folk music was on its way out."

You can still hear its traces in his music, however, along with elements of jazz and pop and a little rock. "If you wanted to compare it, in a secular sense, to something familiar, Simon and Garfunkel might come to mind," Klepper said.

"We improvise, we go with the flow," he continued. "We don't have a band but, in a way, the audience is our band. We need the audience to make our music come alive. We don't sing to them; we sing with them. We teach as well as play; we give out song sheets. We try to give them something, an idea, a tune, to take home. We hope we will touch people in a Jewish way."

Their work also contains an element of humor. "We've written some parodies that are humor reflections on life in the tradition of [Jewish comedian] Allen Sherman," Klepper explained. "We also do a few routines and some shtick."

One new number, "Rollin' Up the Torah," sung to the tune of Ike and Tina Turner's "Proud Mary," elicits "howls of delight" from rabbis and congregants alike, he said.

At least week's UAHC biennial in Atlanta, the duo performed with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary in a tribute to retiring UAHC director Alexander Schindler. Klepper also led a guitar service for a congregation of 4,000, a biennial first.

While much of Kol B'seder's music can be fun, Klepper and Freelander also try to tap into the search for Jewish spirituality in people's lives with songs that deal with such issues as birth, death and Israel.

"We will certainly take note of the death of Rabin with some appropriate songs," Klepper said regarding the upcoming Bay Area performance.

"Dan's and my relationship is very much like that of a rabbi and a cantor," he concluded. "He comes up with ideas and I translate them into music. The only difference is: He has the best voice of any rabbi I know."