Aaron Markovitz is the Burton A. and Sandra D. Zipser Foundation Artist-in-Residence.
Aaron Markovitz celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Israel 22 years ago not thinking he would return as a composer and performer, but that is what he is doing this year.
A guitar player and singer-songwriter who has appeared with a California studio band, on cruise ships and in clubs across the country, Markovitz is spending the year as the Burton A. and Sandra D. Zipser Foundation Artist-in-Residence at the temple and in temple recordings. His specialty has been writing music and lyrics for folk Americana and bluegrass music.
“So far, it’s been a lot of writing music for the temple, and I’ve been working with some of the youth there on getting together materials they’re going to perform in an upcoming service,” said Markovitz, who lives in Ferndale, has stopped touring the country and still performs bluegrass music with the group Wilson Thicket and in the two-person arrangement Raven Grey.
“For the service surrounding the Fourth of July, Cantor Michael Smolash asked if I could write a prayer for our government, and it ended up being the sermon anthem, ‘May It Never Depart This Land,’ which became the song featured after the rabbi spoke.
“We’ll be going into the studio to record a song for the High Holidays so I’ve been working on that as well. It welcomes congregants into the Jewish community.”
Markovitz found out about this opportunity in March while playing at the live music social café 20 Front Street in Lake Orion. Scott Loudon, who had done audio and video work for the temple in addition to his work at 20 Front Street, knew about the temple program in artistry and put the two in touch.
“Cantor Smolash gave me a call shortly after that and asked if I would like to play at a Friday night Shabbat service and questioned if I would write a couple of songs to be performed at that service,” Markovitz recalled.
“While meeting with the cantor, he mentioned the Zipser Foundation and asked if that would be something I would be interested in. I thought it was a great opportunity.”
A Lifelong Love of Music
Markovitz, 35 and single, started playing guitar when he was 7 years old, became serious about becoming a musician in his teens and played with a band while attending Walled Lake Northern High School.
“I started to realize that I could sing and, after high school, I went to the Los Angeles College of Music (formerly the Los Angeles College of Music Academy),” said Markovitz, whose work kept him busy in California before he joined a band and toured the country.
Smolash appreciates Markovitz’s religious work.
“He’s so talented, and his main focus for the first few months has been creating new Jewish music, which is the big focus of the Zipser Foundation,” Smolash said. “He’s already written a new ‘Shema’ and a new ‘V’shamru,’ which premiered at our summer services.
“His anthem for the Fourth of July weekend should be a favorite when he records it and makes it available for synagogues all over the country. He also wrote a new anthem for Rosh Hashanah to welcome people back to synagogue life. It sounds awesome.”
Smolash also described Markovitz’s work on programming for the temple as including a song leading class for young people to teach them how to sing and play instruments confidently. He’s also working with the rabbis and staff to come up with creative ideas.
“We also found out that he’s an expert guitar technician when we had a travel guitar that wasn’t working,” Smolash said. “He took it home and brought it back the next day good as new.
“He looks at temple and his talents and tries to figure out artistically how he can elevate our congregation, so I’m sure there will be new projects joyful for our community.”
David Radner, president of the Zipser Foundation, explained that the temple chose this year’s artist-in-residence for the program that started in 2020.
“Our foundation promotes and enhances Jewish music activities in the Metro Detroit area,” Radner explained. “Burton [Zipser] was a music teacher in Oak Park, so the couple would be glad to support participation in these Jewish music activities.”
Markovitz feels lucky to be accepted into this program.
“I would list music as something I like to do in my free time,” he said, “but I do it for work.”