Home May 2011 Musically Speaking

Musically Speaking

For Cantor Michael Avdee, his greatest accomplishment in his position at Temple Beth Tikvah is as a teacher.

By day he has taught elementary school in the Santa Ana School District, recently retiring after 30 years of service.  During the other hours, he has taught and coached hundreds of students preparing for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, led multiple choirs and conducted services throughout his 23 years at the temple.

It’s for these reasons, among many, that the cantor will be honored on May 22 at the Historic Fullerton Ballroom.

“It has been the greatest privilege in my life having the opportunity to be the cantor for this congregation,” he said.

The entertainment for the evening, which includes a flute choir, harkens to Avdee’s past.  Born in Los Angeles, Avdee was trained not as a singer, but rather as a flutist, at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.  In addition to his flute training, Avdee also got his Bachelor of Arts in English at UCLA as well as his teaching credential.

Eventually, he would study cantorial music under the late cantor of Adat Ari El in North Hollywood, Allen Michelson.

He married his wife, Stephanie, with whom he would have his two children, Daniel, 24, and Eric, 19.  After a while, she got a job in Orange County at the Santa Ana School District.  Soon after, he was able to get one too, teaching students between fourth and sixth grades.

He taught for five years before he got his cantor job at Temple Beth Tikvah in 1987.  Although it is part time, Avdee feels there is a tremendous amount of responsibility attached to his job.

“The job of the cantor is that you’re praying on behalf of the congregation to G-d, and that has been a wonderful and fulfilling experience for me,” he said.

In addition to his responsibilities to the synagogue through religious holidays and Shabbats, he also trains children to get ready for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, training each of them individually for six to eight months before the big day.

In addition to his responsibilities with young minds, Cantor Avdee also helps conduct the eighth grade choir, the junior choir and the adult choir at the temple.  He leads the Kol Tikvah adult choir and Jr. Chaverim youth choir and accompanies them both on piano.  He also, along with Rabbi Milhander, leads all Shabbat evening and morning services, High Holy Day services, and festival services occurring throughout the year.  Most services feature a special musical meditation, which Cantor Avdee plays either on flute or piano.  “These meditations enhance our worship and are a highlight of our services,” according to Miriam Van Raalte, educator/administrator at Temple Beth Tikvah.

“While year-around adult choirs are not common in Orange County synagogues, our Kol Tikvah adult choir participates in our Friday Shabbat services on the third Friday of almost every month,” Von Raalte added.  “The music ranges from camp song unison melodies to four-part compositions.  Kol Tikvah also leads High Holy Day services, enhancing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with renderings of traditional and non-traditional liturgy.”

The Jr. Chaverim youth choir participates in monthly family services (first Friday of the month) and holiday services.  The members rehearse on Wednesday nights after Hebrew School and range in ages from five to thirteen years old.  Most children in the temple’s religious and Hebrew schools are members of our youth choir, and most of the members attend virtually all rehearsals and family services.  Chanukah songs, Sukkot songs, Purim songs, Shavuot songs and other holiday songs are in the repertoire and are performed every year at holiday family services.  At Shabbat family services, a variety of Shabbat music is regularly performed.  The youth choir also performs annually at the Nixon Library.

“I’ve been a part-time cantor, but at times it has been a full-time job,” he said.

Avdee has been cantor through three different rabbis with different styles and has enjoyed working with the different families that have come through the congregation throughout the years.

His teaching skills have helped him tremendously when working with his Bar and Bat Mitzvah students.  He tries to push the kids to reach their full potential and see how much they can do.  Students are coached to learn their Torah and Haftarah portions using the musical trope that they learned in sixth grade trope class taught by Cantor Avdee.

However, it doesn’t end at their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs.  At High Holy Day services after a child’s bar mitzvah, he or she is invited to read a portion of the Torah.  From then on in, it is his or her portion, and he or she is invited back to do it again.  There are students who continue this tradition from the time they are young to when they are in college.  Often, fifty different congregants have participated in a given High Holy Day season, with a vast majority being middle school, high school and college students.  This is a special tradition at Temple Beth Tikvah.  For Cantor Avdee, that is incredibly rewarding and one of his favorite things to watch every year.

Yet one thing that always remains in check is the Cantor’s humility regarding his numerous accomplishments in all the years he has served the congregation.

The journey is not over yet.  In several months, Temple Beth Tikvah will be opening its new building named after Rabbi Emeritus Haim Asa, which Avdee called, “A worthy tribute to a great man.”  Avdee feels that the temple will experience a lot of growth, and he is excited to be a part of that.

Although this special night is in honor of him, it should never be construed as a goodbye party.  Rather, Cantor Avdee is looking optimistically into the future for all the opportunities that lie ahead for Temple Beth Tikvah.

“I’ve been [here] 23 years, and I plan to be there for many more,” he said.

Tickets are $72 per adult and $90 after May 5, and $54 for young adults under 25, going up to $72 on May 5.  For more information, please call the Temple Beth Tikvah office at (714) 871-3535.

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