St. Louis financial planner works to ‘Change the World’ with Jewish music

Rob Aronson

BY BILL MOTCHAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Music is an integral part of Judaism and dates back to the first temple in Jerusalem, when Levites sang and played the harp, lyre and shofar during religious services. Centuries later, communal singing remains a constant in Jewish worship and celebrations, often guided by a song leader like Rob Aronson. 

The St. Louis baritone singer-songwriter has been a popular figure at Temple Israel for the past 15 years as a song leader and soloist. He’s also a featured artist on Jewish Rock Radio, singing both traditional Jewish music and his own compositions.

“I like writing worship music to move the congregation, to move cantors, or anyone in a fun and spiritual way,” said Aronson, 41. “I try to write songs that are easy to learn for communal singing.”

Aronson’s debut album, “Let Us Sing,” released in 2018, contains 10 songs exploring major Shabbat prayers such as the haunting “Hava Nashira.” That’s also the name of the songwriting camp in Wisconsin where Aronson met his wife, Julie, a musician who teaches b’nai mitzvah lessons. 

A financial planner by day, Aronson enjoys letting his creative spirit loose while performing.

“Music is my greatest form of expression,” he said. “I’m not always the best with words, but when I can put words and feelings together and express myself through music, something magical happens and my true soul comes out.” 

Aronson’s musical inspirations include Jerry Garcia, U2, Bruce Springsteen, the Beatles and lots of classic rock. Growing up in Clayton, Aronson sang in high school plays, but he didn’t pick up a guitar until college at Indiana University. That’s when he discovered his gift for songwriting. His greatest reward as a musician is bringing people together as a community.

 

“When people sing my music, it brings so much joy because it brings them joy,” Aronson said. “It’s something that I created for them, and it brings people together in harmony. My music is about inspiring people to feel a connection to Judaism, to some sort of spirituality through music to be moved.”

The songwriting process itself ebbs and flows, Aronson said, and the creative process is more challenging now because of the pandemic and the time demands of parenting young children (Sadie, 4, and Zoe, 3½ months). When the muse does appear, Aronson is ready to record.

“Sometimes, it comes up when you’re in the shower and have a melody that you want to record on your phone right away,” he said. “Then, you can come back to it when you have some devoted alone-time to let it morph and take shape.” 

“Prayer for Healing,” one of Aronson’s songs from the “Let Us Sing” album, was selected to be in the new “Ruach 5781” songbook published by Transcontinental Music Publications, the world’s largest publisher of Jewish sheet music and songbooks. 

In addition to his musical interpretations at Temple Israel, Aronson has been a regular participant at the national Songleader Boot Camp, held each year at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis. This year’s camp was a virtual event, and Aronson contributed from his home studio.

The pandemic has limited musicians from playing before live audiences, so Aronson and his friend Josh Goldberg decided to go virtual on a recent collaboration, a cover of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World,” which was released in late February on iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music. The collaboration also includes noted international guitarist Sean Harkness.

 

“Josh and I are close friends, and he’s a brilliant musician,” Aronson said. “He has his own record label, Kosher Style Records. We’ve sung together for many years but we have never collaborated on a project, so that was something that we had been talking about doing for a while.”

The hope for a brighter year and a post-pandemic world gave Aronson and Goldberg the idea for an uplifting recording about new beginnings. 

“It’s a fantastic song, and Josh reached out to Sean Harkness,” Aronson said. “Sean is an accomplished guitarist who’s toured with Debbie Friedman and Craig Taubman. Josh also toured with Craig Taubman and Rick Recht, so he asked Sean, and Sean happily laid down the guitar track.

“Sean is in New York, I’m in St. Louis in the middle and Josh was all the way on the West Coast in LA. so it’s interesting that you can span the entire country and create a project like this.”

 

Goldberg gave Aronson credit for bringing his signature smooth baritone voice to the Clapton classic.

“I would call Rob a folk songwriter with a soulful R&B voice,” Goldberg said. “It’s like if Cat Stevens and Barry White met at Jewish summer camp and had a musical lovechild. Rob has the songwriting skills, a distinctive voice, guitar chops, and his overall mission to write meaningful, catchy and relatable Jewish music is exactly what we look for in Kosher Style Music artists.”

It’s somewhat fitting that the first concert Aronson went to, in August 1992 at the age of 12, was Eric Clapton at Riverport Amphitheater.

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