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Len UdowBy BERNIE BELLAN On November 28 Len Udow, well-known songwriter, music producer, singer, and – for the past 15 years, cantor at Temple Shalom, will be releasing his most recent CD – and his second largely devoted to cantorial music.

Titled “Modeh Ani”, “the CD is full of piyutim or poems thanks to rabbis who have contributed over the centuries to our siddurim,” says Udow. “There are also more secular items, like ‘The Yid,’ “he adds (which Udow sang at the fabulous cantors’ concert featuring six different cantors a year and a half ago) - “the story of my Jewish childhood.”
The songs on this CD are some of his favourites, he says. “These are melodies that I’ve been lucky enough to introduce to people during a service – and listen to their response – and now I’m sharing them with a wider community.”
“But I’ve done some other things” on this CD, says Udow. “I’ve reached into my own vault of music and I’ve pulled one out written by Jerry Cohen (now deceased), a former Winnipegger, who sang at the Y a lot with a group that was the Four Tops of their day.
“Anyway, Jerry gave me a song in 1965” (which was the year that Udow left Winnipeg for Toronto, where he spent the next 20 years of his life), “called ‘Look for a Morning’ – and that’s the name of this project.  It’s based on morning prayers like ‘Modeh Ani – I’m thankful for another day of life.”
I asked Udow whether this CD could be described as “mostly liturgical songs”. He said: “I don’t know whether ‘liturgical’ would be the right word”, but they all have a connection to the prayer community.”
As for the languages in which he sings, Udow said that there’s Hebrew and English, but no real Yiddish. There’s what he described as “Yinglish”. “I do mention Chaver Zolf of the Peretz Shul” on the CD (who taught Udow when he was a student there in the late 50s).
“In describing the album,” he explains, “it’s a Len Udow album. It has to do with my journey – from my youth into more contemplative dotage; my uncle calls it ‘do-it age’. I just brought some musical creativity to where I’m at.”

Udow explains how he came to serve as cantor at Temple Shalom. “When I was asked to come here it was with the idea of taking the ‘chazanes’ away from the concertized role, away from the artifice of cantorial, and bring it to everyone to sing.”
Going back to his formative years, Udow acknowledges the tremendous influence growing up in a highly musical family had. His mother, Sarah (née Boroditsky), aunt Belva (a.k.a. “Paikie”), and uncle David all had fabulously successful musical careers. As for his father, Saul, Udow says that his father claimed to have been a violinist at one point, “but apparently when he played the violin for me when I was a baby, he brought me to tears” – and he never heard his father play the violin again. (“He was a great admirer of my mother’s career” though, Udow adds.)
Later, like most other Jewish boys growing up in Winnipeg in the 50s and 60s, he fell under the influence of famed cantor Chazan Benjamin Brownstone (or “Bronshtein”, as he was known).
I asked Udow whether Bronshtein ever gave him a nickname (which he invariably did to almost everyone in his choirs.) “No, he didn’t,” says Udow, but he gave one to my brother (Ira): “Perry Como – because he was so smooth and suave”.
Udow’s varied career has seen him work as a musician in Toronto for the latter part of the 60s and all through the 70s. When he returned to Winnipeg in the 80s, in addition to working as a teacher he was both a songwriter and a member of a quartet known as “The Short Notice Quartet”. (A sample of their work can be seen on Youtube, he notes). “We played for the Queen in 1987, played with the symphony orchestra, sang with Bob Mullen and his jazz orchestra, and did concerts around Manitoba.”  
Later, Udow forged a new career through his involvement with famed children’s entertainer Fred Penner. It was at that point, he says, that he decided to leave teaching and devote himself to music full time, this time as Penner’s producer.
In addition, Udow says, he “began to play the banjo, piano, guitar” – and sang with Penner for many years as they began to take the show on the road throughout Canada and the U.S.
Udow says that once he left Winnipeg for the “big city” of Toronto, he had distanced himself from his Jewish past for the most part, although “it sort of accompanied me, but I didn’t pursue any Jewish musical expression – until I was kind of invited to come here” (Temple Shalom) in 2000.
Udow’s about-to-be unveiled CD follows upon an earlier CD of Jewish melodies he released two years ago, which was titled “Shabbat Shalom”. “It was Friday night Shabbat, all the steps involved in welcoming Shabbat,” Udow explains.
“I was tempted to do a CD of Saturday morning Shabbat” songs, he continues but, as he notes, the theme expanded and the title of the CD, “Look for a Morning”, is more general in tone, as Udow “branched out in other directions for the images of morning prayer.”
As an example of this branching out, Udow refers to a song titled “Glorious Night”, which he “used to sing back in the 70s, written by my friend, Patrick Godfrey.”
“I brought that song together with a black spiritual called ‘Let me Fly’ “, he explains.
“The last verse of ‘Glorious Night’ has to do with waking in the morning,” Udow says, “and making a prayer.  The song has to do with Patrick’s gratefulness of being alive,” he notes.
There are 11 songs on the CD altogether, Udow says. It will be for sale at Temple Shalom, also at Desserts Plus. Out-of-towners will be able to order a CD directly from Udow by contacting him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
As part of the CD launch Friday evening November 28, Udow says there will also be the showing of a film about the famed fictitious town of Chelm, titled “Village of Idiots”. In addition, Temple Shalom’s “Friday Night Live Band” will be performing with Udow during the launch, along with some other special guests.

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