CLEARWATER — Rabbi Danielle Upbin of Congregation Beth Shalom, looking every bit a star in her black pants and high boots, took to the stage and belted out the music she loves to an enthusiastic audience of some 200.
Upbin, 38, is both a rabbi and a professionally trained singer, and her recent performance was a coupling of her musical talent with her passion as a spiritual leader.
It was also the live debut of the music from her first CD, titled Reveal the Light.
The title reflects the rabbi's personal mission: to help others find the path to peace and harmony and a sense of oneness with each other and with God.
"We live in a dark and complicated world," said Upbin, wife of Rabbi David Weizman of Beth Shalom and the mother of four young children. "We (humans) are charged with uncovering the holy sparks that are in all living things."
A native of Manhattan, she also serves the Beth Shalom congregation as cantor and musical director.
Upbin said that with the nine simple prayers on the CD, she wants to "invite the listeners in" and move them along on their spiritual journey to uncovering the light.
"I wanted to use music I knew and loved," she said, "but that had universal appeal and accessible melodies."
The music, sung mostly in Hebrew, is translated on the CD jacket. The themes of peace and oneness with God are apparent in the English translations, with titles such as Let There Be Peace, The One Who Makes Peace, Only One Thing and Return Us to You.
For her debut of the CD, Upbin was joined by five local musicians from all faiths and backgrounds who also accompany her on the album: Charles Barry Skeete, a jazz musician and percussionist based in Largo; Skeete's wife, Catherine Costa, a vocalist who plays numerous instruments; Tim Burnaman, pianist and musical director at several local houses of worship; Blake Lenett, guitarist and musical assistant to Upbin at Beth Shalom; and Fred Johnson, well-known local jazz musician and songwriter.
Upbin credits Johnson with mentoring her in improvisational singing.
"Through him, I learned to trust myself and to let my own spirit guide me," she said.
Johnson praised Upbin for both her musical selections and her passion in conveying them. He spoke of her music as holding a light of faith and hope "that can serve as a catalyst for opening people's hearts."
In November, just prior to the album debut, Upbin performed selections from it as part of a music festival at the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater. The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi said his congregants loved the music.
"The energy that Danielle's music generated was both healing and joyous at the same time," he said. "She has an amazing presence that combines with the God-given gift of her voice."
He sees her talent reaching beyond the walls of her synagogue.
"She has the potential to embody something bigger," Janamanchi said.
Upbin hopes to perform at other venues throughout the Tampa Bay area. About 100 CDs sold following the debut performance, but they also can be purchased from her website, danielleupbin.com, which has links to all major online music purveyors, including iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby.
The young rabbi radiates enthusiasm for the project. "I've heard a lot of Jewish music," she said, "but in this album I feel I have a unique message of peace and connection among all religions."
Correspondent Elaine Markowitz can be contacted at [email protected]