Rick Recht’s big plans for sharing his music


Musician Rick Recht has a fascination with Shabbat. There’s Simply Shabbat, his most recent album release. There’s Light Up Shabbat, itself a reinvention of “Shabbat Alive,” the interactive musical synagogue service he started almost a decade ago. And of course there’s “Celebrate Shabbat,” a new program created in partnership with the Gladys K. Crown Foundation and jewishinstlouis.org. Of course if Recht’s Shabbat-centric existence seems unusual, it becomes more surprising still when the rock ‘n roller recalls his life just 10 short years ago.

“I didn’t know any Jewish music,” he recalled with a chuckle. “It was not really something I was interested in doing.”


Today, there’s no need to ask where his interests lie. “Shabbat Alive” has been a monthly fixture at United Hebrew Congregation, where Recht has served as artist-in-residence for the past several years. On weekends when he’s not at UH, Recht tours the country bringing the sounds of “Shabbat Alive” to synagogues coast to coast. In the last month, he’s been to Alabama, Houston and Washington D.C. The schedule for the remainder of 2009 includes trips to Illinois, Colorado, Indiana, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He also does occasional services at other synagogues locally.

UH Senior Rabbi Howard Kaplansky said his temple wouldn’t be the same without “Shabbat Alive.”

“It’s really become a core part of our congregation,” he said. “I have tears in my eyes every time we have the service. It’s moving just to see the congregation so involved and so spirited in a celebration of Shabbat.”

Danielle Robnizki, 19, is a music specialist at UH who helps coordinate the synagogue’s “Teen Team” and often sings and plays with Recht during “Shabbat Alive” presentations. For her, the musical service is always a memorable experience.

“It’s very special, especially for me because of the way I connect with Judaism and services in general,” said the Washington University freshman, who also teaches music at the congregation’s religious school. “It’s just a very different type of worship experience. The kids especially enjoy it.”

Last Friday night, the congregation got a taste of the next evolution of “Shabbat Alive.” Called “Light Up Shabbat,” the event introduced even greater interactivity. Participants offered their own thoughts during the service and the third grade religious school students sang and read on a topic prepared in class. Each month will feature a presentation from a different grade level.

“More than anything, we’re going to reach deeper on an intellectual level,” Recht said. “There are personal readings and questions from the congregation itself probing what Shabbat means to you and what lights up your Shabbat.”

Shabbat has certainly lit up Recht’s life. A native St. Louisan who grew up at Traditional Congregation, he studied communications and business at the University of Southern California before heading to Hollywood to attend the Music Institute. By 1994, he was ready to head back to St. Louis, where he began touring with a rock band.

Recht’s collision course with Jewish music was the result of a chance encounter. When he wasn’t living out of the back of a tour bus on the road, Recht tutored guitar students. One of them, a woman named Elisa, was director of Congregation B’nai Amoona’s Jewish day camp, Ramot Amoona.

“She had decided to take guitar lessons because she couldn’t find a song leader in St. Louis,” Recht explained. “While she was taking guitar from me she would sometimes bug me about the idea of being a Jewish song leader, which I was totally uninterested in doing.”

But Recht’s disinterest was no match for his student’s persistence. Though he had no background in religious music, it wasn’t long before the Jewish rocker found himself on staff at the camp, a circumstance that turned out to be more than he bargained for.

“It was a mind-blowing experience,” he said, “just an extraordinary epiphany for me seeing the power of Jewish music to connect people and communities and to amplify excitement about being Jewish. To share, to learn, to teach, all of these things I’d never experienced before with music or with Judaism. All of a sudden it all became incredibly relevant, fun and meaningful.”

Recht quit his band and built a studio in his basement where he recorded Tov, his first album of Judaic music. Containing many songs that he had written at Ramot Amoona, it was a hit with teens and Recht was performing at dozens of camps the following summer. He knew quickly that he had found more than just a job. He had found a career.

He had also found something even more valuable. He and camp director Elisa will celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary in April. They now live in Chesterfield with their two children, ages 5 and 8.

Even now, Recht’s journey into Jewish music seems a whirlwind to him.

“I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do,” he said. “I just knew that I had found my calling. I didn’t have a plan at that point.”

These days, with the release of Simply Shabbat, his eleventh album, plans are one thing Recht, 39, is no longer short on. His latest work isn’t intended to break a lot of new ground. A collection which focuses on brief, easy-to-learn songs designed to be accessible for congregations that hope to include them in services, it’s largely composed of tunes that have already been “road tested,” tweaked and proven popular with audiences during performances around the country.

“Usually, I’d say I’m really excited for people to hear this, but they’ve already heard it in many cases,” he said with a laugh. “I’m excited that we finally have an album to represent what has been successful for the past couple of years.”

That success will reach a wider audience than ever before. As part of the Celebrate Shabbat Initiative, about 1,500 copies of the new album will be distributed free to families via area religious schools. Additional tracks, videos and sheet music are also available for download over the Web.

The effort is part of an overarching idea that Recht has about bringing Jewish music to the people. He said he hopes to be a pioneer in trying to utilize global media channels such as Internet radio and the Web to democratize distribution. Celebrate Shabbat is an expression of that ethos.

“That’s part of what I’m looking to do in the future,” he said. “In making Jewish music and media more accessible for youth, we need to provide them with an easy and powerful first taste by giving it away. Everyone should have it, not just people who can afford it.”

For more information on Simply Shabbat, visit www.rickrecht.com. For more on the Celebrate Shabbat Initiative, visit ww.rickrecht.com/celebrateshabbat.