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For Cantor Kyle Cotler, who since July of this year has been the cantor at Evanston’s Beth Emet synagogue, liturgical music has long been a family affair. His father is Cantor Douglas Cotler, who regularly performs for Jewish American audiences and is also a Grammy Award-winning songwriter. He won the award for writing the song “Manhunt” from the soundtrack for the 1983 film “Flashdance.” Cantor Douglas’s late father was also a cantor, as was his father before him.
Both Cantors Cotler will be performing in a Chanukah concert at 5 p.m. on Dec. 15 at Beth Emet, 1224 Dempster St. The performance will feature both traditional and new Chanukah music, Cantor Kyle said.
“This is my first year here, and I thought it would be a really wonderful opportunity for us to do this,” he added. “It worked out nice because the [Union for Reform Judaism Biennial, which Cantor Douglas frequently works on] is in Chicago, so we’re doing it right on the heels of that.”
Indeed, this is far from the first time that Cantor Kyle has performed with his father.
“It was something my dad and I used to do, even before I was ordained,” said Cantor Kyle. “He used to travel all over the country quite frequently, performing original music. My brother and I would sometimes accompany him in December, on winter break. We would play instruments and sing along with him, as I do at this Chanukah concert.”Cantor Kyle, a California native who is also an ordained rabbi, is responsible for various aspects of Beth Emet’s worship, pastoral care, music and b’nai mitzvah preparations.
Becoming a cantor, he said, “was not something I’d ever considered doing growing up. I’d been interested in arts and music growing up, but this was something that never crossed my mind seriously.”
He graduated from college with a degree in music composition and theory. “As you can imagine, there certainly wasn’t a burgeoning field for me to enter into, though if I could have gotten paid to analyze music for a living, I certainly would have done that. But short of getting a Ph.D., that just wasn’t feasible.”
When he returned from college, a nearby synagogue needed an interim cantorial soloist while searching for a candidate to fill a vacancy. That was enough to spark his interest. He went on to study not only to be a cantor, but to enter the rabbinate as well to get what he called “a Swiss Army knife of different skills I could use.”
Cantor Kyle added, “I wanted to allow wherever I worked to have me as a resource, so, if, for example, a rabbi was out of town or sick, people wouldn’t need to think twice about finding coverage – I can do that. I may not be as good as rabbis who do it full-time, but I certainly could do it proficiently.”
As for now, though, he is looking forward to the Dec. 15 Chanukah performance with his father, adding, “It’s appropriate for younger folks and older folks, and everybody in between.”
Information on the Dec. 15 concert is available at bethemet.org/community/congregational-programs/chanukahconcert.html.