Cantor Len Udow

len udow

Say It With A Song

Len Udow is well known to Manitoba and Canadian audiences as a singer, songwriter, teacher, musician and music producer. In six decades Len has performed on concert stages, festivals, radio and television, and on numerous recordings. A multi-instrumentalist on piano, banjo and guitar, Len has been a featured vocalist and band member with the well known Fred Penner for over 24 years. Along with touring the country, Len has found time to be a music teacher in St. Boniface schools, as well as participating in the Artist in the School program through the Manitoba Arts Council.


In 1994, Len recorded a collection of songs entitled “Walk Right In”, of which half the songs were written by and for the children in his songwriting workshops. Recently, Len has traveled as far as Mexico and Parts of the USA to bring his music and workshops to a far greater audience. For the past nineteen years, Len has been the Cantorial Soloist at Temple Shalom where he helps to officiate and teach.



“Friday Night Live” Shabbat Services

Come to an exciting Alternative Shabbat Service with new music and vocal arrangements featuring: Cantor Len Udow on vocals and guitar, the amazing vocals of Janet Pelletier-Goetze playing clarinet, saxophone and piano, John Gosselin on Bass and David Pelletier on drums “spectacular”!!!

Don’t miss this amazing service


Published in the Jewish Post and News Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Friday Night Live at Temple Shalom

by Fern Swedlove

Since its inception, Friday Night Live has become a special evening at Temple Shalom in Winnipeg for people in search of spiritual nourishment. This service is a fusion of traditional and new Jewish music intertwined with Shabbat prayers and the result is a melding of the past and present. This approach to incorporating live music into the Shabbat service is already gaining popularity throughout the United States, but the Temple Shalom experience is the first of its kind in Canada.

Ruthie Soudack Maman, a teacher at the Gray Academy of Jewish Education, describes the Friday Night Live experience as something that she has never had before in a Jewish service. “It uplifts me, the music, the prayers, I feel like I am totally immersed in the moment,” she said, “and you are part of the community.”

The seeds for Friday Night Live were planted when Len Udow, the cantorial soloist at Temple Shalom, attended a summer workshop in Wisconsin three years ago and heard about this new approach. Musicians are an integral part of the Shabbat experience and the response from congregants is very positive. With Udow’s extensive musical background in Jewish and folk music, he had a natural attraction to this new way of celebrating Shabbat. “Friday Night Live is a different kavannah,” he said. “The music embraces the works of new songsters from the US such as Debbie Friedman, Craig Taubman and Jeffrey Klepper, while still incorporating traditional melodies.”

Udow came back to Winnipeg and pondered how to make this dream take flight. At the same time, his cousin Janet Pelletier-Goetze entered Udow’s life and would eventually collaborate with him to make Friday Night Live a reality. Their meeting came as a result of her discovering her birth parents, as she had been adopted. Having been hooked on the Chai Folk Ensemble music as a child after seeing them at Folklorama, it was only when she was in her early 30’s that she discovered that her love of Jewish music had a genetic thread as both her and Udow share the same lineage which include Cantor Boroditsky and Sara Udow, a choir director, both active forces in the local Jewish music scene for years. Ruth Livingston, president of Temple Shalom, says she “likes to think that Sarah Udow (his mother) is smiling on the bimah when she hears Len singing.”

Shortly after Pelletier-Goetze shared her expertise as a vocal arranger, singer, piano, saxophone and clarinet player with Temple Shalom her brother David Pelletier came on board as the drummer, followed by John Gosselin who plays the double bass. They all volunteer their time for Friday Night Live which takes place approximately 8 times a year. The services are well attended, says Livingston, with between 75 to 150 people coming out.

Rabbi Karen Soria, the Rabbi for Temple Shalom, says that “the music carries the prayer.” She adds “the more music, the more reach for the prayer.” She believes that this innovative service is a continuation of Jewish musical tradition which has been in constant evolution since the first prayer book was published over 1100 years ago. “We do a disservice to the Jewish tradition if we do not continue to look for new ways to incorporate music into our service,” she said.

Udow aims to bring to the Shabbat service “more colour, tone and character to experience the text.” Both he and Pelletier-Goetze search for new music that will resonate with people who have been brought up on the traditional melodies, but also appeal to the modern ear. “The pieces may begin with a Dixieland melody, and then incorporate a solo which has more of a klezmer feel,” says Pelletier- Goetze. She describes the music as a range of styles, as well as a fusion of different styles. Udow sees this approach as creating a new musical tradition for the congregation. They sift through thousands of songs before they find the ones that speak to them and then try them out on the congregation. It is only after they get a sense from the congregation whether the music clicks with them that they decide to incorporate it into the service.

Ultimately, this is the aim of the service, to engage people, says Udow. He believes that music becomes a way to open people to Shabbat and provide them with the opportunity to be connected to a community. “Music is a sign of solidarity, that we are part of something, part of a spiritual path,” he said.

Fern Swedlove is a Jewish Winnipeg freelance writer.

Music for most Kabbalat Shabbat Services over July and August is be provided by Phil Spevack