Songleader Boot Camp 2014 by Josh Niehaus

By admin
March 04, 2014

If I’m being honest, my expectations were low as I arrived in St. Louis for the 4th annual Songleader Boot Camp (SLBC). When Sam Perlin asked if I wanted to go, I just thought of it as a free trip to a city that I’ve never been to before. Boy were my expectations wrong! First of all I saw nothing of St. Louis, outside of a Waffle House and a bar next to our hotel. But more importantly, the conference was overflowing with talent, interesting people and BEAUTIFUL music! It’s been two weeks since SLBC and I’m already counting down the days till next year.

Photo by Zach Dalin © Songleader Boot Camp

So why was it so great? Let me walk you through a typical day. After breakfast we filed into the performing arts center at the JCC for shacharit. Twelve of the most innovative song-leaders in North America took turns leading prayers in their favorite tunes, while 200 other musicians filled up the room like a choir at Lincoln Center. One of my favorite tunes was Modeh Ani sung to Aloe Blacc’s “Wake Me Up” (which I definitely plan on bringing to Schechter this summer). After shacharit we spent the day choosing between a variety of classes and jamming. We learned about engaging audiences, incorporating movements into song, service leading techniques, expanding our shira repertoire, and even how to incorporate Jewish ideas into yoga!

But as good as the programming was, it was the participants that made the convention so successful in my mind. SLBC provided a space for musical Jews from all over North America to come together and share in their love of music, Judaism and/or Jewish music. Whether you came for the music, or the Judaism, or both, no one had any trouble finding a way to connect with one another. Together we built the most harmonious community (figuratively and literally) that I have ever been a part of. 

 On the last night of the convention we circled up with our arms around our neighbors and sang our closing songs. The guy to the right of me was crying hard enough for me to notice, and I couldn’t help but think how the Josh that arrived in St. Louis three days earlier would be scoffing in his mind at the site of this. But instead I pulled him closer and we both sang louder. That is one of the many great memories from the weekend that I will cherish, because it was the moment that I remembered how great it is to remove all of your defenses and to share your whole self with other people–with friends.

New friends grabbing a late night waffle with Tori and the gang in St. Louis! Photo by Rafe.

I was so inspired when came back that I released a project of Israeli music with local Vancouver singer Megan Emanuel. Have a listen @

Josh Niehaus

Assistant Summer Director, Camp Solomon Schechter